This neocon-leaning contingent then boxed in Obama on a major escalation in Afghanistan in 2009, after denying his request for an Afghan exit plan. He reportedly considered that decision one of the worst of his first term.
What Israel Lobby?
In 2009, the neocons also rolled the novice President after Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair picked former U.S. Ambassador Chas W. Freeman to be chairman of the National Intelligence Council. The neocon propaganda machine promptly revved up, denouncing Freeman as a "realist" who was too friendly with Arab countries. But Freeman's real crime was a lack of sufficient ardor toward Israel and his recognition -- like Hagel's -- that an Israel lobby actually exists in Washington.
"Realists tend not to abide the American alliance with Israel, which rests on shared values with a fellow imperfect democracy rather than on a cold analysis of America's interests," wrote Jon Chait in an article entitled "Obama's Intelligence Blunder" for the Washington Post's neocon-dominated op-ed page.
Chait, a senior editor at the neocon New Republic, added: "As far as realists are concerned, there's no way to think about the way governments act except as the pursuit of self-interest. ... Taken to extremes, realism's blindness to morality can lead it wildly astray. Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, both staunch realists, wrote "The Israel Lobby,' a hyperbolic attack on Zionist political influence. ...
"Freeman praised 'The Israel Lobby' while indulging in its characteristic paranoia. 'No one else in the United States has dared to publish this article,' he told a Saudi news service in 2006, 'given the political penalties that the lobby imposes on those who criticize it.'"
The right-wing Washington Times published its own smear job against Freeman, written by former Reagan administration Pentagon official Frank Gaffney, another neocon.
"The announcement ... that the Obama administration would turn over the job of preparing National Intelligence Estimates to a man whom Saudi Arabia, China, Iran and Hamas surely consider an agent of influence calls to mind an old axiom about Charles 'Chas' Freeman's new line of work -- 'Garbage in, garbage out,'" Gaffney wrote.
Faced with this furious reaction to the appointment of Freeman, Obama quickly retreated. Freeman was forced to step down, and the neocons celebrated their reassertion of political clout even in Obama's Washington.
In a later book, America's Misadventures in the Middle East, Freeman noted that the day after he withdrew his acceptance of the job, the Washington Post published "an unsigned editorial calling me a 'crackpot' for imagining that there was an Israel Lobby and that it had opposed me."
By contrast to the cave-in on Freeman, second-term Obama refused to buckle regarding Hagel, although the neocons applied similar smear tactics.
Another one of Hagel's alleged sins is that he believes the vast Pentagon budget "needs to be pared down." The Washington Post editorial page, which has long been the neocons' media flagship in the nation's capital, denounced that position as reckless and out of the mainstream.
"Mr. Hagel's stated positions on critical issues, ranging from defense spending to Iran, fall well to the left of those pursued by Mr. Obama during his first term -- and place him near the fringe of the Senate that would be asked to confirm him," the Post sniffed in a Dec. 19 editorial.
But it is clear that Hagel's primary disqualification was that he has, at times, refused to sign on to hawkish neocon positions circulated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, such as piling on more anti-Iran sanctions and demanding that Europe designate Hezbollah, Israel's chief foe in Lebanon, as a terrorist organization.
Betting on Romney
Overall, the neocons have found their power prospects waning by comparison to what they had hoped just a few months ago. They had expected President Mitt Romney to restore them to the previous glory that they had enjoyed under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.