Barack Obama, Neocon?

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In Obama’s reluctance to refer to his military operation against ISIS as a war, Uri Friedman reads an implicit embrace of the notion of perpetual war:

The distinctions between war and peace, of course, have long been murky (think America’s “police action” in Vietnam during another seemingly endless conflict: the Cold War). And few declarations of war are as clear as, say, those issued during World War II. Obama, moreover, has been careful to present his counterterrorism measures as limited to specific groups in specific places that pose specific threats to the United States—rather than, in his words, a “boundless ‘global war on terror.’” But over the course of his presidency, these efforts have expanded from Pakistan and Yemen to Somalia, and now to Iraq and Syria. “This war, like all wars, must end,” Obama declared at National Defense University.

[Last] week, the president set aside that goal. Thirteen years after his predecessor declared war on a concept—terror—Obama avoided explicitly declaring war on the very real adversary ISIS has become. All the same, U.S. soldiers are now going on the offensive again in the Middle East. What is the nature of their enemy? Is it peacetime or wartime? After Wednesday’s speech, it’s more difficult than ever to tell.

Allahpundit thinks Obama has adopted the same logic Bush used to justify invading Iraq in 2003:

He’s spent six years using, and even expanding, the counterterror tools that Bush gave him, but not until now did he take the final step and adopt Bush’s view of war itself.

Obama isn’t responding to an “immediate” threat against the U.S. in hitting ISIS; he’s engaging in preemptive war to try to neutralize what will, sooner or later (likely sooner), become a grave strategic threat. It’s like trying to oust the Taliban circa 1998 for fear of what terrorists based in Afghanistan might eventually do to America — or, if you prefer, like ousting Saddam circa 2003 for fear of what he might eventually do to America with his weapons program. Obama’s going to hit ISIS before cells nurtured in their territory hit us, and good for him. But let’s not kid ourselves what this means: If, as Conor Friedersdorf says, Obama’s now willing to preemptively attack a brutal Iraqi enemy for fear of what he might do down the line to America and its interests, he should have also supported the war in Iraq in 2003.

Former Bush advisor William Inboden unsurprisingly depicts that shift as the president waking up to reality:

It is often forgotten today, but in President Jimmy Carter’s last year in office he developed an assertive policy towards the Soviet Union including a major defense buildup, support for rebels fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, and suspending any further arms control agreements. Carter adopted these policies after the many traumas of 1979, culminating in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, made him realize that the previous three years of his Cold War policies had been naïve and weak. Six years into his presidency, perhaps President Obama has now arrived at a similar “Carter moment” and realizes that with just over two years left in his administration, he needs to make a similar shift.

Hathos Red Alert

Kristol

The usual suspects are having a collective orgasm at Obama’s decision to intervene in Iraq. In their view, it proves them right about the Obama retrenchment/surrender/capitulation to terrorism, and has them licking their chops at the prospect of “finishing the job”. Mercifully, the American people are likely to resist their insanity. Here is Bill Kristol pushing for greater involvement:

“If you’re going to get in, get in big and get in decisively now,” Kristol said. “If you go in incrementally, in this way, you don’t have the effect you want to have on ISIS; you don’t have the effect you want to have on bolstering your allies; you don’t have the effect you want to have in the region.”

Repeat after me: a whole new war. Give these fanatics an inch and they’ll be in Baghdad before you know it. Jennifer Rubin encapsulates the emerging neocon narrative we will surely see trotted out on TV and talk radio over the coming days:

Virtually every action or refusal to act has now come back to haunt Obama. Trying to reconcile past mistakes with grudging action is impossible, and yet he refuses to admit error or commit wholeheartedly to a different set of policies. As Bolton puts it, “The problem is not just Iraq, but the entire Middle East where state structures are collapsing and terrorism increasing to fill the vacuum. Thus we have moved from the American Century to the Obama Chaos.”

