Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Neo-Con Comeback?

Leslie Gelb knows a thing or two about the contours of “respectable opinion” about foreign affairs. And he’s telling us that foreign policy neo-conservativism, with its regrettable affinity for military adventurism, is regaining a lot of the respect that it lost during the dark days of the Iraq war (my emphasis):
“Once again, the neoconservatives mount their steeds. They hint that we need another war or at least a little military strike, this time against Iran. They’re pushing to increase military spending; the China threat, you know. . . .

“I have come never to underestimate the neoconservatives, that formidable group mostly of Republicans who sprang from the loins of the great Democratic senator from Washington, Henry “Scoop” Jackson. They are very smart and far tougher than their liberal and moderate opponents. They write and speak with far greater simplicity and force. (Democrats just must make 17 complicated points about everything.) They are always relentless and on the attack. The only ones to stand up to them effectively have been other Republicans, specifically the best of the foreign-policy realists such as George Shultz, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, and George H.W. Bush.
Leave aside the comparative merits of foreign policy neo-conservatism and realism so we can contemplate Gelb’s sense of what now counts as influential opinion about foreign affairs. At the right edge of the spectrum you have opinions associated with guys like William Kristol upholding the standpoint that gave you the Iraq war.  On the left edge you have the opinions associated with guys like Baker, Shultz, Scowcroft and H.W. Bush, upholding the standpoint that gave you the Gulf War despite the concerted opposition of the Democratic Party. On Gelb's view, the foreign policy establishment is now relitigating a dispute over the broad contours of foreign policy that happened within the Republican Party during the 1990s.

Gelb 's a fount of conventional wisdom about foreign affairs if ever there was one. So it must mean something that he apparently can't identify any effective voice in foreign affairs that’s distinctively Democratic, much less liberal. The genealogy he references is instructive. Every effective voice Gelb identifies claims kinship with Scoop Jackson. And Jackson, you’ll recall, had already worn out his welcome in liberal and Democratic circles by the 1970s when foreign policy liberalism took its McGovernite turn.

Are there contemporary heirs of the McGovernite tradition in foreign policy? If there are any left at all within the foreign policy establishment, they can only be the people who came, literally or figuratively, to Washington with Obama talking about “engagement,” “smart diplomacy,” the legitimacy conferred on foreign policy initiatives by the imprimatur of international institutions and how the W. Bush administration had destroyed America's moral standing in the world.  You don't hear much about those themes anymore, however, because the people who popularized them now spend most of their time celebrating the Obama administration's gift for targeted assassination.

Feeling depressed yet?


Anonymous said...

It seems so strange that our enemies are dropping like flies under the Obama administration.

The things that are going on now remind me of plots of Tom Clancy novels, except that Clancy has his targeted assassinations under the cloak of top secrecy, and subject to denial by administration sources if asked.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm all for killing bad guys. But somehow it feels not quite right seeing images of dead bodies of former "leaders" with bullet holes in their heads.

Is everyone OK with this?

Fed up liberal said...

It looks like you can Qaddafi to Obama's list of targetted assassinations. We apparently launched the missle that disabled Qaddafi enough to enable the Libyan "rebels" to get hold of him and bludgeon him to death. Remember when the Libyan mission was supposed to be about protecting civilians rather than regime change?