National Security Network

Hard Right Hijacks Conservative Agenda on Foreign Policy

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Report 22 July 2010

Terrorism & National Security Terrorism & National Security neoconservatives New START Public Engagement russia


On issues ranging from nonproliferation to terrorism to U.S. policy toward Iran, neoconservatives and far-right hawks have attempted to hijack their own party's agenda, bucking bipartisan opinion and trashing decades of conservative expertise and accomplishment.  When the minority leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee speaks out in public against his own leadership, a trend is afoot that is dangerous for the country and carries serious political risk.  On the range of issues that the hard right has chosen to politicize, it risks defying views widely held by Americans, and in the end, marginalizing only themselves.

Hard right attempting to hijack bipartisan consensus on foreign policy from moderate conservatives. Writing in Foreign Policy this month, chronicler of the neocons Jacob Heilbrunn described neoconservatives' effort to marginalize mainstream conservative voices, using a "liturgy," which is "enforced by the likes of Liz Cheney or William Kristol and obediently recited by party leaders..."  Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) lamented this increased partisanship by his conservative colleagues in an interview with the National Journal, discussing it in the context of the New START agreement: "I'm about to go to a Republican lunch where I fully expect to hear for an hour and a half how everything the administration proposes might be blocked..." On a range of foreign policy issues, it is clear that the hard right has stepped beyond a bipartisan consensus in order to go on the attack.

Non-proliferation: National security advisers to three Republican presidents - Henry Kissinger, General Brent Scowcroft (Ret.) and Steve Hadley - have told Congress they support the New START Treaty.  Scowcroft laid out the consequences of the Senate failing to ratify the New START treaty: "The principal result of non-ratification would be to throw the whole nuclear negotiating situation into a state of chaos." Yet a host of  conservative presidential hopefuls have attacked the treaty.  Mitt Romney attacked the treaty in an op-ed for the Washington Post. Journalist Fred Kaplan, who has been following arms control for 35 years, called that op-ed, "shabby, misleading and-let's not mince words-thoroughly ignorant." [Retired General Brent Scowcroft, 6/10/10. Mitt Romney, 7/6/10. Fred Kaplan, 7/7/10]

Terrorism: Moderates and terrorism experts such as Fareed Zakaria caution that "[t]he purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population." Yet House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) recently criticized the Obama administration for not encouraging Americans to live in constant fear - as terrorists desire.  He stated that: "with each close encounter, my fear is that the country goes on heightened alert only so long as the media covers it." [Fareed Zakaria, 1/11/10. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), 5/4/10]

Iran: A bipartisan consensus cautions strongly against a military strike on Iran. Then-CENTCOM commander General David Petraeus warned in February about the consequences of military action, saying that "[a] military strike "could be used to play to nationalist tendencies...There is certainly a history, in other countries, of fairly autocratic regimes almost creating incidents that inflame nationalist sentiment. So that could be among the many different, second, third, or even fourth order effects (of a strike)." The right has ignored these consequences to call recklessly for military action. Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote in the last Weekly Standard that such scenarios were "alarmist," and that a strike on Iran would be a "stunning blow." [General Petraeus, 2/03/10. Reuel Marc Gerecht, 7/26/10]

[Jacob Heilbrunn, July\August 2010. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), July 2010]

Conservative split highlights radical positions of neocons.  In the current issue of the New Republic, Barron YoungSmith looks at the New START agreement to write about how the split between moderate and right-wing conservatives could have severe, negative consequences: "It means, first and foremost, that the responsible Republican foreign policy establishment is not coming back. Mandarins like George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, and James Baker, who have all testified or written on behalf of the START treaty - calling it an integral, uncontroversial way of repairing the bipartisan arms-control legacy that sustained American foreign policy all the way up until the George W. Bush administration - are going to be dead soon (or they've drifted into the service of Democrats). The people who will take their place will be from a generation of superhawks, like John Bolton, Liz Cheney, and Robert Joseph, who are virulently opposed to the practice of negotiated arms control. Mitt Romney, though a moderate from Michigan, is not going to be the second coming of Gerald Ford."