We should be pleased, I suppose, that he acted in some fashion. Now he needs a new policy team, a coherent policy for the region and a recognition that retrenchment failed and is indeed the cause of many of the horrors we now see. That would require adequately funding the military, taking action to prevent Iran’s hegemonic ambitions and ensuring that non-jihadi rebels in Syria succeed — to name only a few significant policy reversals that would be required. Let’s hope that this is the first indication of an about-face on Obama’s entire foreign policy approach.

The idea that what has been happening all over the Arab Muslim world since the Arab Spring is “Obama’s Chaos” just reveals that the neocons still have no idea that the world is more than America’s plaything. Wolfowitz just declared that the Iraq war had been “won” by 2009 – another sign that they have been chastened not a whit by the destruction and disorder and violence they unleashed more than a decade ago. Conor catches John Podhoretz gloating in a similar vein and rips his argument to shreds:

Alternative history cannot be definitively disproved. There’s no way to know what would be happening now if Obama had left more troops in Iraq.

But if you’ve been wrong about Iraq as frequently as Podhoretz, or the magazine he runs, it is perverse to profess certainty that the war was “all but won” by 2009, that Iraq would now be stable if only the president had listened to you, when of course you have no earthly way of knowing whether that is actually true. Podhoretz’s definition of a war that was all but won required the indefinite presence of U.S. troops. His prior positions on Iraq include a belief that firing Don Rumsfeld in 2006 would definitely lose the Iraq War, as well as the notion that perhaps the U.S. could’ve only won in Iraq by slaughtering Sunni men between 15 and 35.

Danielle Pletka insists that there is plenty we can do without re-occupying Iraq, and amps up the fear to make the case – just as the neocons did with the Iraq war:

What could Barack Obama have done, his few apologists and their libertarian cohort ask. This is not our problem, they insist. We know these isolationists and know-nothings — they’re the ones who said it didn’t matter that Afghanistan was taken over by Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. But, they retort, none of this would be a problem if Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak and Bashar al Assad were still firmly seated on their thrones. But of course, those thrones were teetering thanks to the oppressed people of the Middle East, who have noticed that the only parties now talking liberation are the Islamist Shiites and Sunnis from Hezbollah, Hamas and al Qaeda et al.

More than a year ago, Jack Keane and I wrote about what the US could do — none of the straw men’s “boots on the ground” — to stop Assad’s slaughter here. Earlier this year, we wrote about what could — no boots — swiftly cut off IS in Iraq here. These ideas are still relevant today. Remember, Obama’s movement is a lagging indicator of the seriousness of the problem we — yes, we — face in the Middle East. More must be done or the security of the American people will be the next victim.

(Image of “True Chyrons For Bush-Era Iraq War ‘Experts'” from the Huffington Post.)

The Neocons Just Don’t Care

Stephen Walt delivers a righteous screed:

One reason neoconservatism survives is that its members don’t care how wrong they’ve been, or even about right and wrong itself. True to their Trotskyite and Straussian roots, neoconservatives have always been willing to play fast and loose with the truth in order to advance political goals.

We know that they were willing to cook the books on intelligence and make outrageously false claims in order to sell the Iraq war, for example, and today they construct equally false narratives that deny their own responsibility for the current mess in Iraq and portray their war as a great success that was squandered by Obama. And the entire movement seems congenitally incapable of admitting error, or apologizing to the thousands of people whose lives they have squandered or damaged irreparably.

Like Richard Nixon or Silvio Berlusconi, in short, the neoconservatives keep staging comebacks because they simply don’t care how often they have been wrong, and because they remain willing to do or say anything to stay in the public eye. They also appear utterly indifferent to the tragic human consequences of their repeated policy failures. Being a neoconservative, it seems, means never having to say you’re sorry.

And never ever taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions. They are the post-modern nihilists they accuse the left of being. Only much more shameless. But it’s worth repeating that they only appear on cable news because the brain-dead producers and editors decide they will. The blame for treating these congenital fantasists, hysterics and war-mongers as experts lies in part with the sheer laziness and cynicism of cable news bookers.

Read my take on the neocons’ unique relationship with the truth here. Other recent Dish on their attempted renaissance here, here, and here.

