Baron YoungSmith remarks on the fact that the very same neoconservatives who argued themselves hoarse that the election of Barack Obama would lead to imminent dhimmitude at the hands of a Sino-Islamo-Fascisto-Cuban alliance are now seeming remarkably supportive of an Obama policy agenda whose content—take troops out of Iraq and put a smaller number of troops into Afghanistan while not acting like a jerk on the world stage—is exactly the same as the one they hated during the campaign.
It’s important to understand that this isn’t a softening of neocon madness, it’s exactly what they did in the 1990s. After spending the George H.W. Bush administration in their customary role as the “totally insane” faction of conservative movement foreign policy thinking (key episodes being the insistence that Bush should have marched on Baghdad and commenced an occupation of Iraq, and the 1992 defense planning guidance draft) they spent the 1990s being the less partisan faction of the movement with regard to Clinton’s foreign policy. Basically any president sometimes orders military action somewhere, and whenever Clinton did so neocons would applaud and call politely for even more forceful action while criticizing those Republicans who asked questions. By making themselves useful to Clinton and his supporters, while maintaining an appropriate level of critical distance, the neocons were able to elevate their status within the conservative coalition and emerge as a more influential faction in the W. Bush administration than they’d been in the H.W. Bush or Reagan administration.
Going back to these tactics is integral to neocon plans to regain power. And I think it’s working. When PNAC 2.0 was launched, John Nagl head of CNAS spoke at the debut event, and Fred Kagan is speaking at CAP today. Neocons are out of power, but they’re not being banished to the fringes of the discussion, key progressives groups have made them the preferred interlocutors on high-profile issues. In the domestic political context, in other words, neocons very clearly appreciate the tactical and strategic utility of sometimes being nice, of accommodating the interests of others, and of strategic restraint. If only they could figure out a way to apply these lessons to foreign policy.