April 10, 2008

A battle for McCain

?is apparently taking place within the foreign-policy establishment, according to the New York Times. The article begins with this rather curious statement: 

[N]ow one component of the fractious Republican Party foreign policy establishment ? the so-called pragmatists, some of whom have come to view the Iraq war or its execution as a mistake ? is expressing concern that Mr. McCain might be coming under increased influence from a competing camp, the neoconservatives, whose thinking dominated President Bush?s first term and played a pivotal role in building the case for war.

I wonder if neocons have ever really had to battle it out with the realists for McCain?s ear? Kristol, Kagan, & Co. did after all back the senator in 2000, and, as the article reports, are now writing his speeches and having the senator call himself a ?realistic idealist? and dream of one day leading a ?league of democracies.?

The real problem, as I see it, is that the Washington ?pragmatists? have been a little too pragmatic over the years and?with the notable exception of Brent Scowcroft who penned this?were generally unwilling to put their careers on the line during the moment of decision just before the Iraq war. Colin Powell has earned many merit points from antiwar liberals due to their impression (accurate or not) that he opposed the war in his heart?even though he did little to stop it and everything to facilitate it. Kissinger, the realist par excellence and former b?te noire of the neocons, supported the Iraq war, even if his subsequent comments regarding diplomacy and relations with Russia, China, and Europe have been more in the realist mode.

The question emerges: even if the realists win this little inside-the-Beltway spat, will anything really change? 

As early as June 2004, Lawrence Kaplan was announcing the ?Springtime for Realism? in The New Republic (not online), and the return of many of his non-neocon rivals to favor as the insurgency wore on. Kaplan never worried about the troops coming home, only that the old spirit of democratism might soon wane. 
The problem has thus never been an unsatisfactory ratio between realism and idealism but the fact that realists and neocons alike have nothing even resembling an innovative EXIT STRATEGY. (And the administration doesn?t seem at all interested in crafting one.) 

Perhaps there?s hope in the fact that McCain might actually be more of an empty vessel than we thought?as evidenced by his clueless comments about ?those Shia, or Sunnis, or anybody else?? and the fact that, as Justin pointed out not too long ago, during the ?90s McCain actually opposed a great deal of the ?humanitarian interventions? in Haiti, Somalia, and elsewhere.

Then again, neocons have done quite with empty vessels in the White House in the past?   

UPDATE: My friend Leon Hadar has offered his take here

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