‘Neocons’ making a comeback
But the 2016 presidential race has seen Republican candidates embrace ideas and advisors once ostracized for the catastrophes and hubris of George W. Bush’s “preemptive war” in Iraq.
During last week’s Republican presidential debates, 17 candidates tripped over themselves to declare President Barack Obama weak and to vow a more robust approach to foreign policy. What Obama aides see as caution, pragmatism and a realism about US power, Republicans painted as a lack of American leadership that had left a power vacuum allowing Russia, Iran, China and jihadist terror groups to run riot.
“We need a new commander in chief that will stand up to our enemies,” said one White House hopeful, Sen. Ted Cruz. Seeking to sweep aside the anti-war mood that ushered Obama to the White House, Sen. Lindsey Graham insisted US troops are needed in Iraq and Syria to fight the Daesh group. If the rhetoric sounds familiar, so do some of the faces. Paul Wolfowitz, an early and vociferous champion of invading Iraq as a senior aide to Rumsfeld, has been advising former governor Jeb Bush.
Sen. Marco Rubio is aided by Jamie Fly, who worked on president George W. Bush’s national security team. In 2012, Fly and a co-author argued that the United States should pursue a policy of regime change in Iran, with an extended bombing campaign against government targets. It was always likely that Republican candidates would look to personnel from the two previous Bush administrations for foreign policy experience. Washington’s highly politicized civil service means that for the last seven years many have been parked at think thanks and in the private sector waiting eagerly to get back into the game.
But some Republicans see more systemic reasons for reaching back into the past. Lawrence Wilkerson, a Republican who went toe-to-toe with neocons as chief of staff to Colin Powell during the Bush administration, believes party politics and an unwillingness to accept a relative decline of US power has led to candidates’ embrace of neocon ideas.
“The United States is losing power,” insisted Wilkerson, a former US Army Colonel. He said the Republican candidates were eager to tell voters: “We’re the indispensable nation, we’re the exceptional nation, we’ve got to get back up to the top.”
They forget George W. Bush and Cheney’s role in America’s decline and say: “Oh, by the way, the guy in the White House who happens to be black did the most to accelerate this.” Obama’s remaining months in office and the campaign to succeed him also look set to provide a new platform for tough-talking neocons.
AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
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