Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Neocons love Obama.

"Conservatives should be cheering right now" - David Horowitz (Frontpagemag)
"I would say his administration already far exceeds expectations, and he hasn’t even taken office yet." - Max Boot (Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at CFR)

The neocons are in perfect tizzy over Obama's new administration. To be fair, this isn't completely new. Some neocons started to love Obama up long ago, back when Robert Kagan hailed 'Obama the interventionist'. Senior neoconservative Ken Adelman backed Obama for his 'temperament' and 'judgment'. Fukuyama, though not exactly a neocon any longer, went for Obama back in October. Hitchens, who was only ever a neocon in spirit (ie, drenched in spirit), ditto.

What does all this mean? Are the neocons simply swallowing mouthfuls of blood and running home to Dad? Or do they have something to be cheerful about? Actually, it's both. After all, the last time the neocons were so directionless and lost as a tendency was in the early 1990s, when the 'totalitarian' behemoth they said could never collapse from within duly collapsed from within. A great many of them initially supported Bill Clinton, who also appointed a Republican defense secretary and ran a hawkish foreign policy campaign. The neocons were in essence liberal nationalists, after all. They had broken with the Democratic Party after its failure to select Daniel Patrick Moynihan as their preferred presidential candidate, deriding the centre-right Carter administration as a 'New Left' one. The main issues that brought them to the Republican Party were Carter's failure to decisively support the Shah, and his occasional criticisms of the Somoza regime and eventual imposition of sanctions. That was essentially why they turned to the Reaganauts.

And so aside from those who were obsessed with restoring the cultural values of the 1950s (Kristol, Himmelfarb, Gingrich, Quayle), a rapprochement with official liberalism made sense. And Clinton went to some lengths to woo the neoconservatives, successfully getting Richard Schifter to resign the Bush administration and advise his campaign on foreign policy in April 1992. Joshua Muravchik also advised the 1992 Clinton campaign on foreign policy, during which time he may have had some role in persuading Clinton to campaign to the right of Bush the Elder on the issue of relations with China (although he was obliged to pursue a quite different course once in office, just as Bush the Younger has ended up making nice with North Korea). On a whole range of issues, Clinton advocated a 'human rights' imperialism that he said Bush Sr. had been remiss on, particularly in the Balkans. It was even hinted in private that he might be open to an attack on Iraq. And of course, when Bush applied financial pressure on Israel to get it involved in peace negotiations, furious neocons could read about Clinton accusing Bush of "ever so subtly" eroding "the taboo against overt anti-Semitism". The resulting swoons from some neocon pundits induced The New Republic to announce: "Neocons for Clinton: They're Back!" Long after the neocons fell out with the Clinton administration, Norman Podhoretz still declared himself astonished that the GOP's formal position on foreign policy was much less hawkish than Clinton's practise. This is an important point about the neocons that liberal critics often miss: far from being a bunch of doctrinaire fanatics, they are far more successful bipartisan operators than any other political tendency in the United States. (See chapter three of 'Liberal Defense' for background).

One intriguing novelty is that the traditional neocon disdain for realism is not at all to the fore here. Rather, there seems to be some relief that Obama is has constructed a 'Realpolitik' cabinet rather than a liberal one. But not much else about this is new.