The Neocon Lament
Nobody wants them in Trump's Washington
There is no limit to the hubris driven hypocrisy of America’s stalwart neoconservatives. A recent Washington Post front page article entitled “‘Never Trump’ national-security Republicans fear they have been blacklisted” shares with the reader the heartbreak of those so-called GOP foreign policy experts who have apparently been ignored by the presidential transition team seeking to staff senior positions in the new administration.
Author David Nakamura describes them as “some of the biggest names in the Republican national security firmament, veterans of past GOP administration who say, if called upon by President-elect Donald Trump, they stand ready to serve their country again.”
“But,” Nakamura adds, “their phones aren’t ringing.” And I wept openly as he went on to describe how they sit forlorn in a “state of indefinite limbo” in their law firms, think tanks and university faculty lounges just thinking about all the great things they can do for their country. Yes, “serve their country,” indeed. Nothing personal in it for them. Nothing personal when they denounced Trump and called him incompetent, unqualified, a threat to the nation and even joined Democrats in labeling him a racist, misogynist, homophobe, Islamophobe and bigot. And they really got off when they explained in some detail how The Donald was a Russian agent. Nothing personal. It’s was only business. So let’s let bygones be bygones and, by the way, where are the jobs? Top level Pentagon or National Security Council only, if you please!
And yes, they did make a mistake about some things in Iraq, but it was Obama who screwed it up by not staying the course. And then there was Libya, the war still going on in Afghanistan, getting rid of Bashar and that funny business in Ukraine. It all could have gone better but, hey, if they had been fully in charge for the past eight years to back up the greatly loved Vicki Nuland at the State Department everything would be hunky dory.
Oh yeah, some of the more introspective neocons are guessing that the new president just might be holding a grudge about those two “Never Trump” letters that more than 200 of them eventually signed. Many now believe that they are on a blacklist. How unfair! To be sure, some of the language in the letters was a bit intemperate, including assertions about Trump’s personality, character and intelligence. One letter claimed that the GOP candidate “lacks self-control and acts impetuously,” that he “exhibits erratic behavior,” and that he is “fundamentally dishonest.” Mitt Romney, who did not sign the letters but was nevertheless extremely outspoken, referred to Trump as a “phony” and a “fraud.”
One of the first anti-Trump letter’s organizers, Professor Eliot Cohen described presidential candidate Trump as “a man utterly unfit for the position by temperament, values and policy preferences.” After the election, Cohen even continued his scathing attacks on the new president, writing that “The president-elect is surrounding himself with mediocrities whose chief qualifications seem to be unquestioning loyalty.” He goes on to describe them as “second-raters.”
Cohen, who reminds one of fellow Harvard bombast artist Alan Dershowitz, might consider himself as “first rate” but that is a judgment that surely might be challenged. He was a prominent cheerleader for the Iraq War and has been an advocate of overthrowing the Iranian government by force. He opposed the nomination of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense because Hagel had “made it clear that he [did] not want to engage in a confrontation with Iran.” Cohen, a notable Israel Firster in common with many of his neocon brethren, has aggressively condemned even well-reasoned criticism of the Israel Lobby and of Israel itself as anti-Semitism. Glenn Greenwald has described him as “extremist a neoconservative and warmonger as it gets.”
One has to wonder at the often-professed intelligence and experience of Cohen and his neocon friends if they couldn’t figure out in advance that backing the wrong horse in an election might well have consequences. And there is a certain cynicism intrinsic in the neoconservative whine. Many of the dissidents like Cohen, Robert Kagan, Max Boot, Eric Edelman, Kori Schake, Reuel Gerecht, Kenneth Adelman and Michael Morell who came out most enthusiastically for Hillary Clinton were undoubtedly trimming their sails to float effortlessly into her anticipated hawkish administration. Gerecht, who has advocated war in Syria, said of the Democratic candidate that “She’s not a neoconservative, but Hillary Clinton isn’t uncomfortable with American power.”
That the defeat of Hillary was also a defeat of the neoconservatives and their alphabet soup of institutes and think tanks is sometimes overlooked but was a delicious dish served cold for those of us who have been praying for such a result. It was well worth the endless tedium when watching Fox News on election night to see Bill Kristol’s face when it became clear that Trump would be victorious. Back to the drawing board, Bill!
And there may be yet another shocker in store for the neocons thanks to Trump. The fact that the new administration is drawing on the business world for staffing senior positions means that he has been less interested in hiring think tank and revolving door academic products to fill the government bureaucracies. This has led Josh Rogin of the Washington Post to warn that the death of think tanks as we know them could be on the horizon. He quotes one think-tanker as opining that “the people around Trump view think tanks as for sale for the highest bidder. They have empowered other centers of gravity for staffing this administration.” Rogin adds “If the Trump team succeeds in diminishing the influence of Washington think tanks and keeping their scholars out of government, policymaking will suffer. Many of these scholars hold the institutional knowledge and deep subject matter expertise the incoming administration needs.”
Rogin, who is himself a neocon who has been an associated “expert” with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) affiliated Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), is peddling bullshit. The record of the geniuses who have been guiding U.S. foreign policy ever since the Reagan Administration has not been exactly reassuring and can be considered downright disastrous if one considers Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Think tanks have agendas that in most cases actually work against the public interest. Their designation of staff as “scholars” is a contrivance as their scholarship consists of advocacy for specific causes and ideologies. They should be seen for what they are and what they are is not very pretty as they are into endless self-promotion. Fear mongering Danielle Pletka, who is vice president for foreign policy at the American Enterprise Institute, has supported every war coming out of the past two Administrations and has called repeatedly for more of the same to close the deal on Syria and Iran. And her annual salary is reported to be $275,000.
It is a pleasure to watch the think tanks begin thinking of their own demises. It is also intriguing to speculate that Trump with his populist message might just take it all one step farther and shut the door on the K Street lobbyists and other special interests, which have symbiotic relationships with the think tanks. The think tanks sit around and come up with formulations that benefit certain groups, individuals and corporate interests and then reap the rewards when the cash is handed out at the end of the year. How fantastic it would be to see lobbies and the parasites who work for them put out of business, particularly if our much beloved neoconservatives are simultaneously no longer calling the shots on national security policy and their think tanks are withering on the vine. What a wonderful world it would be.