Iâ€™m not a big fan of The New Republic, but there are two articles in the July 30 edition that are well worth a read.
The first essay is by the always-insightful John Judis, who two years ago wrote the best account to date of McCainâ€™s evolution from realist to neo-conservative in the late 1990s. Now Judis revisits the issue to determine McCainâ€™s likely trajectory, focusing in particular on the candidateâ€™s Manicheanism, especially with regard to Russia. Money lines are found right up front:
â€œTwo years ago, I wrote a profile arguing that there were reasons to believe that McCain was more pragmatic than his support for the Iraq debacle suggested (â€Neo-McCain,â€ October 16, 2006). In the interviews I conducted with him in 2006, he repeatedly distanced himself from neoconservatism, reminding me that he talked regularly to realists like Brent Scowcroft. I thought there was a good chance that there was a peacemaker lurking beneath McCainâ€™s warrior exteriorâ€“that a President McCain might be able use his hawkish reputation to, say, bring Iraqâ€™s warring parties together or to lure Iran to the bargaining table.
â€œI wasnâ€™t the only one. Since McCain secured the Republican nomination, Iâ€™ve heard echoes of my ambivalence from foreign policy experts, including some who plan to vote for Obama. â€œMcCain has Nixon-goes-to-China credentials,â€ one told me. But, based on McCainâ€™s actions over the last two years and conversations Iâ€™ve had with those close to him, I have concluded that this is wishful thinking. McCain continues to rely on the same neoconservative advisers; he still thinks U.S. foreign policy should focus on transforming rogue states and autocracies into democracies that live under the shadow of American power; and he no longer tells credulous reporters that he consults Scowcroft.â€
The second article is the cover story by Eli Lake â€” yes, the Eli Lake who writes for the ultra-Likudist New York Sun â€” entitled â€œContra Expectations: Obama isnâ€™t Jimmy Carter â€” Heâ€™s Ronald Reagan.â€ Based in his understanding of and interaction with two Obama advisers, Richard Clarke and Rand Beers, Lake concludes that Obama may turn out to be a neo-con more in the tradition of Jeane Kirkpatrick, who came to prominence as a result of her attacks in Commentary on Carterâ€™s human rights policy and its alleged subversion of â€œfriendly authoritariansâ€, than in that of Bill Kristol and Bob Kagan who summoned the country via the Project for the New American Century, among other avenues, to â€œnational greatnessâ€ and neo-imperialism, something that made Kirkpatrick uneasy. Lake argues that Obama may turn out to be much less â€œnaiveâ€ and reluctant to use force than McCain or todayâ€™s neo-cons believe.
I have a number of serious problems with the essay, not the least of which is the fact that Israel, which has been central to both the older and younger (now middle-aged) generations of neo-cons, goes entirely unmentioned by Lake. He also fails to distinguish between Kirkpatrickâ€™s neo-conservatism and a classic realist position which, I think, defines more where Clarke and Beers are coming from. Finally, Clarke and Beers are no doubt advising the Obama campaign, but their voices are two of many that also include classic liberal internationalists, who were and, for that matter, still are, quite comfortable with Carterâ€™s human-rights policy and took strong objection to both the old and new neo-conservative critique of it. (Steve Clemons just posted an interesting take on the relationship between Obama and his foreign policy advisers on his blog, thewashingtonnote.com.)
But Lakeâ€™s basic point â€” that Obamaâ€™s likely approach to the â€œglobal war on terrorismâ€ is likely to be much more â€œrealistâ€ in orientation than McCain, neo-cons, and other Republicans have tried to depict â€” is, I think, on point, as is his comparison of that approach to the strategy pursued by Gen. David Petraeusâ€™ in Iraq (â€collaboration with security forces, militias, and tribal leaders who donâ€™t conform to our highest idealsâ€, â€œfinding proxies to fight the enemy,â€ and a strategy designed to â€œisolate and shrink the pool of irreconcilable insurgentsâ€ after buying off the rest). Of course, Petraeus, who has been hailed by the neo-cons as the great Caesar of Mesopotamia, has, in reality, pursued policies â€” particularly the recruitment of former Sunni insurgents, and especially former Baathists within it, to fight al Qaeda in Iraq â€” that the neo-cons had long abhorred.
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