American neocons still insist that they achieved "victory at last" in the Iraq War and can "win" in Afghanistan, although both bloody conflicts are now grinding inexorably toward grim conclusions as two of the worst strategic defeats in U.S. history.
Yet, paradoxically, the twin disasters carry possible political advantages for the neocons -- if they can shift the blame for the defeats onto President Barack Obama. That prospect could even contribute to Obama's defeat in 2012 and open the door to the neocons reclaiming control of U.S. foreign policy in 2013.
If that trick can be pulled off, the neocons could keep U.S. military in the service of Israel's Likud hardliners as they confront new dangers from their Arab neighbors and may want help attacking Iran's nuclear facilities.
The neocons also realize that an Obama electoral loss in 2012 would protect the Pentagon's budget which otherwise could face at least some modest trimming in a second Obama term. Republican leaders have declared that they would spare the Pentagon from budget cuts even as the GOP proposes slashing key social programs, including Medicare.
David Stockman, President Ronald Reagan's first budget director, recently noted in a New York Times op-ed that congressional Republicans and their supposedly deficit-hawk budget chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan, backed away from challenging the neocons on military spending.
"Ingratiating himself with the neo-cons, Mr. Ryan has put the $700 billion defense and security budget off limits," Stockman wrote.
In other words, a Republican victory in 2012, which has grown in likelihood given the stalling of the U.S. economic recovery, could well mean the neocons' ambitious military agenda of forcing "regime change" in countries on Israel's enemies list will be back in play.
Thus, the upcoming events in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and how they're perceived -- could have powerful consequences for the direction of U.S. foreign and domestic policies.
The neocons, who remain extremely influential in Official Washington's opinion-making circles, will try to spin the failures as examples of a timid President Obama snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The neocons will do all they can to separate themselves from the disasters that they helped launch.
Specter of Defeat
But it is clear that the specter of defeat is now swirling up from the desert sands of Iraq and the dusty mountains of Afghanistan.
The U.S. military is even contemplating the prospect of American troops making their final retreat from Iraq in December under fire from Iraqi insurgents. The New York Times reported on Tuesday that inside Iraq, U.S. "commanders are bracing for what they fear could be the most dangerous remaining mission: getting the last troops out safely."
To protect the exit, the U.S. military has resorted to essentially bribing Iraqi tribal leaders in the form of road maintenance contracts, the Times wrote.
If the bribes don't work, the last of the 46,000 U.S. troops may have to run a gauntlet of ambushes and IEDs in a race through southern Iraq to the Kuwaiti border. Some resentful Iraqis might find the scene of a frenzied U.S. retreat fitting, given the suffering that they have endured since the U.S. invasion in 2003.
Already, as the numbers of U.S. troops dwindle, there are signs that the smaller force has become an inviting target for revenge-minded Iraqis. Times correspondent Michael S. Schmidt reported:
"In recent weeks, insurgent fighters have stepped up their efforts to kill American forces in what appears to be a strategy to press the United States to withdraw on schedule, undercut any resolve to leave troops in Iraq, and win a public relations victory at home by claiming credit for the American withdrawal."