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What Cameron's Cuts Mean for Conservatives and Neocons

In the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) Max Boot laments that British Prime Minister David Cameron has chosen to cut the UK's defense budget by 8 percent. The cuts, documented here and here, affect the British military across the board.

I won't go into the details of Cameron's cuts here. I think many of the reductions make sense, though I question the direction that the Brits seem to be going with carriers (continuing to build two without plans to use them); I predict that the future of naval aviation will be built around smaller ships launching unmanned and remotely piloted vehicles. But that is a discussion for another time.

Of greater interest here is Boot's reaction, and the likely reaction of his "Defending Defense" fellow travelers. Just as the Heritage Foundation's Jim Carafano did on Monday, Boot closes with a warning to fiscal conservatives who believe that all forms of government spending are a legitimate target for deficit reduction:

The Greatness of David Cameron

Imagine a conservative leader who slashed spending across the board, ranging from social outlays to the military. It would raise howls of indignation on both the American left and right. But that's what Prime Minister David Cameron is doing in England--proposing a sweeping austerity program designed to put the island nation back on a firm financial footing.

Given that American neoconservatives have been calling for Europe to up its defense outlays, Cameron's action is coming as something of a shock in America. Max Boot complains, in the Wall Street Journal, that "the days of British military power appear to be ending--with the obituary written, ironically, by a Tory-dominated government supposedly dedicated to a strong defense." Actually, British observers themselves are taking a somewhat different view. In Foreign Policy, Alistair Burnett observes,

Nuclear weapons or not, it seems clear Britain intends to remain a useful ally to the United States and its NATO partners, with a renewed attempt to work more closely with the French.

What remains open to question is how that power will be used in the future. Cameron also signaled that Britain would be less interested in large-scale military interventions along Iraqi or Afghan lines, and instead would focus more on using diplomacy and aid to prevent conflicts from breaking out in the first place. It's just as well: That might be all a cash-strapped Britain may be capable of doing anymore.

The Tea Party and the Neocon Triumph

Does the Tea Party have a foreign policy? In Foreign Policy, Peter Baker recently argued that the answer is a resounding no. He argued that the movement has run into the fissures that have traditionally separated interventionist from isolationist advocates on the right.

As Baker put it, 

The question for the movement is whether it can maintain its own uneasy coalition. And for now, at least, that means steadfastly ignoring foreign-policy declarations of any sort. When nearly half a million Tea Party supporters voted online to define their campaign agenda, not a single one of the 10 planks they agreed on had anything to do with the world beyond America's borders. 

I'm not so sure about this. What prompts me to speculate about the Tea Party's fortunes is that both Doug Bandow and Paul Pillar have pieces on this website today arguing that America needs to retrench (Bandow) and that regime change is needed in Israel (Pillar). But my suspicion is that if the Tea Party enters Congress in force, as the New York Times, among others, is currently predicting, the results will not be to the liking of either Bandow or Pillar.

Conservatives for Empire

The U.S. government is effectively bankrupt. Angry citizens in the Tea Party movement are bypassing traditional politicians. Republican Party apparatchiks are scrambling to turn popular frustration to their advantage.

The conservative movement also is in flux. Some pundits identified with the Right, such as David Frum and Ross Douthat, have advocated that conservatives become “liberals lite,” abandoning their commitment to limited government and learning to live with the expensive, expansive and intrusive welfare state.

Most traditional conservative leaders have rejected this advice, choosing instead to support the conservative verities of fiscal responsibility and individual liberty. But many of the same people have joined Frum in advocating continuation of America’s essentially imperial foreign policy. They would replace traditional conservative views of foreign policy and executive power with Wilsonian warmongering.

The most recent example of conservatives promoting an essentially liberal foreign policy is the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol, American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks, and Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Feulner. They wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “It is unrealistic to imagine a return to long-term prosperity if we face instability around the globe because of a hollowed-out U.S. military lacking the size and strength to defend American interests around the world.”

J Street's George Soros Problem

The Washington Times struck pay dirt last week when its indefatigable foreign affairs correspondent Eli Lake revealed that J Street, the liberal organization founded to counteract the influence of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (neoconservatives, led by William Kristol, have, in turn, established the Emergency Committee for Israel to counteract J Street--you can check it out here), has been receiving substantial donations from the financier George Soros. Until now, J Street had denied that this was the case. But Lake received tax records indicating that Soros and his two children have donated at least $245,000 to J Street. Indeed, according to the Washington Post, J Street is receiving a separate $500,000 gift over three years from Soros.

