The disastrous denouement of the Iraq war, and the revelation that we were lied into invading a country that represented no credible threat to us, had supposedly discredited the authors of that reckless adventure—the neoconservatives centered in and around the American Enterprise Institute. AEI served as the headquarters of the neocon network in Washington, a clearinghouse for everyone from Ben Wattenberg to Laurie Mylroie. Voicing at least two cheers for capitalism and opposition to the more obnoxious forms of political correctness, the neocons managed to convince the mainstream media and much of the GOP that they constituted the intellectual leadership of the conservative movement. Today, as the fragmentation of the right continues apace, that leadership is in question—and the movement has been pronounced dead several times over.
Out of power, the neocons are a pathetic lot. Absent the ear of a prince to whisper into, these counselors of constant war are disconnected from what is, for them, the source of life and sustenance: power. But never fear. Now that the Bush years have faded into an increasingly distant (albeit no less unpleasant) memory, there’s a new crowd of neocons in town. Meet the left-neocons!
What’s a left-neocon? Subtract at least one cheer for capitalism, put on a thick gloss of p.c.-think, and polish the hard-edged militarism of the unilateralist neocons with a more multilateral imperialism, and you’ve got the picture. This perspective is usually described, in Washington circles, as taking a “centrist” approach, but that center is a midpoint between Bill Kristol and Michèle Flournoy. Miss Flournoy is one of the cofounders of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). If that sounds like the Democratic Party’s version of Kristol’s Project for a New American Century, that’s because it is. She is also the new secretary of defense for policy, a post held by Douglas Feith when that office was the War Party’s stronghold outside of the office of the vice president—a role it now seems destined to retain.
Flournoy coauthored a CNAS report advocating a very cautious and tentative withdrawal from Iraq, significantly rejecting the 16-month timetable promised by candidate Obama. Under the tutelage of “counterinsurgency” doctrine guru John Nagl, CNAS has become the center of agitation for an expanded war on the Afghan front—which promises to be Obama’s Vietnam.
Nagl and his CNAS confrères advocate a full-bodied approach to counterinsurgency strategy, deploying not only military but political, economic, and diplomatic means to achieve our ostensible goals. I say “ostensible,” because the exact goal of our de facto occupation of Afghanistan has never been clear, except to set the stage for serial revenge killings in retaliation for September 11. Yet the perpetrators of that deed are long gone from that country and may not even be hiding out in neighboring Pakistan, as Obama and his advisors constantly claim.
Be that as it may, the CNAS strategy for fighting the Afghan war is to nation-build with a vengeance: roads, schools, clinics, and agricultural programs to wean the Afghans away from poppy-growing, as well as full-scale political tutelage of the Afghan government, including picking and choosing the country’s presidents.
You’ll recall that Hamid Karzai, the stylish technocrat with a wardrobe by Gucci and about as much control over the Afghan countryside as his fashionista fan club, was elected in another purple-fingered triumph of democracy imposed at gunpoint. Well, now he’s out—snubbed by Obama, who managed to invite the Afghan leader’s likely rivals in the upcoming presidential election to his inauguration, but somehow failed to include Karzai’s name on the guest list.
Another specimen of neoconism in Obama World is Dennis Ross, who has just been appointed special Middle East envoy, to balance out the choice of George Mitchell as special envoy charged with settling—or, at least, containing—the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ross is a hardliner who opposed significant concessions on the part of Israel, and whose record is hardly one of evenhandedness. What’s more, he supported the war in Iraq and signed on to two of PNAC’s open letters calling for an attack. He also serves as an advisor to United Against Nuclear Iran, a neocon front group agitating for a military confrontation with Tehran sooner rather than later.
As editorial director of Antiwar.com, I come into contact with a whole host of lefties, including starry-eyed (or is that zombified?) Obamaites who believe that our new President is about to inaugurate an era of peaceful cooperation and who reject the Bushian doctrine of perpetual war. Boy, are they in for the shock of their lives!
A recent Wall Street Journal profile of CNAS points to it as the source of a number of appointments to key foreign-policy posts in the Obama administration, while adding that “the center’s budget comes mainly from foundations such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and it also gets some government money to study particular issues.” Murdoch, Rockefeller; right-neocon, left-neocon; six of one, half a dozen of the other. When it comes to questions of war and peace, all indications are that the Obama administration is likely to pick up where the Bushies left off. CNAS, PNAC, or whatever four-letter acronym they cook up matters little in the end. Left-neocons and right-neocons are brothers under the skin.