Citing signs of military progress in Iraq, America’s neoconservatives are reasserting their vision of the United States as an imperial power that can reshape the Muslim world in a way favorable to the interests of Washington and Tel Aviv.
Casting aside the image of the war as a bloody quagmire, the neocons are again selling Iraq as a vital beachhead in the Middle East from which the United States can project power throughout the region and achieve victory over Islamic militants hostile to Israel.
“It does not have the drama of the Inchon landing or the sweep of the Union comeback in the summer of 1864,” wrote neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer. “But the turnabout of American fortunes in Iraq over the past several months is of equal moment – a war seemingly lost, now winnable.” [Washington Post, Nov. 23, 2007]
Krauthammer and other neocons also are back to baiting Democratic war critics for supposedly living in “a state of denial” and refusing to acknowledge President George W. Bush’s wisdom in dispatching more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops for a “surge” under Gen. David Petraeus.
“Even as evidence has mounted that General Petraeus' new counterinsurgency strategy is succeeding, Democrats have remained emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq, reluctant to acknowledge the progress we are now achieving,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, a neoconservative Independent from Connecticut, in a Nov. 8 speech.
After nearly five years of carnage – the deaths of almost 3,900 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis – the neocons finally see vindication for themselves, at least within the Washington news media where they maintain a powerful influence.
Though the neocon comeback may prove ephemeral if the Iraq War drags on and the U.S. position continues to deteriorate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the neocons still can claim to be in a stronger political position vis a vis the election of the next president than they were in 2000 and 2004.
On the Republican side, the frontrunners in the presidential race are even more hawkish about fighting “World War III” against Muslim militants than Bush has been.
While Bush at least rhetorically calls for closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said “we ought to double Guantanamo” and use it as a place to hold Islamic militants while denying them legal rights.
Not to be outflanked on the right, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has advocated “aggressive questioning” of terror suspects and has refused to label as torture “waterboarding,” a simulated drowning technique that dates back to the Inquisition.
The Hillary Question
On the Democratic side, frontrunner Hillary Clinton has tried to avoid offending the neocons as much as possible. She followed their line on Iraq from 2002 to 2006, before shifting into cautious opposition to appease the anti-war fervor of rank-and-file Democrats.
Then, after building what appeared to be a safe lead in Democratic polls, the New York senator tilted back in the neoconservative direction, voting for a Lieberman-sponsored resolution that urged Bush to take a harder line against Iran by labeling its Revolutionary Guard a terrorist entity.
Though many grassroots Democrats suspect that Sen. Clinton is a “closet neocon” or “Lieberman-lite,” some Inside-the-Beltway Democrats see her more as a triangulator who simply wants to dilute the intensity of neocon opposition to her candidacy.
Similarly, after winning the White House in 1992, President Bill Clinton gave the job of CIA director to neocon James Woolsey. One well-placed Democratic source told me the move was a patronage plum to the editors of The New Republic, an influential neocon-leaning magazine that lent support to Clinton.
If Hillary Clinton does win the Democratic nomination, the neocons would almost surely side with the Republican nominee in the general election, but the neocons might be less hostile toward her than they were toward the two previous Democratic nominees.
In 2000, though Al Gore put Lieberman on the Democratic ticket, most influential neocons resented Gore’s emphasis on multilateral solutions to international problems, from global warming to the Middle East conflict. They liked George W. Bush’s assertion of a muscular U.S. unilateralism.
In 2004, the neocons viewed Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry with deep suspicion, despite his vote in favor of the Iraq War.
As for Election 2008, the neocons see potential political gain if they can solidify the image of progress in Iraq and transform this emerging Washington conventional wisdom into an opinion shared broadly by American voters.
If the neocons can do that, the benefits could spill over into the presidential race, helping Republicans who advocate aggressively fighting “World War III,” while undermining the Democratic candidates who have been the most critical of the Iraq War.
To that end, the neocons are back to portraying Iraq War critics as “defeatists” who favor "surrender" and who are betraying “the troops.”
Still, the neocon strategy faces major obstacles, particularly public concern about the heavy toll that the Iraq War has taken on the U.S. military and the U.S. Treasury.
While an open-ended occupation of Iraq and renewed belligerence toward other unfriendly Muslim countries might be appealing to the neocons, the notion of endless war at whatever the cost has lost much of its allure to the American people.
As the U.S. dollar sinks, as domestic needs go unmet, as investors from Abu Dhabi bail out Citigroup and as communist China gets a stranglehold on U.S. debt, the neocon dream of an imperial America bestriding the world as a military colossus looks less and less sustainable.
More and more Americans also are growing leery of other tradeoffs implicit in the neocon plan for an imperial system – the acceptance of an all-powerful Executive, the elimination of inalienable rights for individuals, and the eradication of the Republic as envisioned by the Founders.
Though given short shrift by the national U.S. news media, this grassroots pro-Republic sentiment is reflected in the surprising support for Rep. Ron Paul of Texas on the Republican side and the growing doubts about Sen. Clinton on the Democratic side.
As the United States heads into Election Year 2008, the neocons may need all their media clout for making their case and all their skills at exploiting the fears of Americans to ensure that one of their favored candidates again lands in the White House.
[For more on the rise of the neocons, see Robert Parry's last three books, Lost History; Secrecy & Privilege; and Neck Deep.]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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