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Can a neocon change his spots (and come back as a liberal interventionist for Hillary Clinton)?

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Cross-posted from Mondoweiss

Robert Kagan
(Image by the Hertog Program)
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I don't know if you've noticed, but the neoconservatives are on the run. The latest upheaval in Iraq has further discredited them for destabilizing the country in the first place; and they are being called out in the mainstream media. Andrew Sullivan criticizes them all the time; so does Chris Matthews. The Washington Post has a column assailing the "neocon gang," Eric Alterman has a column at Salon blasting Bill Kristol for banging the war drum again.

All good. But the neoconservatives' partners in crime have gone largely blameless: American liberal interventionists and the Israeli right. When will they come in for criticism? Until they do, it seems that the neoconservative agenda is alive and well.

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Here are some recent items that touch on the new status of the neoconservatives, and the blamelessness of their allies.

First, you may remember that neoconservative Robert Kagan got star treatment in the New York Times 10 days ago, as a "liberal interventionist" and a "Cocoa-Puffs" dad. Conservative columnist Diana West expresses outrage that Kagan has managed to slip the neoconservative label, and concern that he is going to come back to power soon, in the Democratic Party.

"The Times describes Robert Kagan as 'the congenial and well-respected scion of one of America's first families of interventionism.'

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"If there is something jarring about the 'first families of interventionism' moniker -- just think for a moment about the families of the soldiers who actually do the 'intervening' -- it doesn't seem to be meant ironically. Kagan, in fact, says he prefers to call himself a 'liberal interventionist,' not a neocon.

"I can see it now: A new ship of state under Hillary Clinton sailing home, carrying a crew of neocons-turned-liberal-interventionists. And The New York Times will find it all Cocoa Puffs charming."

Sharp. Maybe that's why Chris Matthews is careful not to bash liberal interventionists; they're Hillary's braintrust. But Kagan was Bill Kristol's wingman all through the Project for a New American Century days, when they pressed Bill Clinton and then George W. Bush to invade Iraq.

At Foreign Policy, Steve Walt picks up on the liberal interventionist service to neocons. In a piece titled "Being a neocon means never having to say you're sorry," he says that one source of neoconservative persistence...

"...is the continued support they get from their close cousins: the liberal interventionists. Neoconservatives may have cooked up the whole idea of invading Iraq, but they got a lot of support from a diverse array of liberal hawks. As I've noted before, the only major issue on which these two groups disagree is the role of international institutions, which liberals view as a useful tool and neoconservatives see as a dangerous constraint on U.S. freedom of action. Neoconservatives, in short, are liberal imperialists on steroids, and liberal hawks are really just kinder, gentler neocons.

"The liberal interventionists' complicity in the neoconservative project makes them reluctant to criticize the neoconservatives very much, because to do so draws attention to their own culpability in the disastrous neoconservative program. It is no surprise, therefore, that recovering liberal hawks like Peter Beinart and Jonathan Chait -- who both backed the Iraq war themselves -- have recently defended neoconservative participation in the new debate over Iraq, while taking sharp issue with some of the neocons' position.

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"The neoconservative-liberal alliance in effect re-legitimates the neoconservative world view, and makes their continued enthusiasm for U.S.-led wars look 'normal.'"

Walt was promptly attacked by Chait at New York Magazine:

"Walt's column today is about how people who have been proven to be ignorant about foreign policy should no longer have prestigious outlets in which to disseminate their ill-informed beliefs."

Notice Chait's emphasis on prestige, and Walt's unworthiness of a prestige post. Elite opinion is what matters to neocons and liberal interventionists because it influences leaders. In a democracy, that is a highly unstable approach.

Chait cites an interview with Benjamin Netanyahu on National Public Radio as proving that Israel doesn't want the U.S. to intervene in Iraq. But he doesn't quote Netanyahu, because Netanyahu's not saying that. He is still trying to remake the Middle East by using American power. NPR gave the rightwing leader a seven-and-a-half-minute platform last week to spout propaganda about Iran being a "mortal enemy" of the U.S. that we shouldn't cut a deal with.

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Philip Weiss is a longtime writer and journalist in New York. He co-edits a website on Israel/Palestine, Mondoweiss.net, which he founded in order to foster the movement for greater fairness and justice for Palestinians in American foreign policy. He is currently working on a novel about the US in Australia during WW2.

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