Has news of the death of the Neocons been greatly exaggerated?
In some respects, the eclipse of the Neocons is an old story. As I suggested in a prior post, many Neocons decided long ago they had been sold out by the Bush administration’s failure of imperial nerve.
Since at least September 2003, the basic Bush administration political program in Iraq–echoed in today’s Washington Post column by Fareed Zakaria, “A Political Path out of Iraq“–has been to try to put the Shiite genie back in the bottle. As Zakaria suggests, this implies wooing the Sunni minority that was marginalized by the agressive de-Baathification program initiated in May 2003 at the start of the formal US occupation of Iraq.
Co-opting the majority of the Sunnis is the simplest way [Prime Minister] Maliki can cripple the insurgency…
[Maliki] will have to address the core Sunni demand: an end to the de-Baathification process, which has thrown tens of thousands of Sunnis out of jobs and barred them from new ones. Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, a Kurd, told me that “the time has come for us to be courageous enough to admit that there were massive mistakes in de-Baathification.” The American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, argued similarly, saying that “de-Baathification has to evolve into reconciliation with accountability.” Khalilzad added that Prime Minister Maliki supported the notion that de-Baathification “has to focus on individuals who are charged with specific crimes, not whole classes and groups of people.” If so, it would mark a major and positive shift in policy.
This “shift in policy” marks a sharp rebuke to the Neocon agenda in Iraq. On the basis of this defeat and others (failure to support democratization in Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, etc.), Guy Dinmore of the Financial Times has pronounced the Neocon patient dead in his May 29 article, “Neo-cons Question Bushâ€™s Democratisation Strategy” and–following Neocons Michael Rubin and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute–Dinmore lists the cause of death as suicide.
Rubin and Pletka ask:
Is it possible that the administration is questioning the wisdom of promoting democracy as a long-term solution to U.S. national security woes? “Realists” suggest that the president has finally woken up and smelled the coffee. They say democracy gave us an Islamist government in Iraq and Hamas in Palestine. It could give us the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Heaven knows what it would spawn in China or Libya. Better the devil you know.
But there is no sign the White House has done any strategic rethinking. The president continues to believe his own preaching, but his administration has become incapable of making the hard choices those beliefs require.
Everyone is grateful to Rubin and Pletka for the “straight man” set up: “no sign the White House has done any strategic rethinking”? Was there ever any sign the White House did any strategic thinking? (As irresistable as that line may be, I think the White House did quite a bit of strategic thinking on the road to war in Iraq.)
Where, exactly, should one draw the line between the “president,” the “White House,” and “his administration”?
One place to draw the line might be the State Department. The careful observers over at Whirled View find ample evidence (here and here) of so-called “Realist” influence over at State, including the new Iran desk.
If only the president continued to believe his own preaching, that would be one thing. But the “White House” presumably includes the Office of the Vice President. Do Rubin and Pletka really think Cheney remains an ally?
There are some signs they may be right. If so, the Neocons might live to see another day. Dinmore filed his story on the death of the Neocons only to report in today’s Financial Times that Bush and Blair have met with Right Zionist (aka Neocon) Iranian exiles:
US President George W. Bush and Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, have received separate background briefings from Iranian opposition activists, including one visitor to the White House on Tuesday who caused a storm earlier this month by reporting Iran had passed a law requiring Jews to wear special identification.
Contacts at such a high level with Iranian opposition activists are likely to raise concerns in Tehran while the US and UK lead diplomatic efforts to get Iran to abandon its nuclear fuel programme.
White House officials said Amir Taheri, a London-based former editor, was among a group of experts invited to discuss Iraq and the region with Mr Bush. Mr Taheri is well known for his support of the war in Iraq and regime change in Iran.
So, is this just Bush throwing a bone to Neocons in the dog house? Or is this the “White House”–i.e., the Office of the Vice President–sending out the word: Game On.