Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Neocons Love Obama?

In order to balance out last week's Congressional Progressive Caucus event, today I infiltrated the first event run by a new "non-partisan" neoconservative think tank, the Foreign Policy Initiative, run by William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and others, entitled "Afghanistan: Planning for Success." Although they invited a few token non-neocons, such as John Nagl, Ashley Tellis (a Bush flunkie but not someone I would describe as a neocon) and Congresswoman Jane Harmon, it was mostly an opportunity to launch their new organization, feel important, and fawn over John McCain, who was the featured speaker.
Although the neocon scholars, Republican Congressman John McHugh, and Senator McCain were not present for the other presentations they seemed to be speaking from the same talking points (and might very well have done so). Each said that:
1) President Obama did the correct and courageous thing by continuing an intensive engagement with Afghanistan and Pakistan; but that:
2) Obama should have announced the full commitment of troops that General McKiernan has requested, not just the initial 17,000 (what Nagl called a "down payment"), no matter when they are actually sent, so that it cannot be said that more troops are needed because we are losing, and so Obama cannot be accused of what McCain called "LBJ-style incrementalism;"
3) The Afghan army needs to be increased far beyond the announced goal of 135,000 by 2011 to somewhere in the 200-250,000 troop level (with, of course, no suggestion as to how Afghanistan will pay for a standing army of that size);
4) Obama's political capital regarding war may fade, so he should be bolder now. Robert Kagan noted that an isolationist critique usually comes from the part out of power, although McCain patted his own party on the back saying that Republicans wouldn't lose their resolve and start attacking the AfPak strategy next year for political purposes (Kagan noted they would have "plenty" of other issues to run on), but said that because Speaker Pelosi comes from a very liberal district congressional Democrats might prove less reliable, or patient.
The members of congress also suggested greater engagement with congress, especially on the proposed benchmarks the president discussed on Friday.
Normally of course having neocons endorse your policy should give you pause (Walt asks "would you buy a used foreign policy from these guys?"), but in this case perhaps even the neocons can recognize a decent strategy. Jacob Heilbrunn speculates that the neocons are simply cozying up to Obama in an attempt to remain relevant. We shall see if they manage to refrain from criticism if things get difficult.

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