Lake notes,

In a section of the website called "myths and facts," the group includes a passage that reads: "George Soros very publicly stated his decision not to be engaged in J Street when it was launched--precisely out of fear that his involvement would be used against the organization."

Iraq as South Korea: An Interventionist Delusion

The lobbying effort to induce President Obama to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after the December 2011 withdrawal deadline is becoming a crescendo. Many of the voices belong to the usual suspects, including Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol—some of the very people who got this country into the Iraq mess in the first place.

Interestingly, the well-founded fear that Iraqi security forces exhibit serious deficiencies tends to be a secondary argument for most advocates of “staying the course.” Instead, they stress classic nation-building objectives combined with the alleged benefits of having an enduring U.S. military presence in the region for broader goals. Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations contends that the need to keep American forces in Iraq beyond 2011 is less about teaching Iraqi security personnel “how to use weapons and more [about] providing reassurance to threatened internal communities that they won’t be exploited by their erstwhile internal rivals.”

That sounds a lot like an indefinite, dangerous babysitting mission in a country that lacks sufficient internal cohesion to be a viable state without imperial “supervision.”

Punditry at the Drive-Thru

Punditry at the Drive-Thru

Review

From the issue

Peter Beinart, The Good Fight: Why Liberals—and Only Liberals—Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again (2006; repr., New York: Harper Perennial, 2008), 320 pp., $14.95.

Peter Beinart, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 496 pp., $27.99.

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An Israeli Weighs in on the Flotilla

Last month I interviewed Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, and the piece, 6,800 words long, duly appeared in The Tablet, a Jewish-American online magazine. A minuscule part of the interview raised a journalistic firestorm last week in Britain.

Peres said that there was always an anti-Semitic (and anti-Israeli) streak in the British establishment, among both Labourites and Conservatives, and this was given historic expression in Britain’s abstention in the pro-Zionist UN partition vote in November 1947 and in subsequent, periodic anti-Israel arms embargos and in Britain’s treaty alliances with various Arab states. He could also have mentioned Britain’s recent expulsion of the Mossad’s London head of station in retaliation. By the way, Peres said that British MPs are no doubt wary of their millions of Muslim constituents when they make foreign-policy pronouncements.

Some British newspapers summarized the message in their headlines thus: Peres says Britain is anti-Semitic. The exaggeration, not to say misrepresentation, of Peres’s point was in part a reaction to Israeli anger last week over British Prime Minister David Cameron’s public description of the Gaza Strip today as “a prison camp “ and of his condemnation of Israel for its raid on the Turkish “humanitarian “ flotilla heading for Gaza.

Globalist TV

Forget about Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. This week the media is really obsessed about “This Week.” Christiane Amanpour made her debut on Sunday morning as the anchor of the ABC program. The former peripatetic CNN star, known for her passionate and self-appointed advocacy for the world’s dispossessed, announced that she will “open a window on the world.”

But was it actually closed? And are Americans actually interested in peering through it? Or is Amanpour headed for her first big failure with no real personal exit strategy in sight?

Initial reviews of Amanpour’s performance were mixed. Robert Lloyd observed in the Los Angeles Times:
Her hallmark is rather an almost inelegant, even partisan urgency, with a tendency to personalize politics—that is, to make it about people—born possibly from all the years she has spent in distressed places under fire. ‘Is America going to abandon the women of Afghanistan, the people of Afghanistan?’ she asked [Nancy] Pelosi.

This is classic Amanpour. In recent days, supporters of the Afghan war have pointed, again and again, to the plight of women in Afghanistan to insist that America cannot depart. The Taliban’s record is, it goes without saying, grotesque. But by that standard, America should be intervening in a lot more countries around the globe to safeguard women. President Obama can hardly justify the war in terms of promoting women’s rights.

America Under the Caesars

America Under the Caesars

Review

From the issue

Andrew J. Bacevich, Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010), 304 pp., $25.00.

 


 America's Path to Permanent War (American Empire Project)Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (American Empire Project)

IN THE waning years of the Vietnam War, leftist and liberal opponents of the Cold War discovered that they shared much in common with the critics of these policies on the libertarian or traditionalist right. The result was a rebirth of a current of thinking about American foreign policy that is usually labeled isolationism but which, out of deference to members of this school who reject such a term as perhaps far too loaded, I shall instead describe as “anti-interventionism.”

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April 17, 2014