McCain as Neo-Con, Obama as Neo-Con

I’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 McCain’s evolution from realist to neo-conservative in the late 1990s. Now Judis revisits the issue to determine McCain’s likely trajectory, focusing in particular on the candidate’s Manicheanism, especially with regard to Russia. Money lines are found right up front:

“Two 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 (”Neo-McCain,” 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 McCain’s warrior exterior–that a President McCain might be able use his hawkish reputation to, say, bring Iraq’s warring parties together or to lure Iran to the bargaining table.

“I wasn’t the only one. Since McCain secured the Republican nomination, I’ve heard echoes of my ambivalence from foreign policy experts, including some who plan to vote for Obama. “McCain has Nixon-goes-to-China credentials,” one told me. But, based on McCain’s actions over the last two years and conversations I’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.”

The second article is the cover story by Eli Lake — yes, the Eli Lake who writes for the ultra-Likudist New York Sun — entitled “Contra Expectations: Obama isn’t Jimmy Carter — He’s Ronald Reagan.” 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 Carter’s human rights policy and its alleged subversion of “friendly authoritarians”, 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 “national greatness” and neo-imperialism, something that made Kirkpatrick uneasy. Lake argues that Obama may turn out to be much less “naive” and reluctant to use force than McCain or today’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 Kirkpatrick’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 Carter’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,

But Lake’s basic point — that Obama’s likely approach to the “global war on terrorism” is likely to be much more “realist” in orientation than McCain, neo-cons, and other Republicans have tried to depict — is, I think, on point, as is his comparison of that approach to the strategy pursued by Gen. David Petraeus’ in Iraq (”collaboration with security forces, militias, and tribal leaders who don’t conform to our highest ideals”, “finding proxies to fight the enemy,” and a strategy designed to “isolate and shrink the pool of irreconcilable insurgents” 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 — particularly the recruitment of former Sunni insurgents, and especially former Baathists within it, to fight al Qaeda in Iraq — that the neo-cons had long abhorred.

Visit for the latest news analysis and commentary from Inter Press News Service’s Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe.

Author: Jim Lobe

Visit for the latest news analysis and commentary from Inter Press News Service's Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe.

15 thoughts on “McCain as Neo-Con, Obama as Neo-Con”

  1. “Reality based” or whatever you want to call it, Obama’s speech at the last AIPAC convention was a warmongers wet dream. If both candidates are owned by AIPAC, what are the chances that America’s foreign policy will change in any meaningful regard – regardless of who wins the election?
    God Bless America.

  2. It’s interesting how the standard labels “neo-con,” “realist,” and “liberal internationalist” have gotten a little blurry in popular parlance. It would be nice if people understood that willingness to use international force doesn’t make somebody a neo-con, talk about human rights doesn’t make somebody a liberal internationalist, and that realism is not the same thing as isolationism. It would also be nice if they understood that arguments for continued occupation and for ASAP-withdrawal can be launched from any of those camps.

  3. mcain is relying on neo con support to get him elected and will do or say whatever they tell him. among stupid uninformed people, that philosphy is not at all extinct or supeerflous in the age of 4 dollar a gallon gasoline, massive deficits, and a military done in by two 5+ year wars.

    most americans still think we are in the america of the 80’s and 90’s, the invincible super power and tough talk like mcain is seen as healthy. amazing isn’t it? it’s like the last 8 years never happened

  4. I think that the reason Lake didn’t mention Israel is that the neo-cons have already become so closely affiliated with Israel in the “thinking” public’s (all ten of us) mind, that when that inevitable Israeli false-flag attack occurs, blamed on Iran, many people who know of Israel’s ties to the neo-cons will immediately point the finger at Israel.

    Lake is just using that old Mossad tactic “By way of deception…”

    People call us peaceniks traitors, but that isn’t the case — we love our country so much that we don’t want it to err, and certainly not march all over the world killing innocents willy-nilly while draining what’s left of our coffers.

    The real traitors are the Israel-firsters and the Congress that aids and abets them. Can’t we get some kind of alien and sedition act going for them? Well, I guess I can dream…

  5. I gave up on Obama as soon as he disowned his own pastor. I never gave him much slack to begin with; my first impression of the guy was – “black Nixon”( from the measured cadence of his speaking).

