The neoconservatives have been one of the worst influences in US foreign policy. They have advocated for the muscular use of the US military to quickly achieve both US hegemony in the world in general and Israeli dominance in the Middle East. They disdained the use of ‘soft power’ (i.e., economic and political strategies) to achieve those same ends more slowly and stealthily, which is the approach of the neoliberals.
They achieved great influence in the Bush-Cheney administration, particularly with Dick Cheney’s office, and they achieved a major goal in getting the US to invade Iraq, by selling the outrageous lies that that country had WMDs and that Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks of 9/11. Of course, that policy has been a total disaster that led to the collapse of Iraqi society, followed by further collapse in Libya and Yemen and a potential collapse in Syria, leading to a state of permanent war and causing immense suffering for the people of the region.
The neocons were outraged by Donald Trump’s harsh criticisms of the Iraqi and Libyan wars, of the Bush family for their role in starting the first, and his lack of belligerence towards Russia. Given Hillary Clinton’s warmongering instincts, her support for the Iraq war, her gleeful urging of the destabilization of Libya, and her harsh attitude towards Russia, and also given that they thought Trump would easily lose to her, they became the most ardent members of the Never Trump movement, severely criticizing him, abandoning their past allegiance to the Republican party, and giving their full support to Clinton.
They are truly the proverbial rats fleeing sinking ships, except that they chose the wrong ship to flee to because their calculations have gone badly astray and now they are seeking to weasel their way into the good graces of the future Trump administration, no doubt hoping that in his erratic way, he will change his views and forgive their criticisms, and that his inchoate foreign policy will allow them to ingratiate themselves into his administration and continue their policies. Zaid Jilani reviews the neoconservative switch, and one of the cases he cites is Max Boot, one of the most bloodthirsty neocons.
Consider Max Boot, an unrepentant supporter of the Iraq war, who earlier this year wrote that a “Trump presidency would represent the death knell of America as a great power,” citing among other things Trump’s skepticism about a U.S. troop presence in South Korea. He signed a letter composed by 122 Republican national security leaders urging voters to oppose Trump.
But Boot’s tone has changed now. In a USA Today published last week, Boot continued to be skeptical of Trump but also urged those on the national security right who shunned him to work with him now. “I was one of 122 national security experts who signed a letter opposing Trump. The temptation now for me and my fellow #NeverTrumpers is to want nothing to do with a candidate we considered unfit for office,” he wrote. “The temptation for Trump is to want nothing to do with people who considered him unfit. For the good of the country, I hope the two sides can come together.”
For people like Boot, ‘ for the good of the country’ is code ‘for the good of me and my fellow warmongering neoconservatives’.
Anti-war conservative Justin Raimondo says that the neocons are like the kudzu vine that is almost impossible to eradicate but that his faction will oppose them every step of the way.
In that speech, and throughout the campaign, Trump took every opportunity to disdain the interventionist nation-building dogmas that had led the GOP and the nation to ruination, and lay out his own foreign policy vision of putting America first. “No country,” he averred, “has ever prospered that failed to put its own interests first. Both our friends and our enemies put their countries above ours and we, while being fair to them, must start doing the same. We will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism.”
From the neoconservative perspective, this was kryptonite. For the central canon of the neocon creed has been and always will be a militant internationalism. When the Soviet Union fell, and the War Party had no more dragons to slay, neocon consigliare Bill Kristol and sidekick Robert Kagan penned a piece laying out the neoconservative design for the new era, which they summed up rather succinctly as “benevolent global hegemony.” Here was globalism beyond the dreams of Alexander – and this is what Trump was and is rejecting.
The neocons know who are their enemies, and they accurately saw Trump as their undoing: they led the “Never Trump” mini-movement, and did everything in their power to destroy him. They sponsored and promoted two open letters from the GOP “foreign policy community,” a.k.a. the League of Discredited Warmongers, viciously attacking Trump: a concerted campaign to declare him “unfit” for office was promoted by the neoconservative media, which charged him with all the familiar epithets: “racist,” “authoritarian,” “isolationist,” and even “fascist.”
[Eliot] Cohen was one of the leading voices in favor of invading Iraq: the war would be a “cakewalk,” he told us, even easier than in the first Gulf war. The “liberation” of Iraqis, he pontificated, “will bring about a far, far better life than they have know for more than twenty years.” As Iraq disintegrates into warring tribes, and ISIS rampages across the decimated landscape, I wonder if Professor Cohen would be willing to tell that to the Iraqi people in person.
But the Eliot Cohens of this world never take responsibility for what their actions have wrought. This was brought home when, after the election, he reversed his earlier position in favor of boycotting Trump and all his works and suddenly declared that the out-of-work neocons who look to him for guidance should volunteer for jobs in the new administration
So Cohen made inquiries: he reached out to “a friend” with connections to the transition team – and was soundly rebuffed:
Oh, there’s nothing worse than a neocon scorned! Cohen vented his spleen in an op-ed in the Washington Post, where he stated, “The tenor of the Trump team, from everything I see, read and hear, is such that, for a garden-variety Republican policy specialist, service in the early phase of the administration would carry a high risk of compromising one’s integrity and reputation.”
As he told his Twitter followers:
“After exchange w Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away. They’re angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’ Will be ugly.”
Ugly is in the eye of the beholder. While Cohen and his fellow warmongers may be unable to bear the sight of an administration that doesn’t buy in to their plans for perpetual war and serial regime change, and rejects their entreaties for employment, to the rest of us the rare beauty of this scene is truly sublime.
But the neocons are nothing if not persistent and shame is a word they do not know. They will keep pleading to be let in through the back door so that they can continue to wreak havoc.
Meanwhile long time Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn gave an interesting and wide-ranging interview on what we might expect in terms of Trump’s foreign policy regarding Syria and Iran and the Russian role, and the likely reactions to it by the forces in that region, especially ISIS and their allies in Syria. It is too detailed for me to summarize but well worth reading.