(Cartoon by Matt Bors)

The Paul We’ve Been Waiting For

In a WSJ op-ed late last week, Rand Paul finally showed his cards on Iraq, taking the neocons to task and invoking Reagan to make a case for not taking sides in the Iraq conflict. On Meet The Press yesterday, he defended his position, turning Cheney’s unhinged criticism of Obama back on the former vice president himself:

Money quote:

“I think the same questions could be asked of those who supported the Iraq War,” Paul said. “You know, were they right in their predictions? Were there weapons of mass destruction there? That’s what the war was sold on. Was democracy easily achievable? Was the war won in 2005, when many of these people said it was won? They didn’t really, I think, understand the civil war that would break out.”

Matt Welch compares Paul’s positions to those of the Cheneys:

The contrast is striking here not just in policy content but in tone. The Cheneys snarl about “appeasing our enemies,” “abandoning our allies,” and “apologizing for our great nation,” as if it was the 2004 Republican National Convention all over again. Paul, with the exception of one somewhat intemperate paragraph asking “Why should we listen to them again?”, approaches the question with an assumption of personal and national humility, a sense that American knowledge of (and power to shape) fluid events in the Middle East has limitations, as does American appetite for making the kind of commitments that the Cheneys of the world constantly seek … This is a pretty clearly defined fork in the road for GOP foreign policy.

Cheney’s thin retort says a lot in its omissions:

When asked about Paul’s comments, Cheney said his position hasn’t changed: “I was a strong supporter then of going into Iraq, I’m a strong supporter now.” (He was more vague about what exactly the U.S. should be doing in Iraq now, aside from it being the opposite of whatever President Obama is doing.) “If we spend our time debating what happened 11 or 12 years ago, we’re going to miss the threat that is growing and that we do face,” Cheney continued. “Rand Paul, with all due respect, is basically an isolationist. He doesn’t believe we ought to be involved in that part of the world. I think it’s absolutely essential.”

Later, Cheney said he hasn’t decided who he’ll support in 2016, but suggested it won’t be Paul. “Now, Rand Paul and — by my standards, as I look at his — his philosophy, is basically an isolationist,” he said. “That didn’t work in the 1930s, it sure as heck won’t work in the aftermath of 9/11, when 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters came all the way from Afghanistan and killed 3,000 of our citizens.”

Look at the formulae that Cheney recites. He can’t actually address the debate over the Iraq war; he just reiterates his own position then and now. You get the impression he hasn’t actually had a single conversation in person challenging his rigid mindset since the war began. And once again, it’s the One Percent solution. When you posit a threat of apocalyptic devastation far beyond even the horror of 9/11, the cost-benefit analysis will always come down to maximal action everywhere and anywhere. But he hasn’t for a second absorbed that this apocalyptic vision was precisely what was debunked by the Iraq War.

There were no nukes or chemical weapons coming for us. They existed solely in Dick Cheney’s imagination. Thanks to Obama’s deal with Putin, there are also no WMDs left lying around the battlefield for ISIS to pick up and use. The alternative to getting the hell out of a region where we have only sowed chaos and sectarian warfare to no measurable gain is the boogey-man of “isolationism.” You have to conclude that Cheney is intellectually dead. Nothing that happened in the last fourteen years has made even the slightest dent in his terrorized worldview. Sometimes I wonder if Cheney was seriously traumatized by 9/11 in ways even more profound than the rest of us – it occurred on his watch, after all, and he was the recipient of all sorts of terrifying intelligence in the months that followed. But to have reacted by never moving on from his own terror on 9/12 is not a position. It’s a condition.

Meanwhile, Kilgore finds it odd that Paul references Reagan’s defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger:

Cap was less famous for his “doctrine” than for his persistence in securing the highest level of defense spending imaginable. In his endlessly fascinating account of the budget wars of Reagan’s first term, The Triumph of Politics, David Stockman all but calls Weinberger a traitor for his mendacious and successful efforts to trick Ronald Reagan into double-loading defense increases into his seminal 1981 budget proposal. This is one part of the Reagan-Weinberger legacy Paul will probably not want to emulate. And it matters: the most obvious way to convince reflexively belligerent Republicans that he’s kosher despite opposing various past, present and future military engagements would be to insist on arming America to the teeth. But Paul’s government-shrinking visions would make that sort of gambit very difficult. And try as he might, it will be very difficult for Paul to make a credible claim Ronald Reagan stood tall for taming the Pentagon.

