Commentary Magazine


Topic: neoconservatives

Neo-Con Derangement Syndrome and Putin

These are hard times for liberal foreign policy analysts and pundits. The collapse of American credibility abroad in the last year after President Obama’s Syria debacle has now been compounded by the spectacle in the Ukraine as Vladimir Putin confidently dares the West to do something about his theft of Crimea from the Ukraine while knowing full well that they have neither the inclination or the ability to make him pay for aggression. Liberals don’t want to look honestly at the weakness and indecision that routinely paralyzes this administration. Nor can they, as perhaps some liberals might have in the past when Russian aggressors flew the flag of socialism and anti-imperialism, start rationalizing Putin’s actions as defensible. So what do they do? Attack neo-conservatives, of course.

In today’s Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky attempts the near impossible by seeking to turn the facts on their head by claiming those conservatives who rightly warned about the need to pay closer attention to are actually admirers of the Russian authoritarian. Yes, I’m not kidding. The conceit of this piece is so preposterous that it is almost a waste of time to refute it since it claims that those who were and are right about Putin are his secret admirers if not doppelgangers. Coming from the same crowd that mocked Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney for talking about the geostrategic threat from Putin’s Russia, this is what psychologists call deflection. Like all behaviors aimed at blaming others for your own mistakes, it is as false as it is weak. But it tells us a lot about the mindset on the left as they view a dangerous world that can’t be tamed by the magic of Barack Obama’s personality or Hillary Clinton’s comic “reset” button. Having profited from attacks on neoconservatives who were blamed for America’s difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, now that these conflicts are off the front burner and the U.S. must deal with other challenges, all liberals have left is a strange form of neo-con derangement syndrome.

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These are hard times for liberal foreign policy analysts and pundits. The collapse of American credibility abroad in the last year after President Obama’s Syria debacle has now been compounded by the spectacle in the Ukraine as Vladimir Putin confidently dares the West to do something about his theft of Crimea from the Ukraine while knowing full well that they have neither the inclination or the ability to make him pay for aggression. Liberals don’t want to look honestly at the weakness and indecision that routinely paralyzes this administration. Nor can they, as perhaps some liberals might have in the past when Russian aggressors flew the flag of socialism and anti-imperialism, start rationalizing Putin’s actions as defensible. So what do they do? Attack neo-conservatives, of course.

In today’s Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky attempts the near impossible by seeking to turn the facts on their head by claiming those conservatives who rightly warned about the need to pay closer attention to are actually admirers of the Russian authoritarian. Yes, I’m not kidding. The conceit of this piece is so preposterous that it is almost a waste of time to refute it since it claims that those who were and are right about Putin are his secret admirers if not doppelgangers. Coming from the same crowd that mocked Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney for talking about the geostrategic threat from Putin’s Russia, this is what psychologists call deflection. Like all behaviors aimed at blaming others for your own mistakes, it is as false as it is weak. But it tells us a lot about the mindset on the left as they view a dangerous world that can’t be tamed by the magic of Barack Obama’s personality or Hillary Clinton’s comic “reset” button. Having profited from attacks on neoconservatives who were blamed for America’s difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, now that these conflicts are off the front burner and the U.S. must deal with other challenges, all liberals have left is a strange form of neo-con derangement syndrome.

When conservatives contrast Obama’s weakness with Putin’s decisive action, they are not expressing admiration for the Russian dictator. What they are pointing out is that when faced with a ruthless opponent, the president’s Hamlet routine isn’t merely unimpressive; it’s a standing invitation to the bad guys to do their worst. And that is exactly what has happened in the Middle East as Iran has helped Bashar Assad hang on in Syria with a crucial assist from Russia despite President Obama’s occasional comments about him having to go and warnings that he will face retribution if he crosses a “red line” and uses chemical weapons on his own people. The foolish and probably futile pursuit of engagement, if not détente, with Iran over its nuclear program is illustrating the same principle. That’s also true of the prelude to what happened in the Ukraine as Putin decided that the U.S. is a paper tiger whose warnings can be flouted with impunity.

