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The Neocons' Waterloo

By       Message Robert Parry     Permalink
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Behind the young President's back, Gen. Petraeus even mounted a P.R. campaign in support of a larger and longer Afghan War. In 2009, when Obama was weighing what to do about Afghanistan, Petraeus personally arranged extraordinary access to U.S. field commanders for two of his influential neocon friends, Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute.

"Fears of impending disaster are hard to sustain ... if you actually spend some time in Afghanistan, as we did recently at the invitation of General David Petraeus, chief of U.S. Central Command," they wrote upon their return when they penned a glowing report in about the prospects for success in Afghanistan -- if only President Obama sent more troops and committed the United States to stay in the war for the long haul.

In mid-2011, Gates finally left the Pentagon, with Obama replacing him with CIA Director Leon Panetta, who had emerged as a trusted Obama adviser. To fill the CIA job, Obama named Petraeus partly to prevent the ambitious general from launching a political career as a Republican, including possibly becoming the GOP's presidential standard-bearer in 2012.

Obama's move was risky, in that Petraeus could use his position at the CIA to leak out information to his neocon allies that could undercut Obama's foreign policies, a possibility that appears to have come to pass in the alleged Iranian assassination plot.

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So, when the White House learned that Petraeus had entangled himself in a sex scandal, there was no rush to help the CIA chief extricate himself. Rather than sweeping the scandal under the rug and letting Petraeus stay on -- as he apparently expected -- or concocting a cover story for a graceful exit, the Obama administration let the story play out in all its messy details.

Decks Cleared

Between the outcome of the election and the departure of Petraeus, President Obama now has the chance to take full control of his foreign policy. The neocons also find themselves sitting on the outside looking in more so than at any time since the 1970s when they emerged as a group of hawkish ex-Democrats and embittered ex-Leftists who defected to Ronald Reagan.

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Many neocons worked on Reagan's presidential campaign in 1980 and were rewarded with prominent jobs on President Reagan's foreign policy team, the likes of Elliott Abrams, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Frank Gaffney. Though their influence ebbed and flowed over the 12 years of Republican rule, the neocons established themselves as a potent force in Washington policymaking.

Even after President Bill Clinton took office, the neocons retained some measure of influence in his administration and became favorites on newspaper op-ed pages and at powerful think tanks, including some that were regarded as center and center-left, such as the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution.

The neocons reached the apex of their power under President George W. Bush when they persuaded the inexperienced Bush to respond to the 9/11 attacks by invading and occupying Iraq, which had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or 9/11.

Iraq had long been on the neocon target list as a threat to Israel. The neocons also envisioned using occupied Iraq as a base for forcing "regime change" in Iran and Syria, with the ultimate goal of allowing Israel to dictate peace terms to its near-in enemies, Lebanon's Hezbollah and Palestine's Hamas.

The neocon hubris in Iraq contributed to the geopolitical disaster there as nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers died and hundreds of billions of dollars were wasted. Finally, neocon power began to recede. By the end of his administration, Bush was resisting pressure from Vice President Dick Cheney and the neocons around him to bomb Iran.

Still, when Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, the neocon influence remained strong enough in Official Washington that the new President left in place a number of key neocon allies, especially Gates and Petraeus, and named Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

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Though Obama upset the neocons by completing the military withdrawal from Iraq, he accepted their plan for an expanded war in Afghanistan, and he continued much of Bush's "war on terror," albeit without the name.

Turning on Obama

Obama's concessions garnered some favorable neocon commentaries in important news outlets, such as The Washington Post, but the neocons still rallied behind Mitt Romney's campaign to oust Obama in 2012. Romney assembled a team of Bush retreads to write his foreign policy white paper, "An American Century."

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at

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