Blogs > Liberty and Power > Neocon Newbie

Oct 4, 2004 12:14 pm

Neocon Newbie

I have to agree with William Safire in his NY Times essay today,"Kerry, Newest Neocon" (and, by implication, with Jason Pappas as well). Safire tells us that Kerry's statements during last week's foreign policy debate with President Bush were the essence of"hawkish" neoconservatism. This isn't just about wiping out"terrorist strongholds" in Falluja, or changing"the dynamics on the ground," or endorsing the concept of preemptive strikes against perceived threats. It's about"embracing Wilsonian idealism," which would enable Commander-in-Chief Kerry to spread"humanitarian" wars of"liberation" from the Middle East to Africa."His abandoned antiwar supporters celebrate the Kerry personality makeover," writes Safire."They shut their eyes to Kerry's hard-line, right-wing, unilateral, pre-election policy epiphany."

Alas, it is sometimes the case that people long identified with certain political propensities will embrace their opposite upon achieving political power. It has long been said that only a life-long anticommunist like Richard Nixon could travel to Russia and China. If Kerry bests my six-month old prediction of a Bush re-election, I think we should all be prepared for a similar transformation in the new JFK. Whatever Kerry's most recent criticisms of Bush's Iraqi adventure (criticisms with which I am in large agreement), I stand by my observations in that article:

A President Kerry would further institutionalize the Iraq War. He might be positively Nixonian in his approach: Before Nixon committed to the"Vietnamization" of the war in southeast Asia, to troop reductions and the elimination of conscription, his quest for"Peace with Honor" actually entailed a widening of the war. Likewise, Kerry himself might actually increase the number of troops in Iraq. He will do everything in his power not to go down as the President who"lost Iraq."

In the end, I don't see any fundamental change in the direction of American foreign, or domestic, policy.

Check out the refurbished"Not a Blog."

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Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 10/5/2004

BTW, I disabled those pesky comments because I'm so busy commenting here, there, and everywhere. Adding one more comments interface would drive me crazy! :)

As it is, I'm going to be very busy tonight! Watching the Cheney-Edwards debate.


I'll be taping that, and watching the Yankees-Twins instead. :)

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 10/5/2004

I agree, John, that there are profound implications for social policy. The implications are, as I argue here, based on a very real and growing threat from the socially conservative religious right. If Kerry clobbers Bush in all three debates, and Edwards holds his own against Cheney, then my prediction of a Bush victory will be put in doubt by virtue of the cumulative effect of such thrashings. However, I still believe that the voting demographics of the religious right are capable of delivering this election to Bush. If Bush retains and fortifies his base, and appeals to just enough independent voters in those notorious swing states, he'll pull this off.

The worst that can happen, in my view, is a Bush landslide. That would give this President a "mandate" across the board, and the domestic, foreign, and social implications are not ones I'd like very much.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 10/5/2004

Hey, Aeon, thanks! Yep, Getz/Gilberto is one of the best! My "favorite songs" list will end up with hundreds of titles before I'm finished. :) And it will reflect quite a few genres too!

Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 10/5/2004

I agree, Jonathan, that "humanitarian" wars do not have to be "neoconservative"; I don't think I would characterize the Clinton administration as "neocon" for example; it was in opposition to the Clintonistas' penchant for "humanitarian" wars that George W. Bush the candidate (in the 2000 campaign) was somewhat critical.

However, as we've heard time and time again: 9/11 changed everything. I think that it will be virtually impossible at this stage to create the kinds of distinctions between "humanitarian" and "neocon" agendas. The reason for this is that so much has been institutionalized at this point with regard to the "neocon" agenda in the post-9/11 world that even "humanitarian" goals will be filtered invariably through that nexus.

As for the "Three-State Solution," I wrote on L&P back on November 26, 2003:

