The Buzz

A Neocon by Any Other Name

In his piece for the January/February 2012 edition of World Affairs, Washington Post editorial writer Charles Lane sets out to evaluate the foreign-policy stances of the GOP hopefuls. He comes to two major conclusions: Republicans will not “enjoy their customary edge over the Democrats as the party of national security,” and “the ‘neoconservative’ movement has no obvious candidate in this race.” (The one possible exception, he claims, is Rick Santorum, who Lane must be forgiven for writing off as having “little chance of winning” before the surprising Iowa-caucus results.)

The first conclusion seems solid, albeit arrived at through a series of oft-repeated observations: voters care more about the economy; the contenders don’t know what they’re talking about; the new threats are ill-defined; the public is generally content with Obama’s foreign-policy record.

The second is where Lane encounters difficulties.

He claims the GOP hopefuls eschew a neoconservative agenda of democracy promotion in favor of a “narrowed-down version” of Bush’s foreign policy “whose central concern is not so much expanding democracy across the Middle East as protecting its one outpost—Israel.” There's something to Lane’s notion that protecting Israel has supplanted spreading democracy as the top Republican foreign-policy priority. There can be no doubt that the race for the nomination has been marked by a sort of Israel one-upmanship.

But Lane offers up a case that undermines his central point: Iran. Calls for war with Iran echo from every GOP debate, with only Paul (and previously Huntsman) expressing reticence. Former hopeful Rick Perry announced he would send American troops back into Iraq to counter Iranian influence. Such claims hew close to the neoconservative line, and though Israel’s safety has been repeatedly cited as a concern (although arguably not significantly more often than when Iraq was in the crosshairs), the end result is neoconservative to the core. Lane is correct to note a shift in rhetoric, but in substance the foreign-policy stances of the GOP hopefuls are far more Bushian than he seems prepared to admit. As a result, his analysis is a mixed bag.