‘Neo­cons’ re-emerge in US elec­tion

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY AN­DREW BEATTY

Once thought dead and buried on the bat­tle­fields of Iraq, a mus­cu­lar and mil­i­taris­tic “neo­con­ser­va­tive” ap­proach to U.S. for­eign pol­icy is mak­ing a come­back.

For most of the last decade, the “neo­cons” — per­son­i­fied by for­mer U.S. Vice Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney and ex-Pen­tagon boss Don­ald Rums­feld — have been out of of­fice and out of fash­ion.

But the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race has seen Repub­li­can can­di­dates em­brace ideas and ad­vi­sors once os­tra­cized for the catas­tro­phes and hubris of for­mer U.S, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s “pre­emp­tive war” in Iraq.

Dur­ing last week’s Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial de­bates, 17 can­di­dates tripped over them­selves to de­clare U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama weak and to vow a more ro­bust ap­proach to for­eign pol­icy.

What Obama aides see as cau­tion, prag­ma­tism and a re­al­ism about U.S. power, Repub­li­cans painted as a lack of Amer­i­can lead­er­ship that had left a power vac­uum al­low­ing Rus­sia, Iran, China and ji­hadist terror groups to run riot.

“We need a new com­man­der in chief that will stand up to our en­e­mies,” said one White House hope­ful, U.S. Sen­a­tor Ted Cruz.

Seek­ing to sweep aside the an­ti­war mood that ush­ered Obama to the White House, U.S. Sen­a­tor Lind­sey Graham in­sisted U.S. troops are needed in Iraq and Syria to fight the Is­lamic State group.

If the rhetoric sounds fa­mil­iar, so do some of the faces.

Paul Wol­fowitz, an early and vo­cif­er­ous cham­pion of in­vad­ing Iraq as a se­nior aide to Rums­feld, has been ad­vis­ing for­mer Gover­nor Jeb Bush.

U.S. Sen­a­tor Marco Ru­bio is aided by Jamie Fly, who worked on for­mer U.S. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s na­tional se­cu­rity team.

In 2012, Fly and a co-au­thor ar­gued that the United States should pur­sue a pol­icy of regime change in Iran, with an ex­tended bomb­ing cam­paign against gov­ern­ment tar­gets.

It was al­ways likely that Repub­li­can can­di­dates would look to per- son­nel from the two pre­vi­ous Bush ad­min­is­tra­tions for for­eign pol­icy ex­pe­ri­ence.

Washington’s highly politi­cized civil ser­vice means that for the last seven years many have been parked at think thanks and in the pri­vate sec­tor wait­ing ea­gerly to get back into the game.

But some Repub­li­cans see more sys­temic rea­sons for reach­ing back into the past.

Lawrence Wilk­er­son, a Repub­li­can who went toe-to-toe with neo­cons as chief of staff to Colin Pow­ell dur­ing the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, be­lieves party pol­i­tics and an un­will­ing­ness to ac­cept a rel­a­tive de­cline of U.S. power has led to can­di­dates’ em­brace of neo­con ideas.

“They find there is no pos­si­bil­ity of them win­ning the White House with­out the 11 to 12 per­cent of Amer­ica that is cer­ti­fi­ably nuts,” he said, point­ing to the ex­treme re­li­gious con­ser­va­tive vot­ers who can­di­dates need to court in or­der to win the nom­i­na­tion.

“The Repub­li­cans need their vote, and they vote,” he told AFP. “They also hate the pres­i­dent’s guts. Some of them are just blind racists.”

But a lot comes down to a view of U.S. power and how it should be used.

“The United States is los­ing power,” in­sisted Wilk­er­son, a for­mer United States Army Colonel.

He said the Repub­li­can can­di­dates were ea­ger to tell vot­ers: “We’re the in­dis­pens­able na­tion, we’re the ex­cep­tional na­tion, we’ve got to get back up to the top.”

They for­get Ge­orge W. Bush and Cheney’s role in Amer­ica’s de­cline and say: “Oh, by the way, the guy in the White House who hap­pens to be black did the most to ac­cel­er­ate this.”

“You put this all in a stew pot and put it on a low sim­mer on the stove and sit it a lit­tle bit and you get some re­ally strange com­ments com­ing out of oth­er­wise sane peo­ple,” Wilk­er­son added.

He be­lieves that in of­fice the likes of Jeb Bush or Ru­bio would likely not en­act much of their cur­rent rhetoric.

“Once these guys and gals hit re­al­ity, get their first brief­ing and are en­sconced in the Oval Of­fice I think, I hope, re­spon­si­ble lead­er­ship will re­turn,” he said.

“But you sure can’t tell that from the process lead­ing to it.”

For their part, neo­con­ser­va­tives point to the rise of the Is­lamic State group and crises rang­ing from Libya to Ukraine to the Spratly Is­lands as ev­i­dence a change of doc­trine is needed.

“The treat­ment of for­eign pol­icy as an ex­er­cise in ad-hoc cri­sis man­age­ment has char­ac­ter­ized Obama’s en­tire pres­i­dency,” the For­eign Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute’s Mark Mo­yar wrote in a re­cent blog post.

“Obama’s re­main­ing months in of­fice will give Amer­ica’s en­e­mies time and space to ac­cu­mu­late strength.

“The con­tin­u­ance of pas­siv­ity and to­kenism may even in­vite au­da­cious provo­ca­tions from en­e­mies seek­ing to steal more sheep be­fore a more vig­i­lant shep­herd comes along.”

Obama’s re­main­ing months in of­fice and the cam­paign to suc­ceed him also look set to pro­vide a new plat­form for tough-talk­ing neo­cons.

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