Calling the Hagel confirmation “the most depressing episode in the Republican foreign-policy debate since George W. Bush was president,” W. James Antle III wonders where a “realist caucus” in the party might find a home:
[I]t is worth noting that there are Republican senators currently serving who have gone further on foreign policy and civil liberties than Hagel ever did. A failing of many Republican realists, from Jon Huntsman to Richard Lugar, is that for all they do to alienate the rest of their party, they seldom oppose wars when it matters most. At best they express regret after the fact, before reluctantly supporting the next one. Usually, they confine their complaints to the Sunday talk shows.
Larison takes a more cynical view:
Minimal awareness of past failures might encourage Republican hard-liners to hold their tongues and be less obnoxious in their treatment of one of the relative few elected Republicans that recognized the folly of the war long before any of them did. There is no such awareness, and no desire to acquire it. Put simply, no “realist caucus” emerged in the last two months because most party leaders remain stuck in a fantasy world in which the Iraq war was a great success, uncritical support for all Israeli policies is wise, and unending hostility towards Iran is prudent, and most elected Republicans continue to take their cues on these issues from the people who have been wrong about virtually every major foreign policy issue for at least the last fifteen years.
I fear Daniel is right. And the complete intellectual collapse of neoconservatism misses the point. Neoconservatism was never a merely intellectual movement, apart from its early years. It was also a political operation, managed and directed by political actors, with a media apparatus to smear, ignore or ostracize all critics. It was founded by ex-Trotskyites and found in Bill Kristol such a shameless and brilliant operator, it endures despite being a zombie ideology. Either it will continue to dominate Republican discussion of national security, or it will be outlasted by Obama’s traditionally conservative (and popular) realism in foreign affairs. That’s why Hagel’s nomination matters. It will be the first clear neoconservative defeat since the end of torture and the removal of all forces from Iraq. It could cement neoconservative irrelevance and fanaticism for a long time.
If that settles in after eight years of Obama, it will be the kind of change I never believed could happen. But did.