What conservatives want is a president who isn’t foolhardy but who is taken seriously when he issues warnings. Tomasky and liberals know Obama isn’t such a leader and they are uncomfortable about the growing evidence that life in an era where the U.S. thinks it is just another Western nation rather than the leader of the free world is a lot more dangerous than it needs to be.

Contrary to Tomasky, neoconservatives aren’t hyping the crisis in Ukraine to regain relevance. The liberal problem is that Obama’s failures are a reminder that his simplistic view of the world and obsessive belief in multilateral diplomacy is no substitute for American strength.

It’s true there’s no knowing what a President McCain or Romney would have done about Putin and no guarantee that they would have succeeded in thwarting his efforts to reassemble the old Tsarist/Soviet empire. But we do know they were thinking carefully about the potential for trouble with Moscow. That is obviously more than one can say about Obama when he dismissed Romney’s comments about Russia with a crack about the 1980’s.

What America needs isn’t another Putin but a tough president who believes in spreading freedom but is pragmatic enough to know when and how to stand up to dictators. While one can fault George W. Bush for his mistakes in Iraq and question whether McCain or Romney or any other conservative would have done better in this crisis, the one thing we do know is that Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry made egregious mistakes in their handling of Russia and that the people of Ukraine are paying the price for those blunders. Along with Putin, they are the ones who should be held accountable for their failures. Whatever blame necons get for Iraq, this is one debacle that is owned lock, stock and barrel by the Democrats and their liberal cheerleaders.

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Schumer’s Dishonest Hagel Sob Story

Following the latest string of revelations about Chuck Hagel’s defamatory comments about Israel and its supporters, a lot of attention has been focused on whether New York Senator Chuck Schumer would change his position on President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense. But any hopes that Schumer would prioritize the principles that he has always claimed he was elected to the Senate to defend over political expediency have now been dashed. At a New York City event this morning reported by Politico’s Maggie Haberman, Schumer doubled down on his support for Hagel claiming the former senator cried when discussing his slurs about the “Jewish lobby.”

 The account of Schumer’s fateful meeting with the nominee was fascinating but more important than that was his decision to repeat the claim that “not a major Jewish organization” was against Hagel and to assert that the issue driving opposition to him was anger about his opposition to the war in Iraq. Both claims are not only false but are a transparent attempt to deflect attention from the real issue in the debate over Hagel: the president’s choice of an incompetent nominee who is also a well known antagonist of Israel with a record of opposition to getting tough on Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

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Following the latest string of revelations about Chuck Hagel’s defamatory comments about Israel and its supporters, a lot of attention has been focused on whether New York Senator Chuck Schumer would change his position on President Obama’s nominee to be secretary of defense. But any hopes that Schumer would prioritize the principles that he has always claimed he was elected to the Senate to defend over political expediency have now been dashed. At a New York City event this morning reported by Politico’s Maggie Haberman, Schumer doubled down on his support for Hagel claiming the former senator cried when discussing his slurs about the “Jewish lobby.”

 The account of Schumer’s fateful meeting with the nominee was fascinating but more important than that was his decision to repeat the claim that “not a major Jewish organization” was against Hagel and to assert that the issue driving opposition to him was anger about his opposition to the war in Iraq. Both claims are not only false but are a transparent attempt to deflect attention from the real issue in the debate over Hagel: the president’s choice of an incompetent nominee who is also a well known antagonist of Israel with a record of opposition to getting tough on Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Schumer’s discussion of Hagel’s tears when he explained to him that his crack about the “Jewish lobby” was rooted in prejudice may be a truthful but the idea, as the New Yorker put it, that “I’m sure you didn’t mean it” is patently disingenuous. When Hagel used that term in 2006  (at his confirmation hearing he said it was the only time he said it “on the record”) or made other disturbing comments about the Israeli Foreign Ministry controlling the U.S. State Department or that Israel was on its way to being an “apartheid state,” he knew exactly what he was saying. Far from a misunderstanding, there is a clear pattern in Hagel’s record and it speaks to his contempt for the U.S.-Israel alliance and its supporters. Indeed, the context of the “Jewish lobby” remark showed that he considered it a point of honor to stand up to Israel’s supporters.

