Michael Young, the opinion editor of the Daily Star in Beirut, has written a must-read opinion article for Reason’s website. In it, he points out the blindingly obvious: that, contrary to myth, so-called neocons are not in control of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, especially when it comes to the Middle East.
The level of “neocon” influence has always been wildly exaggerated, as I argued in this Foreign Policy article all the way back in early 2004. Any “neocon” orientation is especially hard to find now outside of Bush’s grandiose speeches, which have little connection to policy. As Young points out:
Since 2006, the Bush administration has all but abandoned the democracy agenda to rally the despotic Arab regimes against Iran. Containment is the new catchword and, no surprise, it is pretty much what the Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton administrations spent two decades applying to post-revolution Iran…. Similarly, the Bush administration now finds itself back in the oldest gig in town: the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
Young concludes: “That should please quite a few of Bush’s domestic critics. He’s returned to the futile routine in the Middle East that they always urged him to.” Yet Bush isn’t getting much credit from his political foes for his shift in policy. Perhaps that’s because the new approach is proving less successful than the dreaded neocon policies of the past, which, lest we forget, cracked open the A.Q. Khan proliferation network, led Libya to renounce its WMD program, and, if the latest National Intelligence Estimate is to be believed, caused Iran temporarily to suspend its own nuclear work in 2003. We are still waiting for any comparable achievements of the newly “realistic” second-term Bush administration.
Actually the administration has achieved something pretty impressive in the past year in Iraq, though that is the exception to the rule, perhaps because, when it came to the “surge,” the President reverted to his first-term instincts; he ignored the Washington establishment consensus that called for rapid troop drawdowns and instead listened to a few…neocons.