Inveterate bomb-’em-all neoconservatives are now consorting openly with liberal establishment types, even parroting their new chums’ criticisms of Donald Trump’s political incorrectness. What’s going on here?
It seems that the neoconservatives are finally acknowledging that they are indeed cut from the same cloth as the neoliberal foreign policy intelligentsia, that their occasional disagreements do not negate the fact that, at the end of the day, neocons and neolibs share a fundamental commitment to keeping the United States military leviathan alive and well.
Just like that, then, old animosities have faded in service of a greater cause – nay, a crusade! – to be spearheaded by a mishmash of political professionalists who, God willing, will wrest U.S. political discourse from our provincial president’s tiny hands and return it to the vaunted realm of "reason." In the comfy kingdom of reason, see, it is perfectly fine to debate how many sanctions to place on Russia, how many Islamists to arm in Syria, and how many troops to deploy to Afghanistan. But to suggest, as Trump has, that the U.S. should actually start to leave the Middle East and pursue peace with Russia? Why, that’s crazy talk! That’s isolationism or appeasement or treachery or something! That cannot be tolerated!
In their distaste for our president’s heresy, the neocons and neolibs have mobilized to take down The Donald by tying him to such profound societal ills as racism. In an illustrative turnaround, even the American exceptionalist Max Boot admits that "Trump’s victory has revealed that racism and xenophobia are more widespread than I had previously realized." Jennifer Rubin, a foreign policy commentator of like mind, condemns the "enablers" of our "racist president." George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, and Madeleine Albright have all invoked the specter of racism as well, the apparent plan being to drag Trump’s name through the mud until our country replaces him with someone more to the liking of the neocon-neolib phalanx.
Of course, there is much to despise about Trump’s behavior, and the militarists have even identified some of it. His birtherism was sheer malevolence; his "shithole" (or was it "shithouse"?) comments were repulsive; his "Muslim ban" is pure garbage. Our now-president has been a purveyor of racial bigotry since the beginning, and it is absolutely necessary to push back against it.
The issue is that the neocons and neolibs, while flaunting their radical chicness by calling Trump a racist meanie-bo-beanie, expect us to ignore the fact that their ideal paradigm is not and never was liberatory in the slightest. In their nostalgia for those halcyon days of "polite" politics, they pine for a culture that punishes impertinent upstarts like Trump for defying imperial dogma, for arguing that the U.S. spends too much on NATO, for example, for advocating a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, and for doubting the wisdom of "protecting" South Korea. They may be shrouding it in the lingo of "#TheResistance" now, and maybe they have even convinced themselves that they actually take offense at our president’s prejudice. But their raison d’etre, part and parcel of their commitment to political correctness generally, is to shield Washington’s imperial project from the sort of perilous scrutiny that an unhinged Trump is wont to dish out.
Were it coming from almost anyone other than the habitual interventionists, this charade would not be so preposterous. Virtue signaling is annoying, but it is an inevitable and generally venial offense, the sort of low-level irritation that one simply accepts as part of public discourse. It is the militarists’ race-baiting, rubbed in our faces without so much as a hint of irony, that is simply too outrageous to ignore.
See, some of us actually remember the hell that these "resisters," these budding champions of "inclusive and energized democracy," unleashed upon brown people when the interventionist consensus was still virtually unquestioned in Washington. It was the "anti-fascist" Albright and co., not Trump, who starved Iraq with sanctions in the 1990s, provoking accusations of genocide from the country’s United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator. It was they, the neolibs, who signed off on a U.S. troop surge to support the pedophilic Afghan military in 2009; who dismembered Libya in 2011; who bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in 2015; whose pathetic prostration before Tel Aviv hardliners enabled decades of violence against civilian Arabs; whose rule, generally speaking, ushered in ever more tumult, ever more desolation, ever more heartbreak behind the veneer of U.S. "assistance" and "order" and "leadership" in the world. Before the judges of history, that will be theirs, not Trump’s, to defend.
Meanwhile, the neocons have acted like neolibs, only more so. Politics would be no fun without all of the carping and grandstanding, so the neocons’ permanent role is to trash those weak-willed Clintonistas for not being bellicose enough. Deposing Muammar Gaddafi was insufficient, say they; we should have stayed in Libya longer! And sure, deploying 30,000 troops to Afghanistan was noble of the Obama administration, but what was with that subsequent decision to withdraw troops? Silly Barack! Was he never taught? ’Murica doesn’t end wars – we start them.
That was all nitpicking, though. Whatever their sins in the neocons’ eyes, Obama, Clinton, Rice, and the other neolibs at least played in-bounds, never much questioning the necessity of our costly "alliances" or the essential goodness of the U.S. war state.
Trump is different: crass, contemptuous, and occasionally brutally honest about the folly of U.S. imperialism. If he feels like it, he’ll rail against the "disastrous" Iraq War, call NATO "obsolete," announce a military withdrawal from Syria, and imply a moral equivalence between U.S. and Russian depravity. Such iconoclasm infuriates the neocons and neolibs, who believe that peddlers of approved platitudes – about multiculturalism, U.S. military power, and everything else – should run the world forever.
Unfortunately, the anti-interventionist instinct that has gotten Trump into so much trouble hasn’t actually yielded much practical change. The U.S. is still in Afghanistan, still in the Levant, still bolstering dictatorships – in short, still sowing discord in other countries, not least in brown countries, the destruction of which we would expect our new "anti-racist" crusaders to condemn consistently (if they were honest). Instead, in the same breath that they call Trump an apologist for racism, the neocons and neolibs lambast him for his dereliction of imperial duty, for pulling punches against Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, for example, and for offering to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. However ironic this approach may seem, it is perfectly sensible in Bush-Clinton-Obama land, where racial slurs are verboten but incinerating Pakistani children is not.
So a bunch of P.C. warmongers are out to destroy an irreverent one. What’s a peacenik to do? Call out the sanctimonious interventionists for their phony "anti-racism" – which serves largely to pretty up the oppressive U.S. imperial giant – and then push our wobbly president to become the military "isolationist" of neocon-neolib nightmares. And when the going gets tough, as it inevitably will, keep the long game in mind. If their recent writhing is any indication, even career interventionists are beginning to realize that the empire is mortal.
Tommy Raskin is a writer working on Middle East policy in Washington, DC. Send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org.