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10.19.11

The Neocons Are Coming!

No, no, no, writes Leslie H. Gelb, to the neoconservatives once again rising from the undead to lead America to another war, bigger Pentagon budgets, and a bizarre blame game over Iraq.

They’re back! The neoconservatives who gave America clueless, unpaid-for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus a near doubling of military expenditures, during the Bush years have risen from their political graves. Someone, maybe a media tiring of President Obama’s interminable plight, pulled the stake from their heart. Now they’ve returned to the op-ed pages, the talk shows, the think-tank discussions, and the advisory ranks of Republican presidential candidates.

Once again, the neoconservatives mount their steeds. They hint that we need another war or at least a little military strike, this time against Iran. They’re pushing to increase military spending; the China threat, you know. They’re also trying to further weaken Obama by charging that he’s losing Iraq to Iran by not keeping U.S. forces there (without mentioning, of course, that Iraq is throwing them out).

I find it hard to believe that any of these new tricks will work, but I have come never to underestimate the neoconservatives, that formidable group mostly of Republicans who sprang from the loins of the great Democratic senator from Washington, Henry “Scoop” Jackson. They are very smart and far tougher than their liberal and moderate opponents. They write and speak with far greater simplicity and force. (Democrats just must make 17 complicated points about everything.) They are always relentless and on the attack. The only ones to stand up to them effectively have been other Republicans, specifically the best of the foreign-policy realists such as George Shultz, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, and George H.W. Bush.

Here’s a standard technique for the neoconservatives: One of America’s many nasty enemies does something provocative, as they inevitably do. The neocons say the president has to get tougher. Then the enemy does another nasty thing, and the neocons say the president wasn’t tough enough. And so on until they’re off to the races and suggesting that the only effective means to stop the devils is a bombing attack, or a hundred thousand troops, in and out quickly, of course. If some poor Democratic president doesn’t follow their advice, he’s labeled a wimp who is endangering U.S. security. If the wimp starts a war, the game continues with charges that the president isn’t really trying to “win” the war and should be adding more troops. We’ve heard this routine so many times, you’d think that the wimpy Democrats would have built up some immunity, and that the media would stop providing the bullhorns. Alas, it goes on and on.

Iran sits atop the neocons’ list of priorities. Beyond argument, its leaders are dangerous. They are probably trying to construct nuclear weapons. On top of this, we seemingly have some Quds Force general buying a hit on the Saudi ambassador in a D.C. restaurant. Bill Kristol is leading the charge, calling the recent alleged Iranian assassination plot “an engraved invitation” to use force. He continued: “We can strike at the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and weaken them. And we can hit the regime’s nuclear weapons program, and set it back.” Were these mere musings? No! He goes on to say that if the White House doesn’t use force, Congress should authorize force against a variety of Iranian targets, and against its “nuclear weapons program.”

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is equally direct. He approves the administration’s current efforts to tighten and target. “But they will not scare it,” he wrote in The Wall Street Journal. “The White House needs to respond militarily to this outrage. If we don't, we are asking for it.” And what of the likely wave of terrorist attacks that will follow worldwide from such attacks? The Iranians are not going to just cower in the corner because we talk and act tough. Alas, that just doesn’t happen. They escalate, too.

And in case you believed that Republicans, faced with America’s economic calamity and indebtedness, won’t press for higher military spending, take another look. Mitt Romney, the moderate establishment candidate, wants to put a 4 percent floor on the baseline defense budget. According to The Wall Street Journal, that would amount to about a $30 billion increase over the current base. In his recent foreign-policy speech and white paper, Romney proposed increasing Navy ship production: “I will reverse the hollowing of our Navy and announce an initiative to increase the shipbuilding rate from 9 per year to 15. I will begin reversing Obama-era cuts to national missile defense and prioritize the full deployment of a multilayered national ballistic missile defense system.” Those bills would be incalculably high.

The neocons’ Iraq caper irritates me particularly because of its blatant hypocrisy. Their line is that Obama will “lose” Iraq to Iran because of the decision he made to take out all U.S. forces from that country. The formidable John Bolton puts it this way in The Daily Beast: “The consequence of an Obama policy that continues the withdrawal of American forces down to zero in Iraq would unquestionably strengthen Iran.” Well, Obama didn’t invent that policy—George W. Bush did. He was the one who approved the agreement with Iraq to completely withdraw all U.S. forces by the end of 2012. Bush had little choice because the Iraqi government would accept no less. Obama also has little choice because Iraq won’t give American soldiers immunity from prosecution. Frankly, if anyone lost Iraq to Iran, it was the neocons. It was they who pressed to crush Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and when they did, they destroyed the only regional counterweight to Iran. Take a bow, neocons.