A GOP Split on Neocon Orthodoxy

The mainstream U.S. media remains focused on the acrimony of the GOP presidential race while less noticed is a growing split among top candidates over the neocon foreign policy prescription of regime change and more regime change. Several hopefuls are deviating from that orthodoxy, notes James W Carden.

By James W Carden

On Tuesday night, the Republican Party clown car deposited its passengers onto the main stage of the Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for the troupe’s final performance of 2015. Because Donald Trump remains the GOP front runner by as much as 27 points, the Venetian was an apt location: a tawdry setting with fake Venetian landmarks for a faux debate.

The debate didn’t produce the fireworks CNN was clearly hoping for. Relations between Trump and his main rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, remained downright cordial, while the moderator’s several attempts to goad Jeb Bush into attacking Trump failed to elicit much in the way of a response from the Donald, aside from facial contortions.

Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

Along with CNN, another disappointed party must have been the owner of the Venetian, Sheldon Adeslon. The casino mogul, a longtime bankroller of neoconservative candidates and causes, could not have been pleased that the so-called “national security” debate turned into an argument over the merits of “regime change” in the Middle East.

While five of the nine candidates (Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie) parroted the standard neocon talking points, four of them, including Trump and current Iowa frontrunner Ted Cruz, pushed back on the idea that the U.S. has been well served by toppling the regimes of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

Early on, Marco Rubio came in for a heavy drubbing by both Rand Paul and Ted Cruz for his endorsement of the National Security Agency’s bulk metadata collection program. Later on, a question over whether or not we would be “better off” with dictators ruling the Middle East touched off the evening’s most edifying exchange.

Kentucky Sen. Paul noted that the administration’s decision to try and overthrow Bashar al-Assad by sending 600 tons of weapons to the “moderate” Syrian opposition helped give rise to ISIS. Cruz said that democracy promotion was “a distraction” and called for an “America first” foreign policy, while Trump called President George W. Bush’s Iraq War a “tremendous disservice not only to the Middle East but to humanity.”

Whether or not Trump will take a moment to consider whether his own proposals, such as the targeting of innocent civilians and instituting a religious test to gain entry into the U.S., do much to further the cause of “humanity” remains to be seen.

Throughout the night the unhinged militarism of the Republican Party’s establishment candidates constantly bubbled up to the surface. Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s performance surely gave him a boost in the so-called Adelson primary. When asked how he would defeat ISIS, Kasich said he would “go in massively.” Later on, the Ohio governor and former member of the House Armed Services committee said that he believes it is time we “punch the Russians in the nose.”

Not to be outdone, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called President Barack Obama, whose leadership he so effusively praised in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, a “feckless weakling.” Christie also said that he would enforce a “no-fly zone” over Syria and that he would shoot down any Russian aircraft that dared violate it. Jeb Bush also reiterated his support for a “no-fly zone” over Syria without seeming to notice, or care, that that airspace is firmly under Russian control.

If many of the soon-to-be second-tier candidates were positively bloodthirsty, some of the others seemed to be on autopilot. Trump lazily (so much for “high energy”) repeated lines from his standard stump speech, while Christie continued to channel 2008 presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani by shamelessly invoking 9/11 whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Rubio also stuck closely to his favorite themes and in so doing reminded this viewer of Alden Pyle, the “quiet American” of Graham Greene’s creation who was “impregnably armored by his good intentions and his ignorance.” Like Pyle, Rubio exudes a kind of boyish earnestness that serves to mask a white-hot fanaticism.

Rubio defended his support for NATO’s intervention in Libya by claiming Gaddafi was “going to go one way or another.” He darkly warned that the West is losing “the propaganda war” with ISIS, and also attacked Cruz for repeatedly voting against Defense Authorization Acts which, according to Rubio, fund “important programs” like the Iron Dome. Pointing out that the Iron Dome enhances Israeli, not American, security would surely doom one’s chances of success in the Adelson primary. So no one did.