The notion that Hagel’s contrite interview with Schumer or any of his other fumbling attempts to walk back a long record of antagonism should outweigh a record replete with votes and statements demonstrating his desire to stand apart from the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus is absurd.

Just as dishonest though is Schumer’s claim that “no major Jewish organization” opposes Hagel. Just this past weekend, the American Jewish Committee — a large liberal-leaning group that more or less defines the term — demanded that the Senate not vote before it further reviewed Hagel’s record in the wake of recent revelations of more prejudicial statements by the nominee.

In the weeks prior to Hagel’s disastrous confirmation hearing, Schumer had attempted to use the strategic silence of many Jewish groups on Hagel as cover for his own decision to go along with the president on the nomination. But after the AJC statement and Anti-Defamation League leader Abe Foxman’s questions about Hagel’s statements, that line of defense no longer works. For Schumer to go on pretending that Jewish groups are neutral about Hagel can only be characterized as blatantly dishonest.

But it is not any more dishonest than Schumer’s attempt to claim that the motive behind the opposition to Hagel is “neocon” anger about his critique of the war in Iraq. Senator John McCain may still hold a grudge about Hagel’s foolish opposition to the Iraq surge (and contrary to Schumer’s comments, Hagel — who voted in favor of the war — was wrong about the surge) but that is not an issue that interests anyone else who cares about this awful nomination.

Neoconservatives may have disagreed with Hagel about Iraq but if that were the only issue about his candidacy he would already be sitting in his office in the Pentagon. It is, as Schumer well knows, Hagel’s terrible record on Israel, Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah that has scared many Americans about his fitness for office. Even more think his performance at his confirmation hearing when he was unable to demonstrate a grasp of the issues before the nation or defend his positions shows he’s just not up to the job.

When faced with a choice between doing the right thing about Hagel and demonstrating loyalty to President Obama, Schumer had done the latter. That is bad enough and a terrible commentary about the willingness of pro-Israel Democrats to put their party’s interests above principle. But for him to back up this decision with lies and distortions speaks volumes about his own character.

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Liberal Smear: Romney’s War for the Jews

After all these years of endlessly repeating the same tired tropes on the New York Times op-ed page, taking Maureen Dowd’s columns seriously requires a suspension of disbelief that is normally only needed to watch science fiction. But though the Queen of Snark lacks the credibility to discuss virtually any issue in an intelligent manner, she does have a knack for picking up on whatever hateful viruses are circulating through the circulatory system of our body politic. Worried about prejudice against Mormons? Dowd was the first to provide mainstream media space to that brand of hate during the current presidential campaign. Concerned about the way some on the left are hoping to utilize the debate about Iran to delegitimize support for Israel? Dowd again is the one to ensure this nasty piece of business gets another airing by arguing that Romney wants to fight wars for the sake of the Jews.

In her column in today’s Times Sunday Review, Dowd picks up on the same theme explored on the paper’s website on Thursday that I discussed earlier today. While it can be argued that she can always be relied upon to seize upon any point, no matter how trivial, to heap scorn on any Republican (her brief stint as a bipartisan basher of Bill Clinton during l’affaire Lewinsky may have earned her a Pulitzer but since then she has stuck to snarking conservatives), her attack on Mitt Romney’s foreign policy stance is particularly creepy. Unlike the rest of the Obama cheerleading squad that occupies the Times opinion pages, she is not content to just bash him for attacking Obama’s apologies, weak leadership and disdain for Israel. Dowd sees him and running mate Paul Ryan as the cat’s-paws of a shadowy group of “powerful” Jewish “neocons” who are out to seize the country in his name and enforce, “a duty to invade and bomb Israel’s neighbors,” on Americans. In a perfect illustration of how hate for Israel shows where the left and right meet, Dowd channeled Pat Buchanan in arguing that Romney/Ryan are the “puppets” of neoconservative conspirators who want Americans to die for Israel.