  6. It really doesn’t matter which party is in power, American foreign policy basically remains the same. Both parties are essentially committed to America as ‘the world’s policeman’. Both parties favour an interventionist foreign policy. Neither party talks about ending outdated alliances like Nato, or with South Korea. Remarkably little really changes whichever party is in power. Did the election of the Democrats in 2006 end the war in Iraq? If Bush was wrong to attack Iraq, wasn’t Clinton wrong to attack Serbia? The truth is U.S. foreign policy basically exists independent of whoever is in power in Washington. American “elites” simply take as a given that the world “needs” American leadership, that they “know” whats best for us and they basically treat the U.S. military the way a spoiled kid treats a shiny new toy. Remember what Albright said about what’s the point in having this neat military if you can’t use it? Barring massive protest from the American people (which without a draft seems improbable, isn’t it more fun to just watch American idol?) only a total economic collapse will cause any real change in America’s disastrous foreign polices.

  7. Jim Lobe, an execellent journalist, was of course quoting from two pundits–Lake and Judis. Most political pundits still get hung up on these silly ideological distinctions. They do have a place in the dialogue but in the present circumstance they really are insignifcant. I do not believe the candidates know the difference between liberal or conservative, or for that matter care. They only do what they believe will get them elected. And that is called pragmatism. The zionists of American have at their disposal great heaps of money, and that can buy the loyalty of anyone with supreme ambition. If you really think of it–which most people have not–Obama is a manchurian creation. He is there at the behest of/and to service one wing of the zionist entity. whenever they beckon Whatever views he has–if he has any–is not important. If elected his handlers will trot him out with a script, which he will read to the American people. The gentile elite has made common cause with the Obama Jewish wing in their desperate hope for salvation. But if they are too take a retrospective study of their new allies they would realize that that is not going to happen. Yet hope is all that is left. John Kurius

  8. I can only sit here and be astounded at seeing even Jim Lobe put “realist” and “war on terrorism” in the same sentence. How can ANYONE realistically pursue a completely mad goal – one that is essentially a fool’s errand with its only guarantee being to end in bankruptcy (in every sense) for the United States. How far the madness does creep in!

  9. Just one more note here: I’m getting a bit sick of hearing Americans dissed as uncaring and hypnotized by their moronic TV shows. The runup to the Iraq war saw some of the largest protests in history, with the net result of zero. If you think protesting will effect change now, then who’s playing the fool here? (I protest because I have to do something, but I have no illusions about its being efficacious) Every national poll shows the overwhelming majority of Americans see what’s going on, think it is wrong and are very concerned about how to stop it. What do you do when your government representatives no longer listen to you and block every attempt to force them to see what they are doing, and the parties with a lock on power bar the door for anyone else? Dump your job and your family and take up arms? Turn your back on your own future and that of your family for the sake of (at this time) a hopeless quest against your government? That is essentially the choice we have quite pointedly faced for the past seven years. I don’t have the answers, but I know, in my experience anyway, beating people about the head and shoulders over how bad (stupid, uninformed, useless, “sheeple”, whatever) they are has changed no one and nothing; more often than not it’s an ego exercise for the writer (as in “I am so much better than these fools!”) than an actual constructive approach to solving a problem.

  10. ktrout, the fact is that the American people KNEW – every single one of them – that Chimp was running torture chambers BEFORE Americans rewarded The Torturer with a second term in power, back in 2004. Family values at their best.
    All Americans aren’t scumbags, true – just the majority.
    God Bless America.

  11. Nike,

    Yes, there is a very curious resemblance of American public attitudes these days regarding torture, privacy and the like to majority attitudes concerning the most questionable behaviors of the National Socialists in Germany in the period, say, 1945-1950. The coming of the Cold War disguised much of German resistance to the agreed upon de-Nazification programs, particularly in the Western Zones, primarily because it came to be accepted simply out of self interest on the part of the American and British conquerors. Much of the same tone suffuses majority American views today. It is as if there is even a certain willingness to excuse our own Hitlers and Goerings. Much to regret and actively oppose here.

  12. “Just one more note here: I’m getting a bit sick of hearing Americans dissed as uncaring and hypnotized by their moronic TV shows.” Ditto. Let’s face issue seriously in this thread, please.

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