The return of the neocons

The return of the neocons

Technically, there is nothing “neo” about conservatives like Robert Kagan, the historian and another Washington Post columnist, or John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary; each is a son of one of neoconservatism’s founding fathers. Indeed, no strain in American politics is so dynastic. It is akin to the right-wing Likud Party in Israel, whose religion and politics, world view, and succession rituals the neocons often share. The definitions, and analogy, are inexact, but both groups have recent ties to Europe and are haunted by the Holocaust, which has left them feeling wounded, suspicious, and sometimes bellicose, determined never again to be naive or to trust the world’s good intentions. Both spent decades in the po-litical wilderness before miraculously acquiring power; both begat “princes” who defied the normal generational tensions and allied themselves with their kingly fathers. When Bill Kristol rose to praise Irving that morning, he was really picking up his scepter.

Had you Googled “neoconservative” and “death” that day, four days after the 89-year-old Kristol expired, you’d have found lots on their long-rumored—and for some, much-anticipated and -savored—demise. On both the left and right, neoconservatism was deemed a spent force. Its ideas, Foreign Policy magazine had pronounced, “lie buried in the sands of Iraq.”

But obituaries can be premature. At the moment, in fact, the neocons seem resurrected. One of their own, Frederick Kagan of AEI (Robert’s younger brother), helped turn around the war in Iraq by devising and pushing for the surge there. More recent-ly, President Obama—whose foreign–policy pronouncements (nuanced, multi-lateral, interdependent) and style (low-key, self-critical, conciliatory, collegial) were a repudiation of neoconservative assertiveness—has swung their way, or so they believe. First, he’s sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, nearly as many as leading neocons had sought. Then came his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, which, with its acknowledgment of the need for force, its nod to dissidents in Iran and elsewhere, and its talk about good and evil, was surprisingly congenial.

As if on cue, a Nigerian man with explosives in his crotch nearly brought down an American airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day, leaving the neocons feeling further vindicated and energized. Obama, who’d ratcheted up his rhetoric after an initial response that Bill Kristol and other neocons considered too tepid, had been “mugged by reality,” Kristol declared. It was an obvious homage to his father, who’d long ago defined “neocon” as a liberal to whom just that had happened. “Whether they praise or denounce Obama, the neocons are winning,” says Jacob Heilbrunn, a senior editor at The National Interest and author of They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons (2008). “They’ve got him embracing the surge in Afghanistan and on the run for being ‘soft on terrorists.’ Either way, he ends up catering to them.” With Obama further weakened by an electoral repudiation in Massachusetts, that process might only intensify. [continued…]

Obama quietly continues to defend Bush’s terror policies

Although the FBI has acknowledged it improperly obtained thousands of Americans’ phone records for years, the Obama administration continues to assert that the bureau can obtain them without any formal legal process or court oversight.

The FBI revealed this stance in a newly released report, troubling critics who’d hoped the bureau had been chastened enough by its own abuses to drop such a position.

In further support of the legal authority, however, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel backed the FBI in a written opinion issued this month.

The opinion by the OLC — the section that wrote the memos that justified enhanced interrogation techniques during the last administration — appears to be yet another sign that the Obama administration can be just as assertive as Bush’s in claiming sweeping and controversial anti-terrorism powers. [continued…]

CIA deaths prompt surge in U.S. drone strikes

… officials deny that vengeance is driving the increased attacks, though one called the drone strikes “the purest form of self-defense.”

Officials point to other factors. For one, Pakistan recently dropped restrictions on the drone program it had requested last fall to accompany a ground offensive against militants in South Waziristan. And tips on the whereabouts of extremists ebb and flow unpredictably.

A C.I.A. spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, declined to comment on the drone strikes. But he said, “The agency’s counterterrorism operations — lawful, aggressive, precise and effective — continue without pause.”

The strikes, carried out from a secret base in Pakistan and controlled by satellite link from C.I.A. headquarters in Virginia, have been expanded by President Obama and praised by both parties in Congress as a potent weapon against terrorism that puts no American lives at risk. That calculation must be revised in light of the Khost bombing, which revealed the critical presence of C.I.A. officers in dangerous territory to direct the strikes. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — The question that the New York Times‘ Washington-based reporters (true to form) fail to address is this: If the Khost bombing killed CIA officers who were critical in choosing the targets for drone attacks, how have subsequent targets been chosen? Are we supposed to believe that right in the aftermath of this huge blow to the CIA’s drone operation, a flood of valuable intelligence swept in?

How convenient… and improbable.

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