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After all these years of endlessly repeating the same tired tropes on the New York Times op-ed page, taking Maureen Dowd’s columns seriously requires a suspension of disbelief that is normally only needed to watch science fiction. But though the Queen of Snark lacks the credibility to discuss virtually any issue in an intelligent manner, she does have a knack for picking up on whatever hateful viruses are circulating through the circulatory system of our body politic. Worried about prejudice against Mormons? Dowd was the first to provide mainstream media space to that brand of hate during the current presidential campaign. Concerned about the way some on the left are hoping to utilize the debate about Iran to delegitimize support for Israel? Dowd again is the one to ensure this nasty piece of business gets another airing by arguing that Romney wants to fight wars for the sake of the Jews.

In her column in today’s Times Sunday Review, Dowd picks up on the same theme explored on the paper’s website on Thursday that I discussed earlier today. While it can be argued that she can always be relied upon to seize upon any point, no matter how trivial, to heap scorn on any Republican (her brief stint as a bipartisan basher of Bill Clinton during l’affaire Lewinsky may have earned her a Pulitzer but since then she has stuck to snarking conservatives), her attack on Mitt Romney’s foreign policy stance is particularly creepy. Unlike the rest of the Obama cheerleading squad that occupies the Times opinion pages, she is not content to just bash him for attacking Obama’s apologies, weak leadership and disdain for Israel. Dowd sees him and running mate Paul Ryan as the cat’s-paws of a shadowy group of “powerful” Jewish “neocons” who are out to seize the country in his name and enforce, “a duty to invade and bomb Israel’s neighbors,” on Americans. In a perfect illustration of how hate for Israel shows where the left and right meet, Dowd channeled Pat Buchanan in arguing that Romney/Ryan are the “puppets” of neoconservative conspirators who want Americans to die for Israel.

Dowd doubled down on Eric Lewis’ point that it is “outrageous” for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to demand that the president state some red lines about Iran. But all Netanyahu is doing is asking the president to show us that he has some intention of doing something about Iran other than talking about the threat. The pushback from the pro-Obama camp against the suggestion that the administration stop pretending that failed diplomacy and unenforced sanctions will persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear ambition reinforces the suspicion that once he is re-elected, the president will have the “flexibility” to choose to “contain” rather than stop Iran. That is a position that would endanger both the U.S. and Israel.

Dowd’s biggest target is Dan Senor, an author and former Bush administration staffer who is one of Romney and Ryan’s top advisors. But neither Senor nor Romney nor any American supporter of Israel needs to apologize to the likes of Dowd for their belief that the U.S. should keep its word to stop Iran. Though those who write about “neocons slithering” are clearly intending to stoke prejudice, even Obama has paid lip service to the fact that a nuclear Iran is a deadly threat to the entire Middle East as well as to the interests of the United States. Though Romney is not always the most consistent or coherent of thinkers about foreign policy, he does seem to understand this dilemma a lot better than Obama and his hateful press hit squad.

President Obama came into office determined to try to distance the United States from Israel and to appease the Muslim world. He accomplished the former but failed miserably with the latter as the spectacle of besieged U.S. embassies in the Middle East this week has shown. Throughout the last year, Obama’s critics have noted that he seemed more interested in stopping Israel from defending itself than in halting Iran’s nuclear program. Now his supporters seek to suppress any pressure for action on Iran by branding it the work of neocon conspirators.

The bottom line here is the same despicable “Israel Lobby” smear that seeks to silence friends of Israel through the use of traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes. Dowd’s column marks yet another step down into the pit of hate-mongering that has become all too common at the Times. This is a tipping point that should alarm even the most stalwart liberal Jewish supporters of the president.

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