The hawks are having a field day, of course. Here’s Rubin:

Understand that he doesn’t merely say we shouldn’t put boots on the ground; he argues that we don’t have an interest in the outcome. He manages to get through an entire op-ed without recognizing that a state dominated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) would represent a bigger threat to the United States than Afghanistan did pre-9/11. Paul observes that the Iraq war was harder than anticipated but ignores the success of the surge and the peaceful, stable state in which the George W. Bush administration left Iraq. He also borrows President Obama’s false talking point that we couldn’t leave forces there. (Paul incidentally doesn’t understand or is deliberately misleading readers when he says our actions in Syria contribute to the rise of ISIS there; in fact, had we swiftly pushed out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, there would have been no – zero – ISIS fighters there.)

The Neocons’ Last Stand?

Hillary Clinton Awarded The 2013 Lantos Human Rights Prize

Jacob Heilbrunn suspects so:

Whether the neocons’ audacious attempts to once more guide the debate over foreign policy will succeed is an open question. Kristol, for one, seems to think this is his moment, writing recently, “A war-weary public can be awakened and rallied. Indeed, events are right now doing the awakening. All that’s needed is the rallying.”

Wrong. This is classic neocon bombast, which is to act as though foreign policy is simply a matter of willpower. It isn’t. Foreign policy is not a cheerleading event. A host of other factors—the strength of the economy, our alliances, the growing power of China, climate change and other developments—mean that American cannot simply act with impunity abroad, as the neocons would have it. What’s more, the American people are not ready to rally: A recent Pew poll indicates that 54 percent of the public, a new high, believes that the United States should “mind its own business” internationally. Put simply, Obama is not flouting the will of the public. He is expressing it. It’s the neocons who are out of step with history.

John Nichols spotlights a recent PPP poll on Iraq:

In fact, if there is one thing that unites Americans, it is their skepticism about steering back into Iraq. Eighty-two percent of Democrats oppose sending US troops to Iraq, as do 86 percent of independents. Notably, 57 percent of Republicans are also opposed. Just 28 percent of Republicans favor the ground-troops option.

Overall, just 16 percent of Americans are inclined toward the sort of approach that might satisfy Cheney.

Their main source of hope at this point? Hillary Clinton. Millman notes how far to the neocon right Clinton is among Democrats, when it comes to intervention:

The one thing that distinguishes her from your typical Democrat is that she is substantially more hawkish, having taken the hawkish side in essentially every political debate from Bosnia and Kosovo through Afghanistan and Iraq and into the Obama-era debates over Libya, Syria and Ukraine. If she weren’t Hillary Clinton, that fact would not only make her a long shot; it would probably be disqualifying.

There’s a real risk that she’d drag us back into the Manichean struggle with Iran, cave to the Greater Israel lobby on settlements, and give bleeding heart liberal interventionists another crack at meddling in someone else’s country once again. Her entire career has been about insulating herself from attacks from the right by appeasing them. I see no reason why she would stop now. It’s in her bones.

Should We Just Tune Out The Neocons?

Kristol

Fallows is disgusted that Kagan, Kristol, and company are being allowed to participate the public conversation about Iraq today:

Am I sounding a little testy here? You bet. We all make mistakes. But we are talking about people in public life—writers, politicians, academics—who got the biggest strategic call in many decades completely wrongWrong as a matter of analysis, wrong as a matter of planning, wrong as a matter of execution, wrong in conceiving American interests in the broadest sense.

None of these people did that intentionally, and many of them have honestly reflected and learned. But we now live with (and many, many people have died because of) the consequences of their gross misjudgments a dozen years ago. In the circumstances, they might have the decency to shut the hell up on this particular topic for a while. They helped create the disaster Iraqis and others are now dealing with. They have earned the right not to be listened to.