Jacob Heilbrunn puts the split in historical context: "For its part, it looks as though the mainstream Republican establishment is headed straight back into the oblivion that [Henry] Stimson complained about almost a century ago.  It's a dangerous pattern. Again and again, as Sam Tanenhaus perceptively observes in The Death of Conservatism, the right has conceived insurgencies from within the government ‘in a spirit of hatred for a liberal elite who were perceived to be usurpers and hence subsversives.'  By moving solidly to the right, Romney underscores its decline and the rise of something else -- what Dean Acheson, Harry Truman's secretary of state and a prime target of right-wing obloquy in the early 1950s, called ‘the primitives.'"[Barron YoungSmith, 7/8/10. Heilbrunn, July\August 2010]

The hard right's positions are outside of the mainstream and stand opposed to those of the American people on the key issues:

Engagement:  The administration's efforts at engagement with the world have been mocked by conservatives like Mitt Romney as a "tour of apology."  Yet the American people strongly support the administration's efforts to revitalize U.S. leadership through international engagement.   According to a poll conducted by Democracy Corps, Third Way and Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner, Americans approve of the President's push to improve the U.S. standing in the world, 55% to 42%.  [Romney, Heritage, 6/1/09. GQR, 3/8/10]

Afghanistan:  As conservatives like John McCain and Bill Kristol have called for endless war in Afghanistan, the American people support the administration's conditions-based timetable.  A recent Gallup poll finds that: "A majority of Americans (58%) favor President Barack Obama's timetable that calls for withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011." [NSN, 6/30/10. Gallup, 06/29/10]

Terrorism:  While conservatives responded to both the failed underpants bombing and the failed Times Square bombing with calls for resignations and proposals that would strip citizens of fundamental rights, the American people support the Administration's approach.  A poll performed by Fox News found that  52% approve of "how the Obama administration handled the attempted bombing of Times Square." Similar numbers were found in the days following the failed underpants bomber, when CNN found that, "Nearly two-thirds of people questioned in the poll said they have a moderate or great deal of confidence in the administration to protect the public from future terrorist attacks." [Fox News, 5/18/10. CNN, 1/11/10]

What We're Reading

North Korea warned the United States and South Korea to call off military exercises scheduled for this weekend and to back off any new sanctions against the communist country or risk placing the entire region in danger.

The heads of some leading U.S. and European multinationals are starting to question whether new Chinese policies and regulations are making China a more difficult place for foreign firms to do business.

The car bomb that exploded near the U.S. border in Ciudad Juarez last week was a sophisticated device never before seen in Mexico-an IED, one somewhat less sophisticated than those seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, triggered by cellphone.

The State Department is laying plans to field its own army in Iraq; meanwhile, at least 15 Iraqis were killed in a Diyala province car bombing, the third fatal bombing attack this week in the volatile region northeast of Baghdad.

The IMF says it has canceled Haiti's $268 million debt and will lend the earthquake-devastated country another $60 million to help it with reconstruction plans.

The U.S. military announced that it would resume relations and training with Indonesia's special forces, an elite group blamed for atrocities and repression during the country's dark years of authoritarianism.

In the lastest round of spy sniping, the Iranian government claimed Shahram Amiri, a nuclear scientist who came to the  U.S. only to flee back to Iran, was a double agent giving information to Iran about the inner workings of the CIA.

John D. Bennett, a CIA veteran who served as station chief in Pakistan until last year and who has had numerous other overseas postings, has been appointed head of the agency's National Clandestine Service.

Chad's government said there's "no question" on whether they will arrest Sudanese President Omar al Bashir: they won't.

Vice President Joe Biden reaffirmed U.S. backing for an independent Kosovo on the eve of a ruling by the International Court of Justice on the legality of its formal secession from Serbia in 2008. 

Commentary of the Day

The New York Times argues that President Obama - with the backing of his generals - is right to keep to his timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, despite a recent series of bloody attacks by insurgents.

Joshua Keating explains what militaries actually practice during war games.

John Prendergast lays out what's wrong with American policy towards Sudan and how to fix it.