Nikolas Gvosdev, editor of the National
Interest, a foreign-policy magazine affiliated with the Nixon Center
in Washington, D.C., has recently been trying to revitalize the stale discourse
on U.S. global strategy in the capital of the world's only remaining superpower.
Gvosdev, whose magazine has been shaken up by post-Iraq-invasion ideological
disputes (leading to the departure from its editorial board of neoconservative
as well as ex-neocon Francis
Fukuyama), has been holding gatherings that bring together realist and internationalist
critics of President George W. Bush's foreign-policy agenda to discuss alternative
approaches to the Bush administration's neoconservative, hegemonic strategy.
In late September, the National Interest convened a meeting to consider
"What a Post-Bush Foreign Policy Might Look Like." Gvosdev invited
two foreign policy experts, one a Republican and one a Democrat, to predict
how an administration of, say, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Sen. Hillary Clinton
(D-N.Y.) would change U.S. global strategy, and in particular, whether they
would reverse current policies. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that
a Republican president like McCain might embrace a "Bush lite" approach
(that's the best-case scenario – some say a Republican super-hawk would try
to "out-neoconize" Bush), and a Democrat like Sen. Clinton would adopt
a more sensible and internationalist diplomacy, à la Bill Clinton.
To the surprise of some of those attending the National Interest event,
it was the speaker representing the Democratic perspective, Will
Marshall, president and founder of the Progressive
Policy Institute, who ended up "out-neoconizing" Bush. Republican
Stefan Halper, former official in the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations and
a fellow at the Center of International Studies at Cambridge University, presented
a devastating critique of the foreign policy of Bush Jr.
That a Republican conservative was urging a more realistic and less interventionist
foreign policy and a Democratic liberal was advocating a hegemonic global strategy
aimed at strengthening America's military presence abroad as well as promoting
"democracy" worldwide should not shock anyone familiar with the history
of U.S. politics and foreign policy. Indeed, as Halper has noted in a book he
coauthored with Jonathan Clarke, America
Alone: The Neoconservatives and the Global Order (2004), many of the
neoconservatives who joined the Republican Party at the height of the Cold War
had been hawkish liberal Democrats critical of their party for "abandoning"
the interventionist and militarized policies pursued by Franklin Roosevelt,
Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson and for adopting an "isolationist"
agenda. The neoconservatives accused George McGovern and his supporters of "hijacking"
the Democratic Party's foreign policy and "appeasing" the Soviet bloc.
Yet the neoconservatives were also very critical of the Realpolitik approach
pursued by the Nixon-Kissinger
team that created the conditions for détente and arms-control agreements
with the Soviets and the opening toward China. And moreover, even under Presidents
Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush – when such figures as Richard
Perle, Paul Wolfowitz,
and I. Lewis Libby
served in top foreign and defense policy jobs – neoconservatives opposed policies
that they considered contrary to their staunchly pro-Israel ideas. Such policies
included Reagan's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Lebanon and Bush Sr.'s
pressure on Israel to end its settlement policies and negotiate with the Palestinians.
The foreign policy principles espoused by neoconservatives – unilateralist
military intervention aimed at establishing U.S. global hegemony, a messianic
Wilsonian agenda of spreading democracy worldwide, and a radical pro-Likud,
Zionist stance – run very contrary to the cautious pursuit of U.S. interests
traditionally reflected by conservative and realist Republican foreign policy.
Republican and conservative critics of the neoconservatives felt the need to
reassess their "union" with the neoconservatives, which had made sense
during the ideological and strategic conflicts with the Communists during the
Cold War, but whose impact on U.S. foreign policy, the Republican Party, and
the conservative movement proved to be disastrous after 9/11.
Critics like Halper argue that neoconservatives seized the Republican Party's
diplomatic and national security agenda after 9/11 and persuaded Bush and his
advisers to adopt their approach in the Middle East as part of an effort to
establish U.S. hegemony and American-style democracy in the region, while also
trying to advance Israel's interests there. But if anything, the Iraq misadventure
has demonstrated the "limitations of American power," as Halper put
it during his presentation. "Reality has been a harsh teacher," and
is leading the American elites and public – including Republicans – to recognize
that although the United States may have the world's strongest, most technologically
advanced military, it cannot be effectively used to "export American values"
to the Middle East and elsewhere, Halper said.
