Raging civil wars in both Iraq and Syria, among other places in the Middle East, are prompting some Americans to view neoconservative ideology with a renewed rigor. The rise of the Islamic State and the recent terror attacks claimed or inspired by the group — like the Paris attacks in November and San Bernardino in December — have since amplified calls for greater U.S. force in the region.
Behind this neoconservative revival are some familiar faces. The Project for a New American Century, a now-defunct think tank whose core members signed an open letter in 1998 calling for the American-led war in Iraq, has reemerged under a new title. In 2009, PNAC’s former chairman William Kristol and founder Robert Kagan set up a new organization called the Foreign Policy Initiative.
FPI maintains influence on both sides of the political aisle. After all, neoconservative foreign policy was first born out of Cold War liberal interventionism. Prominent neoconservatives like Robert Kagan and his wife Victoria Nuland have recently been linked, for example, to Hillary Clinton. (Nuland was tapped as State Department spokesperson and Kagan was part of Clinton’s bipartisan foreign policy advisory board during her tenure as Secretary of State.) “I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy,” Kagan told The New York Times, in June 2014. “If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue … it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that.”
The FPI’s ties to the Republicans run deeper. Marco Rubio’s campaign motto is “A New American Century,” an unsubtle homage to PNAC. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump may spark the neoconservatives’ ire for expressing wariness about nation-building projects and for recognizing the Iraq war as a strategic blunder, but both men are fond of the same bludgeon use of force as a foreign policy cure-all. “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark,” Cruz said in December when discussing his plans to carpet bomb the Islamic State, “but we’re going to find out.” Trump is characteristically brazen: “I would bomb the shit out of them.”
Kagan and Kristol are unapologetic about Iraq, and a large number of Republicans and Democrats maintain hawkish impulses that are not suited to the current challenges posed by the Middle East. More bombs just won’t defeat the Islamic State.
It’s worth recalling that the Iraq Occupation fueled the brutal group’s rise in the first place. Thousands of American soldiers have died. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians (by some counts over one million) have also been killed. Iraq is on the road to becoming a failed State — and yet there has been no inquiry nor any recourse for the occupation. Neoconservatism, despite its awful track-record in the Middle East, continues on with its purpose: to keep America engaged in perpetual war.
–Adam Rasmi is a former Middle East-based journalist.
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