The kudzu vine is one of the most invasive plants in existence: you cut it back, but that just emboldens it! You dig it up, but it keeps returning, stronger than ever. It is, in short, the horticultural equivalent of the neoconservatives, who have survived in spite of leading us over a cliff in Iraq, being roundly repudiated by the voters in the last three presidential elections, and even being called out by President-elect Donald Trump in his April 27 foreign policy speech, in which he said:
“My goal is to establish a foreign policy that will endure for several generations. That’s why I also look and have to look for talented experts with approaches and practical ideas, rather than surrounding myself with those who have perfect résumés but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war. We have to look to new people.
“We have to look to new people because many of the old people frankly don’t know what they’re doing, even though they may look awfully good writing in The New York Times or being watched on television.”
In that speech, and throughout the campaign, Trump took every opportunity to disdain the interventionist nation-building dogmas that had led the GOP and the nation to ruination, and lay out his own foreign policy vision of putting America first. “No country,” he averred, “has ever prospered that failed to put its own interests first. Both our friends and our enemies put their countries above ours and we, while being fair to them, must start doing the same. We will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism.”
From the neoconservative perspective, this was kryptonite. For the central canon of the neocon creed has been and always will be a militant internationalism. When the Soviet Union fell, and the War Party had no more dragons to slay, neocon consigliare Bill Kristol and sidekick Robert Kagan penned a piece laying out the neoconservative design for the new era, which they summed up rather succinctly as “benevolent global hegemony.” Here was globalism beyond the dreams of Alexander – and this is what Trump was and is rejecting.
The neocons know who are their enemies, and they accurately saw Trump as their undoing: they led the “Never Trump” mini-movement, and did everything in their power to destroy him. They sponsored and promoted two open letters from the GOP “foreign policy community,” a.k.a. the League of Discredited Warmongers, viciously attacking Trump: a concerted campaign to declare him “unfit” for office was promoted by the neoconservative media, which charged him with all the familiar epithets: “racist,” “authoritarian,” “isolationist,” and even “fascist.”
One of the loudest and most unrelenting was Eliot Cohen, who opined:
“He is not only an ignoramus, but he’s a dangerous ignoramus who doesn’t know the first thing about foreign policy and doesn’t care and has some very dangerous instincts,” Cohen, who served in the George W. Bush administration, told The Washington Post in a recent interview. ‘Part of what is so dangerous about him is not just his ignorance and contempt for our alliances, but his failure to understand how important these have been to our security since 1945. And he has already done a lot of damage. Our allies are deeply shaken by this election.’”
Those “dangerous instincts” Cohen is so worried about include an instinct to abjure the counsel of people like Cohen, who have a long record of being dead wrong – with deadly consequences.
Cohen was one of the leading voices in favor of invading Iraq: the war would be a “cakewalk,” he told us, even easier than in the first Gulf war. The “liberation” of Iraqis, he pontificated, “will bring about a far, far better life than they have know for more than twenty years.” As Iraq disintegrates into warring tribes, and ISIS rampages across the decimated landscape, I wonder if Professor Cohen would be willing to tell that to the Iraqi people in person.
But the Eliot Cohens of this world never take responsibility for what their actions have wrought. This was brought home when, after the election, he reversed his earlier position in favor of boycotting Trump and all his works and suddenly declared that the out-of-work neocons who look to him for guidance should volunteer for jobs in the new administration if “they understand that they will be the horse and not the jockey” – an unfamiliar role for any neocon to play, to say the least. Slither back into the corridors of power, he advised them, but they must be sure to “keep an undated resignation letter in their desk” and “not recant a single word of what they have said” about the man they have relentlessly smeared and are going to on bended knee to ask for a job.
Neocons cannot resist the attraction to power: it’s their life’s blood, their ambrosia, the fix they need to keep doing what they do – which is, of course, making war. Without access to power, they are like any other parasite bereft of a host: only half alive.
So Cohen made inquiries: he reached out to “a friend” with connections to the transition team – and was soundly rebuffed:
Oh, there’s nothing worse than a neocon scorned! Cohen vented his spleen in an op-ed in the Washington Post, where he stated, “The tenor of the Trump team, from everything I see, read and hear, is such that, for a garden-variety Republican policy specialist, service in the early phase of the administration would carry a high risk of compromising one’s integrity and reputation.” As he told his Twitter followers:
“After exchange w Trump transition team, changed my recommendation: stay away. They’re angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’ Will be ugly.”
Ugly is in the eye of the beholder. While Cohen and his fellow warmongers may be unable to bear the sight of an administration that doesn’t buy in to their plans for perpetual war and serial regime change, and rejects their entreaties for employment, to the rest of us the rare beauty of this scene is truly sublime.
There is every indication that the neocons will be locked out of the Trump administration, but that hasn’t prevented them and their fellow travelers – like John Bolton and Tom Cotton – from trying to sneak in through the back door. Whether they succeed or not remains to be seen, but what’s encouraging is that Antiwar.com’s grassroots campaign to keep them out seems to be having some effect. The #NoBolton effort is taking off on Twitter: by this time, @transition2017 must have received thousands of tweets indicating that Trump’s most fervent supporters would feel betrayed if Bolton and/or any of his neoconservative buddies were given jobs.
At this point, everybody and his mother is being touted as a “possible” addition to the Trump administration: yes, even Mitt Romney, who called Trump a “phony” and a “fraud”! I would strongly advise everyone to chill out and take these reports with several very large grains of salt. Most of the time, the source of these stories is the person supposedly being considered.
But that doesn’t mean we should relax our vigilance – oh no, not by a long shot.
Yes, we here at Antiwar.com are watching the incoming Trump administration very closely. While I was fairly supportive, albeit often critical, in this space, no one is giving DJT a blank check – far from it. We’re chopping away at the neocon network that is trying mightily to inveigle its way back into power, cutting away at the human kudzu mat that envelopes the thinktanks of Washington and threatens to cover the incoming administration – but we can’t do it without your help.
Unlike the neocons, who have huge resources, we only have … you. We depend on our readers and supporters to give us the funding we need to continue our work. Since 1995, we’ve been slugging away at the War Party, and now that they’ve been on the receiving end of more than a few blows we need your help more than ever – because the knockout punch can’t be far behind.
We’ve made gains in the past few years, but we can’t afford to rest on our laurels. That’s why it’s vitally important that you make your tax-deductible donation today – in order to build a more peaceful neocon-free tomorrow.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.