Overall, however, the tenor of the debate must have come as something of a rude shock to Adelson, who has long sought to parlay his largess into influence, particularly with regard to American Middle East policy. In spite of all of those millions he has lavished on Republicans, nearly half the candidates signaled that they were ready, in some limited respects anyway, to move past the failed neoconservative foreign policies that have been on offer by the GOP for the past three election cycles.

James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the US State Department.  

2 comments for “A GOP Split on Neocon Orthodoxy

  1. Anthony Shaker
    December 21, 2015 at 12:47

    I hope that someday Mr. Carden and his colleagues at The Nation will show some of the same critical savvy regarding Israel as they occasionally do about the US’s disastrous Israel-centered Middle East policy.

    Israel, a Jewish-only race colony, remains the centerpiece in the present mayhem. It represents a mortal danger to America, its people and its democracy for this all-important reason.

    Israel’s original role in the chaos has become almost a footnote. Though following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Netanyahu is the one who set the wheel moving with his bellicose campaign against Iran through false claims about Iran’s alleged nuclear weaponization program and repeated threats to attack Iran and drag the US into a deadlier war than all others. His wailing against against the nuclear deal with Iran included “warnings” about the increased likelihood of war if the deal was signed. In hindsight, that too was a threat.

    He used everything from Mickey Mouse cartoon props in his UN General Asembly address, the professional lobby of American traitors (including two convicted AIPAC officials) around Congress, to active military support (including air cover) for the most violent Wahhabi jihadis in Syria and Lebanon. Indeed, Israel’s answer to Pres. al-Assad’s previous peace overtures was to invade Lebanon in 2006, not to mention repeated attacks Lebanon and Gaza.

    Netanyahu and his league of race theorists and blood-curdling settler “politicians” have perpetrated all this as part of what he is now hailing as an “alliance” with the violent, retrograde Gulf Arab “Sunni” monarchies, a motely collection of Wizard of Oz-style artificial states. Together with a rapidly collapsing Turkish foreign policy (and a collapsing Turkish polity), these states deploy Wahhabi terrorist armies naturally to establish “democracy” in Syria. They are anything but “Sunni,” and Syria’s army is still composed mainly Sunni.

    The US will have to wake up one day or another to the plain fact that this Jewish-only race colony hasn’t a snowball’s chance of surviving in its present form. The consequences of keeping America’s head buried six feet underground will be incalculable, given present trends.

    Generally speaking, “progressives”–today a rump of their former selves–have repeatedly betrayed the American people with their trite pet “bread-and-butter” issues and legendary fear about criticizing Israel.

    I hope that The Nation, which I have been reading for decades, and have even found gems of insight about some issues, will have the guts to eat some crow and make an effort to speak faithfully to the American people about the reality before our very noses. They owe the people least that, given what is about to happen to the abomination of “Israel,” a race colony in a foreign land.

    Otherwise, as usual, whenever sh*t “happens,” the public reaction will again be: Where did that come from? This is possibly the only rational explanation for the anti-Muslim jingoism presently sweeping the country. The US is largely responsible for destroying Syria and Iraq, and yet it has nothing but disdain and loathing for the refugees.

    A recent survey has found that 90% of Syrian refugees have diplomas. This is what Syrian people were before the foreign-led terrorist war–highly educated, cultured and industrious. Syria’s only sin was to have blocked Israel’s view of the Rhine.

  2. Drew Hunkins
    December 19, 2015 at 16:47

    What’s moderately fascinating about the position Cruz, Trump and Paul have seemed to stake out — a position that apparently favors a less meddlesome Washington in the Middle East — is that it’s a position that seems less Hawkish than Hillary Clinton’s record of warmongering.

    That the Republican lunatics have produced three candidates who seem (‘seem’, because of course who really knows what these three would actually do as Prez) to be bucking the Washington-Zionist-Saudi Terror Network is a call for cautious optimism.

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