I hold a somewhat different view, although I feel perhaps even more strongly than Fallows (with no legs to stand on, given my record). As long as these people forthrightly acknowledge they were terribly wrong in the past, they have every right to participate in the current debate. But when they either excise that past from history or even claim they succeeded, my head explodes. Beinart is pretty close to me on this:

Saying that Iraq hawks should have to squirm their way through debate number two [their past] before getting to debate number one is different than saying, as Paul Waldman recently did in The Washington Post, that “On Iraq, let’s ignore those who got it all wrong.” In fact, the two positions are antithetical.

You can either ignore the people who got Iraq wrong or you can ask them tough, searching questions about why they got it wrong. Doing the latter brings past debates to bear on present ones, and helps clarify what our disastrous 2003 intervention can teach us about intervention today. Doing the former offers no such opportunity at all.

Chait agrees, noting that those who would shush the neocons have also made mistakes:

Most Democrats in Congress opposed the Gulf War, warning of Saddam Hussein’s fearsome, World War I–style fortifications and citing 45,000 body bags as an indication of the likely U.S. death toll — predictions that turned out to be wildly incorrect. Why shouldn’t anti-Gulf war Democrats — that is, the vast majority of Democrats — have been excluded from subsequent foreign policy debates? If your answer is “because people died — Iraq,” then then you’re not arguing that pro-war arguments should be ignored because they’re analytically wrong, you’re arguing they should be ignored they’re inherently morally suspect, regardless of accuracy.

When you’re trying to set the terms for a debate, you have to do it in a fair way. … We shouldn’t disregard Dick Cheney’s arguments about Iraq because he’s Dick Cheney. We should disregard them because they’re stupid.

Stupid is too kind. They are the deranged views of a man with a mighty ax to grind and a sense of shame surgically removed. Larison makes an important point:

The Iraq war in particular was the greatest foreign policy blunder in a generation. Surely it must count against someone more to get a major policy decision horribly wrong than to be on the “wrong” side of a more debatable and relatively minor decision.

He follows up:

Chait is mostly wrong that “the ideological fault lines” aren’t the same. He can find some liberals that are pro-intervention now that were against the war, and he has identified a handful of hard-liners that were all for the war and now don’t want a new intervention (albeit for extremely hard-line reasons). Chait is an example of a previously pro-war liberal that now claims to be more skeptical about using force in Iraq. Nonetheless, overall the fault lines are depressingly familiar. Neoconservatives, liberal hawks, and more than a few “centrists” will loudly demand action while the rest of us marvel at how these people still have any influence in the wake of one policy failure after another.

Waldman weighs in:

Is there a bit of over-enthusiasm with which people like me are attacking the return of the Iraq War caucus? Maybe. Part of it comes from the fact that a decade ago, those of us who were right about the whole thing were practically called traitors because we doubted that Iraq would turn out to be a splendid little war. And part of it comes from the fact that the band of morons who sold and executed the worst foreign policy disaster in American history not only didn’t receive the opprobrium they deserved, they all did quite well for themselves.

Paul Wolfowitz became president of the World Bank. Paul Bremer, Tommy Franks, and George Tenet—a trio of incompetents to rival the Three Stooges—each got the Medal of Freedom in honor of their stellar performance. Bill Kristol was rewarded with the single most prestigious perch in the American media, a column in the New York Times. (The drivel he turned out was so appallingly weak that they axed him after a year.) The rest of the war cheerleaders in the media retained their honored positions in the nation’s newspapers and on our TV screens. The worst thing that happened to any of them was getting a cushy sinecure at a conservative think tank.

(Image from HuffPo’s “True Chyrons For Bush-Era Iraq War ‘Experts’“)

Have The Cheneys Finally Jumped The Shark?

In a video introducing their new 501(c)4, Dick and Liz provide what will surely be SNL’s opening skit this Saturday:

Update from a reader:

I took a look at the Cheney video on YouTube to read some of the comments. And what did I see? Comments have been disabled. Some things never change.

