Marco Rubio and the Neocon Resurgence

January 24, 2013 Topic: The Presidency Region: United States Blog Brand: Jacob Heilbrunn

Marco Rubio and the Neocon Resurgence

Until the GOP adandons the siege mentality in foreign policy, it will have trouble winning over voters.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio just made a small but significant move that indicates he is preparing to run for the presidency. He has hired Jamie M. Fly, until recently executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative and a former Bush administration official, to serve as his senior national security adviser. It's a shrewd decision, at least within the context of a Republican party that refuses to acknowledge that the Iraq War was less than a roaring success, and one that further testifies to the mounting dominance of the neocons. By and large, they set the template for the discussion of foreign policy in the GOP. Their ascendance suggests that it is most improbable that a debate, let alone a civil war, will erupt within the GOP over foreign affairs. On the contrary, the neocons appear to be more firmly in control than ever.

The Foreign Policy Initiative is an organization that was created in 2009 by William Kristol to groom new and younger cadres. The organization appears to be a success, boasting no less than three separate leadership programs, with one in New York and two in Washington, DC. Fly is himself a savvy and energetic neocon who has staked out a very hard line in foreign affairs on issues ranging from Syria to Afghanistan to Israel. This past fall, in Foreign Policy, he declared that Obama

has serially alienated allies and failed to speak out on behalf of those oppressed by despotic regimes, even as he engages the tyrants who threaten U.S. interests and crush dissent. As Iran gets closer to a nuclear weapons capability by the day, the gap between the United States and our ally Israel, grows and terrorist plots and attacks on U.S. personnel ordered by Tehran go unanswered.

His appointment to Rubio's staff attests to the influence of the neocons within the GOP and Kristol's success at promoting his associates.

His most notable publication is an essay in Foreign Affairs co-authored with Gary Schmitt calling for an American attack on Iran:

a limited military strike would only be a temporary fix, and it could actually do the opposite of what it intends—drive the program further underground and allow Iran to retain the ability to threaten the United States and its allies.

If the United States seriously considers military action, it would be better to plan an operation that not only strikes the nuclear program but aims to destabilize the regime, potentially resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis once and for all.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that regime change would occur as a result of any air assault, no matter how massive, or, for that matter, that an assault would really be, as Oliver North once put it about the Iran-Contra caper, a "neat idea." It could just send the whole region up in flames or end up bolstering the regime. The more salient point, for now, is that Rubio is clearly staking out his territory—no enemies to the right when it comes to foreign affairs. His move will likely nudge other possible candidates to sign on neocons as well as a proleptic campaign defense measure.

As an important new article by Jill Lepore in the New Yorker shows, there has been little effort to reassess America's military stance after the cold war. Lepore, who cites the views of Boston University's Andrew J. Bacevich, a prominent critic of American militarism, makes a simple but fundamental point:

The United States, separated from much of the world by two oceans and bordered by allies, is, by dint of geography, among the best-protected countries on earth. Nevertheless, six decades after V-J Day nearly three hundred thousand American troops are stationed overseas, including fifty-five thousand in Germany, thirty-five thousand in Japan, and ten thousand in Italy. Much of the money that the federal government spends on “defense” involves neither securing the nation’s borders nor protecting its citizens. Instead, the U.S. military enforces American foreign policy.

It would be difficult to disagree. Obama has pulled America out of Iraq, and is pulling it out of Afghanistan, but no fundamental debate about the power and purpose of America abroad exists either in the administration or on Capitol Hill. Instead, an observer who had missed the past twenty years might be forgiven upon returning for concluding that America remained under the same siege mentality that prevailed during the cold war. Substitute China or Islamic terror for the Soviet Union, and all the same arguments can be heard. The most prominent exponents of ideas such as regime change remain the neocons.
But as Lepore suggests, there is increasing unease among the American population with such truculence, not to mention among the military:  "Younger veterans are critical, too. A 2011 Pew survey of veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq found that half thought the war in Afghanistan wasn’t worth fighting, and nearly sixty per cent thought the Iraq War wasn’t." There can be little doubting that Americans are not eager for more warfare in Iran or Syria or other hotspots. These sentiments, however, are not reflected in the GOP. Instead, Obama is signaling that he will elevate diplomacy above truculence in his second term, while the neocons denounce him for his alleged pusillanimity.
Speaking on PBS on Tuesday night, for example, AEI's Danielle Pletka denounced the Obama administration in apocalyptic language for ignoring the myriad threats to American security:
I think the entire trend has been troubling. And I think Benghazi was merely a symptom of a larger policy of retreat, of unwillingness to deal with the challenges that we're facing from al-Qaida, because it's not just in the Maghreb. It's not just in Libya and in Mali and in Algeria. It's also in Yemen. It's in Sinai. It's in Iraq. It's, of course, in South Asia and Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The threats are anywhere and everywhere, in other words. Soon enough it is a neocon credo that Marco Rubio, too, will surely espouse. But until the GOP breaks with such shibboleths, it will face electoral ruin.

Flickr/Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.