The Resurgent Flight Of The Hawks

As the Bush Administration draws slowly (too slowly) to a close, there exists the hope that at the very least the causal factors of the past six years would find themselves removed from our federal government, the very intellectual epicenters of the neoconservative movement rightfully ostracized from the realms of rational foreign policy thinking, discredited as it should be due to the result of the increasing Middle Eastern chaos that has resulted from their brain trusts.

It is important to take stock that Iraq is still worse off now than it had been under the already brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.  Even despite the cheerleading of some stalwart defenders of the invasion and occupation of the country that posed no threat to us that there is progress, that there is movement in the right direction, when you stop to take a big picture look, it is incredibly disappointing to understand that even if there is progress under the most ideal conditions touted by the neoconservative right, said improvement is not itself success and would have to work for years upon years just to get the Iraqi people back to where they started (which begs the question, how are we any better than Saddam from a purely objective and realistic standpoint?  Intentions perhaps may be a little more altruistic, but if people are still experiencing infrastructure hell and violence far worse than that of the pre occupation era, where is, the up side?  How much value is there behind the sentiment that ostensibly we meant well when such intentions have almost literally paved a path to Hell?).

Meanwhile, Afghanistan is dealing with the second coming of the Taliban, Pakistan is struggling in large part to the large al Qaeda presence there, and now we are, instead of finally showing some restraint, proving increasingly hostile towards Iran, a country that, in yet another grotesquely mirrored aspect to the run up with the Iraq war, is still some years away from even having the kind of weapon that would place it in the same ballpark as the kind of threat the Administration is trying to sell it as.

Just a little over one year, and this will all soon be over.  Or at least that is what we would like to believe.

Any regular reader here will know that I have grown increasingly hostile to the idea of the Clinton candidacy, the enlistment of Michael O’Hanlon, her vote on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and her (not much of a) turnaround on the Iraq War have all combined to make it clear that the anti-neocon she was running as in the beginning of the primary contest has given way to the Hillary Hawk of old.

But let’s make no mistake, Gregory over at the Belgravia Dispatch has it dead on:

Notice the language Podhoretz uses. “Draining the swamps”. “Clearing the ground”. A “five-act” play. This is like a breezy parlor game, isn’t it? Here we are, approximately 5,000 dead Americans (including contractors) in Iraq, over a hundred thousand dead Iraqis, 4 million displaced or refugees, $500 billion plus down the hole, the peace process moribund (Annapolis, if it comes to pass even, will be a risible affair), Afghanistan faltering, ditto Lebanon, Pakistan under significant strains, and so on (believe me, this is not meant to be a comprehensive list)–and amidst this chaos we have the leading Republican Presidential candidate being briefed by his chosen eminence grise (as the Observer article notes, the Giuliani campaign has become “something of a lifeboat for neoconservatives shipwrecked after the Bush administration’s failures in Iraq”) that we are just starting Act II (Afghanistan & Iraq ostensibly just Act I), and must proceed to Iran, Syria, Saudia Arabia and Egypt?

Imagine such insane policy prescriptions being (even remotely) implemented as foreign policy, let alone by a man with well noted authoritarian tendencies, and to top it off, with the policy execution being delegated to Bernie Kerik caliber pit-bulls? This is a recipe for a Presidency exponentially worse than even Bush 43’s (yes, I know, it’s hard to imagine). Look, if this means holding one’s nose for another dynastic turn with Hillary so be it, even if we need to suffer though the Michael O’Hanlon gaggles advising her on the deep nuances of Iraq ‘bottom-up’ reconciliation ad nauseam. The alternative is simply unthinkable, and cannot be allowed to pass.

Put differently, let’s all be careful not to think of N-Pod as some adorable, avuncular mensch sparkling with apercus in a book-lined UES apartment, one whose ideas deserve serious attention. His policy recommendations, if we can call them that, are more reminiscent of the brutish tactics of street gangs battling for turf. It is shocking more sane individuals aren’t shouting same from the rooftops. Especially as, transplanted from street corners to the global stage, this parody of principled pugnaciousness amounts to madness. Thuggish madness.

Indeed, what we find is that at a time when the subscribers to the neoconservative faith should be shamed straight out of the public consciousness, forever banned as the dangerously irresponsible global thugs that they are, despite the fact that we have been learning the lesson over the past six years that their policies not only don’t work, but actually make things worse, far far worse, they are instead finding themselves even further poised to enjoy the power to affect foreign policy.  Their sermon of war all the time until the end of time is not on its way out, but only just getting started.

In the case for the Republican frontrunner, for instance, there is no mistaking which bug is in his ear, and it is screaming for more marching to war than ever.

But in developing his views, Mr. Giuliani is consulting with, among others, a particularly hawkish group of advisers and neoconservative thinkers.

Their positions have been criticized by Democrats as irresponsible and applauded by some conservatives as appropriately tough, while raising questions about how closely aligned Mr. Giuliani’s thinking is with theirs.

Mr. Giuliani’s team includes Norman Podhoretz, a prominent neoconservative who advocates bombing Iran “as soon as it is logistically possible”; Daniel Pipes, the director of the Middle East Forum, who has called for profiling Muslims at airports and scrutinizing American Muslims in law enforcement, the military and the diplomatic corps; and Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who has written in favor of revoking the United States’ ban on assassination.