But at the same time as realists and conservatives in the Republican Party
are hoping to challenge the dominance of the neoconservatives over their party's
foreign policy, many leading Democratic activists and liberal intellectuals
seem to be calling on their party to embrace an even more "pure" or
radical version of the neoconservative ideology. Indeed, during his presentation
at the National Interest event, Marshall insisted that his party does not and
would not advance antiwar sentiment or hopes for military disengagement. "Our
party needs to show it can take on the job of defeating Islamic extremists if
we want to win the next election," said Marshall, editor of the recent
All our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihad and Defending Liberty.
"We need to fight for liberal principles abroad as vigorously as we fight
for them at home," he said. He stressed that Democrats "shouldn't
abandon democracy as a goal."
Criticizing the Bush administration for declining to expand the military it
relies on as a major policy instrument, Marshall proposed that a Democratic
administration would grow the American military by 40,000 troops to better meet
the demands of Iraq and Afghanistan. Not everyone liked this idea; in response
to Marshall's comments, one participant responded: "If the first item on
the Democrats' plan for foreign policy is making the military bigger, color
Although Marshall's views may have sounded like an echo of the neoconservative
agenda, they should not be considered a minority stance of the political and
intellectual Democratic elites. Much attention has been paid to the antiwar
bloggers and other Democratic Party rank-and-file activists who helped torpedo
Sen. Joe Lieberman's
(D-Conn.) Senate nomination as the party candidate. Yet many of Lieberman's
Democratic colleagues in the Senate and the House not only backed the resolution
giving Bush a green light to invade Iraq, but also continue to oppose any congressional
plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Many of the same Democrats have backed
Bush's inflexible approach toward Iran – in some cases sounding tougher than
the Republicans on the issue – as well as the White House's firm defense of
Israel's recent military operations in Lebanon and Palestine.
Moreover, as New York University historian Tony Judt pointed out recently,
many hawkish liberal intellectuals and policy analysts who have ties to the
Democratic leadership and are affiliated with newspapers and magazines such
as the New York Times, Washington Post, New Republic, and
the New Yorker and with think tanks like the Brookings Institution and
the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, have acquiesced to Bush's foreign
policy agenda (see "Bush's
Useful Idiots: Tony Judt on the Strange Death of Liberal America,"
London Review of Books, Sept. 21, 2006). Not unlike Marshall, they seem
to be promoting the idea that the Democrats need to adopt the ambitious neoconservative
creed while trying to "improve" it by making it more marketable and
workable. They seem to suggest that the neoconservative doctrine was fine –
it's just that the Republicans lacked the talent and the imagination to turn
it into a success.
In some respects, the liberal hawks tend to share more of an ideological affinity
with the Wilsonian elements in the neoconservative agenda than with some of
the more nationalist hawks, like Dick
Cheney and Donald
Rumsfeld, who seem more preoccupied with the need to maintain U.S. geostrategic
hegemony. "For what distinguishes the worldview of Bush's liberal supporters
from that of his neoconservative allies is that they don't look on the 'War
on Terror,' or the war in Iraq, or the war in Lebanon and eventually Iran, as
mere serial exercises in the re-establishment of American martial dominance,"
Judt argues. "They see them as skirmishes in a new global confrontation:
a Good Fight, reassuringly comparable to their grandparents' war against fascism
and their Cold War liberal parents' stance against international communism.
… Long nostalgic for the comforting verities of a simpler time, today's liberal
intellectuals have at last discovered a sense of purpose: They are at war with
Among some of these liberal hawks, Judt mentions Paul Berman, Christopher
Hitchens, and Peter Beinart, whose views on Iraq, the Middle East, and U.S.
foreign policy in general seem to be very similar to those of neoconservatives
William Kristol, Robert
Kagan, and Lawrence Kaplan. While liberal hawks like Tom Friedman have been
critical of Bush's Iraq policy, much of their disapproval has been directed
at the management of the war and the occupation of Iraq, not of the underlying
justification of the administration's hegemonic Wilsonian project in the Middle
Another contingency of liberal hawks occupies positions of influence in Washington
think tanks, including the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings
Institution, where such scholar-practitioners as former U.S. ambassador to Israel
Martin Indyk and Kenneth Pollack have been cheerleaders for the Iraq War and
have approved of Bush's policies on Iran and Israel. In fact, one does not have
to be a veteran political observer to predict Indyk, Pollack, and other experts
on the Middle East, like former peace negotiator Dennis Ross, would probably
play a major role in influencing the policy of a future Democratic administration.
In that case, the Democratic Party activists who rallied against Joe Lieberman
should not be surprised if Bush's Democratic successor ends up pursuing policies
that might be described as neoconservatism with a smiling Democratic face.
This article originally appeared on RightWeb.