What’s a Neocon to do?
Bill Kristol is downright despondent after his failed search for an alternative to Donald Trump. Max Boot is indignant about his “stupid” party’s willingness to ride a bragging bull into a delicate China policy shop. And the leading light of the first family of military interventionism — Robert Kagan — is actually lining up Neoconservatives behind the Democratic nominee for president of the United States.
At the same time, the Democrats have become the party of bare-knuckled, full-throated American Exceptionalism. That transformation was announced with a vein-popping zeal by retired general and wannabe motivation screamer John Allen at the Democratic convention in the City of Brotherly Love. During his “speech,” a few plaintive protests of “no more war” were actually drowned-out by Democrats chanting “USA-USA-USA!”
This is the same Democratic Party often criticized by Kagan & Co. as the purveyors of timidity, flaccidity, and moral perfidy. It’s not that Democrats haven’t dropped bombs, dealt arms, and overturned regimes. They have. And they’ve even got the Peace Prize-winning Obama-dropper to prove it. But unlike enthusiastically belligerent Republicans, the Dems are supposed to be the party that does it, but doesn’t really like to do it.
But now, they’ve got Hillary Clinton. And she’s weaponized the State Department. She really likes regime change. And her nominating convention not only embraced the military, but it sanctified the very Gold Star families that Neocon-style interventionism creates. It certainly created the pain of the Khan family who lost their son in the illegal war in Iraq. But the Dems didn’t mention that sad fact as they grabbed the flag away from the Republicans.
Now that’s truly Neo-confusing.
It kinda feels like reality has slipped off its axis and we’ve landed on a Bizarro World version of America. Democrats are acting like Republicans. Pat Buchanan is championing the GOP’s “Peace Candidate.” And the Neocons are fleeing from a party they’ve used like a geopolitical cudgel for the better part of three decades.
At first glance, it all makes sense. Trump captured the GOP nomination in no small part by trashing two of the Neocons’ favorite things ever — the Bush family and the Iraq War. He also suggested early on that he’d approach the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza as (gasp!) an honest broker. Trump said he really wanted to “make that deal.” Without irony, one-time Neocon wonderboy Marco Rubio remarked that it isn’t a “real estate deal” when, in fact, that’s exactly what it is.
But the ever-pliable Trump quickly got religion on Israel. He did an about-face, marched into AIPAC’s annual confab, and staked out a claim on the reflexively pro-Israel side of the issue. But it wasn’t enough to assuage the angst of the GOP’s forever-circling hawks.
Frankly, nothing seems enough to sway the Neocons in Donald’s direction. But it’s not for lack of trying on Trump’s part. Really, he’s checked off many of the boxes that make Neocons smile.
Trump wants a “yuuge” military … the biggest and baddest ever! So big, that no one in a million years will ever challenge it. That sure sounds a lot like Reagan’s “peace through strength.” Neocons do love Reagan. And, as if on cue, the Kristol/Kagan-led “Foreign Policy Initiative” just posted a clarion call to spend more bucks to buy bigger bangs for an already gargantuan military. Doesn’t that fit with Donald’s plan to spend defense dollars like a drunken sailor?
Maybe Neocons don’t want the military to be so big that no one will ever try anything. Maybe they want a few challenges here and there, just for a little creative destruction to keep the world on its toes. But Trump’s right there with them. He wants to “bomb the shit” out of ISIS. And he even said America has “no choice but to bomb Libya” and “take out” the Islamic State.
C’mon, Neocons … what’s not to like?
And how about Trump’s Islamophobia? It sure seems simpatico with the last two decades of Neoconservative drum-beating. Trump repeatedly uses the magic words — “Radical Islamic Terrorism.” Can’t you just hear the longing sighs coming out of the American Enterprise Institute? He also wants to ban Muslims. Or “just” ban people coming from countries where Muslims have committed terrorism. Who knows? Either way, the message is “Muslims bad.” It even gave Neocon bushwacker Frank Gaffney a serious man-crush on The Donald.
To be fair, other less “fringy” Neocons like Kristol have repudiated the Muslim ban idea. But, as filmmaker Robbie Martin showed in his just-completed series on the Neocons and their “very heavy agenda,” even the most intellectually renowned among them has engaged in the dangerous stereotyping of all Muslims as terrorists.
In fact, Martin featured a frightening clip of two Kagans (Robert’s dad Donald and his brother Fred) making the case that the US military should clean out the Occupied Territories in the aftermath of 9/11 because radical Muslims and “the Arabs” are all basically the same. Oh, by the way, they only respect brute force. So why not take advantage of the “New Pearl Harbor” and show them all who’s boss?