Their astonishing op-ed – a classic in the annals of non-self-awareness – has even prompted Fox’s Megyn Kelly to balk and Byron York’s jaw to drop. Waldman identifies one of many huge holes in the warmongering op-ed from the father-daughter team:

[T]he Cheneys’ op ed is silent on what they would do differently in Iraq today. The op-ed contains nothing even approaching a specific suggestion for what, other than to say that defeating terrorists “will require a strategy — not a fantasy. It will require sustained difficult military, intelligence and diplomatic efforts — not empty misleading rhetoric. It will require rebuilding America’s military capacity — reversing the Obama policies that have weakened our armed forces and reduced our ability to influence events around the world.”

So to recap: we need a strategy, and though they won’t tell us what that strategy might be, it should involve military, intelligence, and diplomatic efforts, and rebuilding the military. Apart from the absurd claim that the armed forces have been “weakened” (we’re still spending over $600 billion a year on the military even with the war in Iraq behind us and Afghanistan winding down), the Cheneys are about as clear on what we should do now as they were on how invading Iraq was supposed to spread peace and democracy across the Middle East.

They know nothing but the fumes of their own ideology and self-regard. Ed Morrissey comments that the Cheneys “are likely whistling into the wind here”:

There hasn’t been much polling on Iraq, but the PPP poll taken over the weekend shows that the neocon policy is even less popular than Obama’s leadership at the moment. Even with the looming disaster facing Baghdad and by extension American policy, and even with the threat that ISIS represents to the region and eventually to the US directly, only 20% want American troops back in Iraq. The majority want a diplomatic “mobilization” to deal with ISIS, which as I wrote yesterday would look pretty strange, since ISIS is an unapologetic terrorist organization.

Jason Zengerle calls the op-ed an opening for Liz Cheney’s next political campaign:

While Obama is the ostensible target of the Cheneys’ op-ed and new group, their real opponent isn’t Obama but Rand Paul and the school of foreign-policy thinking that Paul represents inside the GOP. Liz finally has the proxy war she’s been waiting for.

Even before Liz abandoned her Senate race, people in Wyoming were speculating that she wouldn’t stay in the statethat, win or lose, her family would move back to the home in the Virginia suburbs that they never bothered to sell. But six months later Liz is still in Wyoming (just witness that gorgeous mountain backdrop on the video she recorded for the Alliance for a Strong America) and it seems likely she’ll make another run for office there at some point. If she does, today will have marked the start of that long campaign.

Maybe she could just get a job at NBC for $600,000 a year. I hear the children of shameless nepotists are doing quite well in this economy. Allahpundit also detects a preemptive strike against the young senator from Kentucky:

Really, why would you even need to attack O on foreign policy at this point? His numbers are already in the toilet; Chuck Todd read his political obituary on the air just this morning. He’s the lamest of lame ducks.

The guy whom hawks are worried about is Paul, who could do a lot of damage to the interventionist cause by succeeding with a more dovish foreign policy agenda in the GOP primary. Remember, too, that the Cheneys have a history with Paul: He eagerly endorsed Enzi after Liz announced her primary challenge and offered to campaign personally for him in Wyoming in the name of squashing a famous hawk with the Cheney name. The Cheneys are going to repay the kindness next year by attacking him as a dangerously irresponsible appeaser who’ll build on Obama’s legacy of failure. That’s where the new group comes in, I think. By rolling it out now against Obama, they’re going to build goodwill among righties. Then they’ll put that goodwill to use next year in hammering Paul.

But Tim Mak points out that Paul has been pretty cagey about where he actually stands on Iraq:

Paul has dropped hints here and there about his Iraq stance. He told the Des Moines Register this month that he didn’t oppose helping arm the Iraqi military and said he “would not rule out air strikes.” In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, he said he was “not very excited about” the prospect of sending military service members back into Iraq. But he stopped short of endorsing military intervention in Iraq or ruling it out, and his on-the-fence position hasn’t been clarified.

Boarding a senators-only elevator Tuesday morning with fellow Republican Sen. John McCain, a hawk well known for his foreign policy views, Paul joked that he should just tell reporters he believes “whatever McCain says.”

Paul is not turning out to be a profile in courage, is he?