The campaign says that the foreign policy team, which also includes scholars and experts with different policy approaches, is meant to give Mr. Giuliani a variety of perspectives.

There are two things that should be pointed out.  The firstis there is a curious bias in the New York Times in that the critics mentioned are blanket labeled as “Democrats”, however it should be noted that the growing dissent against the neoconservative agenda has by now far extended beyond the limitations of the party faithful.

The second thing to understand is that, contrary to what the last line quoted above might lead you to believe, there is no variety of perspectives, it is clear exactly where Rudy Giuliani has staked his foreign policy.  Back in August, Rudy penned a detailed foreign policy paper that had the unmistakeable revisionist history/neoconservative warmongering hand of Norman Podhoretz.

This is the same Norman Podhoretz that was part of the brain trust that informed the current Administration’s foreign policy, but what must have served as a disappointment to Podhoretz, in the case of the sitting president, the student did not eventually overtake the master.

At a meeting with reporters last week, President Bush said that “if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” These were not the barbs of some neoconservative crank or sidelined politician looking for publicity. This was the president of the United States, invoking the specter of World War III if Iran gained even the knowledge needed to make a nuclear weapon.

While I’m sure that Podhoretz approves of Bush overinflating the threat of Iran, and beating the war drums as such, one thing that must hurt is that while Bush is talking about “preventing” World War III, Stormin’ Norman is already up to World War IV.

The danger of this foreign policy that should be crawling into its grave the moment Bush leaves can not be overstated.  As Kevin Hayden of American Street puts it:

Perpetual war remains the plan. Iran’s invaded no other country in more than two centuries. Saddam had no means to attack our country. Instead of attacking the terror organizations that attacked us or their sponsors in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates, the neocons intend to attack any country they want, and they want us to trust them no matter how consistently they get things wrong.

And how many of their kids are fighting these wars? Where’s Osama? How much torture and rape will they approve this time?

It grows tiresome pointing out how they’ve multiplied terrorist forces, the destruction of Iraq and the sacrifices our troops have made. The GOP contenders don’t have any answers at all except more and more of the same. That’s not vision, that’s a self-destructive addiction.

Meanwhile, even the new Joint Chiefs of Staff has shown his divergence from this warlust that refuses to die.

He rejected the counsel of those who might urge immediate attacks inside Iran to destroy nuclear installations or to stop the flow of explosives that end up as powerful roadside bombs in Iraq or Afghanistan, killing American troops. With America at war in two Muslim countries, he said, attacking a third Islamic nation in the region “has extraordinary challenges and risks associated with it.” The military option, he said, should be a last resort.

He pushed back against those who are calling for military action against Iran’s nuclear program, saying that diplomatic and economic pressure must take precedence.

The threat to American and allied troops from high-powered explosives from Iran, he said, should be countered by halting their flow into Iraq or Afghanistan across the borders, and with attacks on those bomb-making and bomb-planting cells inside Iraq or Afghanistan.

“That said, that doesn’t get at the source of it,” he acknowledged. Asked whether the American military should aim at sites inside Iran if intelligence indicated that such interdiction could halt the flow of those bombs, he said “the risks could be very, very high.”

“We’re in a conflict in two countries out there right now,” he added. “We have to be incredibly thoughtful about the potential of in fact getting into a conflict with a third country in that part of the world.”

In other words, much as the war mongering ambitions exceeded the prudent judgement of experienced soldiers such as General Shinseki, so too do they stretch beyond the realm of feasibility to a new age of military commanders.

The picture that we are left with is frightening and simple.  The neocons are enjoying, against all sane and logical thought, a resurgence of power.  With the likely Democratic frontrunner driving hard right, this creates a self feeding system that ultimately results in the legitimization of the Republican frontrunner to embrace the policies of those who have already been discredited.  Thus, in a scenario where Iraq should have been a woeful mistake that ended the moment the current holders of power were ejected from their offices, it has instead proven to be only the first step, the next step being first Iran, and from there what next?

Once we have bombed Iran, as the likes of Norman Podhoretz would have us do, what then?  We will at that point have stretched our military across three fronts in three separate wars with fewer credible allies than before.  Meanwhile growing power centers in Russia and China are watching this with great interest.

It is important to understand that while important, American Image is not the only thing to suffer here.  Our military might truly is great, however that might is not, as the neoconservative principles would have to have in order to have any semblance of viability, indefinite.  These continuing wars of adventure will weigh a heavy charge on our uniformed services, and there can only be so many before the capabilities of our military are worn so thin so as not to be able to prepare us for real dangers that may arise that actually threaten the lives of the American citizenry.

It is not difficult to understand why neoconservative policies engender a support base; it does not take vast leaps of logic to believe that in order to be “safe” you have to act as tough as humanly possible.  Might makes right, only the strong survive.

But what is missed, what is misunderstood, and what is mistaken is that these policies do little more than create an illusion of strength.  The frequent and large scale projection of military might can lull many people in believing they are witness to a display of strength, however, upon closer inspection, the opposite becomes true.

Such policies weaken us.  They weaken us by destroying our credibility, and straining our military.  They weaken us by alienating allies, and showing our hand to potential enemies in how we treat threats and on what level.  In the game of poker, we would be a fish; a blatant rookie with plenty of chips to give up.

And that’s how these people are playing our foreign policy.  Problem is, it’s not a game.

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