I've argued for many months now that the idea of democratic nation-building in Iraq sweeps aside too many historical realities. ... Now that the US is in Iraq, and people are debating "exit strategies"---strategies that, in my view, sidestep the structural dynamics of occupation and reconstruction---I think that the "three-state solution" proposed by Leslie H. Gelb is worthy of our attention. I still believe that the US should get the hell out of Iraq, but I also believe that the current unending enforcement of Iraqi unity will be no more effective than previous attempts. Gelb argues correctly that "a unified Iraq, artificially and fatefully made whole from three distinct ethnic and sectarian communities ... has been possible in the past only by the application of overwhelming and brutal force." Gelb continues: "The only viable strategy, then, may be to correct the historical defect and move in stages toward a three-state solution: Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south. ... This three-state solution has been unthinkable in Washington for decades. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, a united Iraq was thought necessary to counter an anti-American Iran. Since the gulf war in 1991, a whole Iraq was deemed essential to preventing neighbors like Turkey, Syria and Iran from picking at the pieces and igniting wider wars. ... The ancestors of today's Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds have been in Mesopotamia since before modern history. The Shiites there, unlike Shiites elsewhere in the Arab world, are a majority. The Sunnis of the region gravitate toward pan-Arabism. The non-Arab Kurds speak their own language and have always fed their own nationalism. ... The Ottomans ruled all the peoples of this land as they were: separately. In 1921, Winston Churchill cobbled the three parts together for oil's sake under a monarch backed by British armed forces. The Baathist Party took over in the 1960's, with Saddam Hussein consolidating its control in 1979, maintaining unity through terror and with occasional American help. ... Today, the Sunnis have a far greater stake in a united Iraq than either the Kurds or the Shiites. Central Iraq is largely without oil, and without oil revenues, the Sunnis would soon become poor cousins. The Shiites might like a united Iraq if they controlled it — which they could if those elections Mr. Bush keeps promising ever occur. But the Kurds and Sunnis are unlikely to accept Shiite control, no matter how democratically achieved. The Kurds have the least interest in any strong central authority, which has never been good for them. ... For decades, the United States has worshiped at the altar of a unified yet unnatural Iraqi state. Allowing all three communities within that false state to emerge at least as self-governing regions would be both difficult and dangerous. Washington would have to be very hard-headed, and hard-hearted, to engineer this breakup. But such a course is manageable, even necessary, because it would allow us to find Iraq's future in its denied but natural past. There are certainly historical precedents for state deconstruction: the fall of the Soviet Union led to the formation of independent, more ethnically "homogeneous" states; and, as Gelb points out, the fall of Tito led to the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and the ugliness of Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and so forth. Clearly, in all cases, ethnic and tribal rivalries were simply held in check by an even more overwhelming statist brutality; the end of that brutality allowed the old rivalries to flourish, paving the way for the kind of dissolution that has occurred."

Gelb does discuss the enormous problems of moving toward this kind of dissolution in Iraq. For example, as I mentioned [before], the Turks might not take too well to a new Kurdish state on their borders. And the possibility for the emergence of two new oppressive neighboring states that might war on one another---a Pan Arabist Sunni state and a new Shiite fundamentalist state---looms large.

But I do believe that Gelb's article speaks to deeply embedded historical realities. Of course, as I said, I'd like nothing more than to see the US withdraw completely; I just don't believe that this is going to happen. The "three-state solution" is worth considering, at the very least, as one possible middle strategy for an eventual US exit. I just worry about the time-frame of "eventual." Ultimately, any such "solution" is best negotiated in international diplomatic circles, rather than with a US-led occupational force that is being attacked mercilessly on a daily basis. US troops are supposed to be used to defend the security of the United States; they are not nation-builders. They don't deserve this fate.

So, I agree that there are choices here. And it is simply not a responsible exit strategy to up-and-leave. As Powell said: "You break it, you own it." Of course, Iraq was a broken country before the US invasion; like the Soviet Union, it was a country holding together its splinters by the barbaric use of force. It remains a country in search of a civil society. The US government will "succeed" only when it begins to understand the forces necessary to the creation of both civic culture and real, long-term political stability.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/5/2004

I'm not sure that dividing up Iraq would be an admission of failure: the goal is stable democratic... something. I've argued in the past for a federalist system, to mitigate some of the resource division and ethnicity/nationality problems of a strict separation, but it may be that partition would work better.

It's the Bush administration that's dug in on a Unified Iraq, partly out of pride, partly out of intellectual laziness, partly out of loyalty to Turkey, partly out of fear of the possibility of an unmoderated Shiite state joining forces with Iran. I haven't heard Kerry commit publicly to a particular solution yet.

Pat Lynch - 10/4/2004

See my entry below re: dividing up Iraq. It's what the people want, and it's what's best for everyone in the long run. Kerry's a coward and won't admit we've failed.

John Arthur Shaffer - 10/4/2004

I don't see much difference in economic policy but the implications for social policy are enormous.

Aeon J. Skoble - 10/4/2004

sorry about the duplicate posting!

Aeon J. Skoble - 10/4/2004

Chris, the new blog looks good. NB the L&P blogroll still has the old address.
While I'm here, and since you disabled the comments on your new site, I concur with your judgement of Gilberto and "The Girl from Ipanema."

Aeon J. Skoble - 10/4/2004

Chris, the new blog looks good. NB the L&P blogroll still has the old address.
While I'm here, and since you disabled the comments on your new site, I concur with your judgement of Gilberto and "The Girl from Ipanema."

Jonathan Dresner - 10/4/2004 I said in a letter the NYTimes will undoubtedly pass over, humanitarian intervention is not fundamentally neo-conservative, unless it is directly related to regime change or US economic interests. In other words, I don't think the neo-conservative agenda is a humanitarian agenda, but a very narrowly defined US-benefits agenda.

With regard to Iraq, Kerry has three choices (well, four actually, I now realize): withdraw, with predictably disastrous consequences; stay the quagmiric course; try to shift responsibility to other nations and international institutions, producing a more complicated quagmire; OR, commit the resources (intellectual, fiscal, military, diplomatic) necessary to produce some kind of real stability. Bush has created a whole new responsibility for the US, to which Kerry is responding appropriately.

Yes, it sounds like what happened in Vietnam, but there are real ways in which it is very different, and a window where success is possible.