Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who battled Clinton to a virtual tie in Iowa, took a somewhat less belligerent position at Thursday's debate, repeating his rather naive idea of having Sunni states lead the fight against Sunni jihadists. On the more reasonable side, he indicated a willingness to work with Russia and other world powers in support of an anti-jihadist coalition.
"It must be Muslim troops on the ground that will destroy ISIS, with the support of a coalition of major powers -- U.S., U.K., France, Germany and Russia," Sanders said. "So our job is to provide them the military equipment that they need; the air support they need; special forces when appropriate. But at the end of the day for a dozen different reasons ... the combat on the ground must be done by Muslim troops with our support. We must not get involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East."
Sanders continued, "We cannot be the policeman of the world. We are now spending more I believe than the next eight countries on defense. We have got to work in strong coalition with the major powers of the world and with those Muslim countries that are prepared to stand up and take on terrorism. So I would say that the key doctrine of the Sanders administration would be no, we cannot continue to do it alone; we need to work in coalition."
Sounding Less Hawkish
While Sanders clearly sought to sound less hawkish than Clinton -- and did not repeat his earlier talking point about the Saudis and others "getting their hands dirty" -- he did not address the reality that many of the Sunni countries that he hopes to enlist in the fight against the jihadists are already engaged -- on the side of the jihadists.
Clinton, as she seeks to cut into Sanders's lead in New Hampshire polls, has been stressing her "progressive" credentials, but many progressive Democrats suspect that Clinton could become a neocon Trojan Horse.
Arch-neocon Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, has praised Clinton's aggressive foreign policy.
Kagan, who was made an adviser to Clinton's State Department (while his wife Victoria Nuland received big promotions under Clinton), said in 2014: "If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue " it's something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else." [For more, see Consortiumnews.com's "Is Hillary Clinton a Neocon-Lite?"]
Not only did Clinton vote for the Iraq War -- and support it until it became a political liability during Campaign 2008 -- but she rejoined the neocon/liberal-hawk ranks as President Barack Obama's Secretary of State. She routinely sided with neocon holdovers, such as Gen. David Petraeus, regarding Mideast wars and Israel's hardline regime in its hostilities toward the Palestinians and Iran.
In 2011, Clinton pushed for "regime change" in Libya, chortling over Muammar Gaddafi's torture-murder in October 2011, "We came. We saw. He died." Since then, Libya has descended into a failed state with the Islamic State and other jihadists claiming more and more territory.
Clinton also favored an outright (though limited) U.S. military invasion of Syria, setting up a "safe zone" or "no-fly zone" that would protect militants fighting to overthrow the secular Assad government. Over and over again, she has adopted positions virtually identical to what the neocons prescribe.
But Sanders, although he opposed the Iraq War, has hesitated to challenge Clinton too directly on foreign policy, apparently fearing to distract from his focus on income inequality and domestic concerns. He apparently has chosen fuzziness on foreign policy as the better part of political valor.
GOP Neocons Score
On the Republican side, the first week of the presidential delegate-selection process saw two candidates who mildly questioned the neocon conventional wisdom face reversals. Billionaire Donald Trump was upset in the Iowa caucuses and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul shut down his flailing campaign.
Trump has noted his opposition to the Iraq War and his willingness to cooperate with Russia in the fight against jihadist terror, while Paul pushed a libertarian-style approach that questioned neocon interventionism but not as aggressively as his father did, apparently hoping to avoid Ron Paul's marginalization as "an isolationist."
While Trump and Paul stumbled this week, neocon favorite Marco Rubio surged to a strong third-place finish, catapulting past other establishment candidates who -- while largely me-too-ing the neocon orthodoxy on foreign policy -- are not as identified with pure neoconservatism as the youthful Florida senator is.