It’s kinda like the “dancing Muslims” Trump — and only Trump — saw celebrating the 9/11 attacks in New Jersey. Even if he didn’t see them, or just conflated them with an isolated incident in East Jerusalem, what’s the difference? It’s all the same to him. Just like aggrieved and aggressive Muslims were all the same to the Kagans on 9/11. Doesn’t that make Trump’s persistent suspicion of Muslims a perfect match for the Neoconservative wrecking crew?
And then there’s the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump has relentlessly criticized as being so bad that it’s downright suspicious. He said he wants to “renegotiate” immediately after taking office. And he wrongly claims the deal is a fast-track to a nuclear-armed Iran (an error that puts him squarely in the Neocon camp). As a rule of thumb, he’s livid about all things related to Iran. So, what’s the problem? Why can’t the Neocons wrap their arms around Donald Trump?
In a word — it’s Russia.
It’s framed as a troublesome “bromance” between Vladimir Putin and Trump. Critics don’t like Trump’s comfort with a “dictator” who, as Kagan’s wife Victoria Nuland recently told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, engages in “aggression.” She’s currently the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs. She basically managed the 2014 coup in Ukraine. And she’s outraged by Russian aggression in Ukraine. But she’s nonplussed by her husband’s role in pushing for the most blatant and wanton act of aggression thus far this century — the unwarranted destruction of Iraq.
On the other hand, Putin has the unmitigated gall to move military forces around inside the borders of his own country. He’s blamed for hacking the Democratic Party — despite a lack of actual evidence and the NSA’s own hacking hijinks. And he’s accused of “meddling” in U.S. elections — a pretty rich accusation given America’s long history of surreptitious electioneering around the world.
There is no doubt that “Bad Vlad” likes Donald. And Donald likes Vlad. But the real problem isn’t their bromance. This is about the Neoconservative desire to make sure the United States is the lone guarantor of the geopolitical order. This is about Pax Americana. This is about resurrecting the faded dream of a new American century.
And what stands in the way of the type of the Neocon dream of global “full-spectrum dominance?” Russia’s nuclear arsenal.
Russia is the only nation with an arsenal big enough to withstand the subtle nuclear blackmail of America’s trillion-dollar nuclear “upgrade.” That’s why Russia is concerned about the missile defense systems arrayed on their border. Those systems can knock down retaliatory strikes, thus making a first strike with new nuclear cruise missiles at least theoretically possible.
The United States is also using NATO expansion to increasingly encircle a nation that once was America’s geopolitical equal. That’s why Trump’s criticism of America’s outsized support for NATO must’ve been the tipping point from disdain to panic among Neocon and Neoliberal interventionists alike.
The oddity is that there does seem to be more than a passing affinity between Trump and Putin. Trump’s statements on Ukraine would be easily dismissed if his campaign manager Paul Manafort hadn’t worked as a political consultant to the pre-Nuland leadership of Ukraine. And Trump’s statements on Crimea might be written off if he’d release his taxes and end speculation of financial ties to Putin’s regime.
But the visceral reaction against his repeated calls for cooperation — “By the way, wouldn’t it be great if we got along with Russia?”— exposes the extent to which the entire foreign policy and political establishments are squarely on the same page. They are angling for Cold War 2.0, and Trump is the only major figure willing to challenge that orthodoxy.
Unlike Hillary Clinton, of course, which brings the whole thing back to the miasma of confusion hanging over this strange election. Hillary is on the Neocon team — if not in name, certainly in deed. She will “stand up” to Bad Vlad. She’s targeted by Russian hackers because Putin prefers his “unwitting agent” Donald Trump. And Donald is, according to an emerging narrative, a latter-day Neville Chamberlain just inviting the Ruskies to take over the Baltic States, Ukraine, and God knows what else.
The greatest irony of all is that Trump catapulted over the Neocons’ preferred presidential options by slamming their pet project — the War on Iraq. Trump’s criticism of that war and the chaos it unleashed resonated with the very voters the Neocons took for granted as pliable, fear-responsive bumpkins. That left them out in the cold just as they were angling to trump the disorderly, hard-to-prosecute mess they call “The Global War on Terror.”
What they really want, and have always wanted, is to revive the greatest war of all — the Cold War. That’s the grand chessboard they yearn to play on once again. The War on Terror was really just a stop-gap, like methadone for imperialists. But now they’ve scored because it looks like the supposed party of imperial intransigence is, under the guidance of Hillary Clinton, poised to take the reins from a Trump-addled GOP.
And if a recent article in Der Spiegel is right, Kagan’s wife Victoria has emerged as a candidate for the prized position of secretary of state should Hillary win. If that comes to pass, the Neocons may not have succeeded in their initial plan for a new American century, but they will have hastily completed their last-minute project for a new Democratic Party. And that means this election isn’t that Neo-confusing after all.