[media id=7730] Neocons never die. They just keep giving themselves new names. After claiming "mission accomplished" in Iraq, it seems the PNAC crowd
April 1, 2009

Neocons never die. They just keep giving themselves new names. After claiming "mission accomplished" in Iraq, it seems the PNAC crowd has done just that with their latest attempt at re-branding, The Foreign Policy Initiative. Rachel Maddow brings in Matt Duss from Think Progress to fill us in on their recent make-over. You can read more about this group in Matt's post over at the Wonk Room: Foreign Policy Initiative: Housebroken Neocons? From the article:

Attending the Foreign Policy Initiative’s inaugural conference on Afghanistan today at the Mayflower Hotel, I was struck by how very little that was said was controversial. And that’s really the point — in the wake of Iraq debacle, for which the neocons are widely and rightly held responsible, it simply won’t do to bang the drum for American military maximalism. One has to be a bit slicker than that. And these guys are nothing if not slick.

As their website makes clear, FPI intends to re-brand and mainstream-ize neoconservatism as a “reasonable” and “moderate” — and of course “serious” — alternative to the rising tide of isolationist sentiment in American politics (the fact that no such tide of isolationist sentiment is rising in American politics is entirely beside the point.) This strategy was evidenced in the morning’s first panel, as Robert Kagan praised President Obama’s “gutsy and correct decision” on Afghanistan, but warned that “the United States is at a tipping point between desire to maintain extensive engagement in the world, as it has done since World War II, and the temptation to pull back…[Obama] has decided to maintain the commitment.”

Transcript below the fold.

MADDOW: Representatives of 72 countries are meeting in Holland to try to figure out a way to snatch a victory in Afghanistan from the jaws of American neo-conservatism‘s defeat, to try to come up with a working plan for success in that poor country. You know who‘s not there at that meeting? The neoconservatives, the old gang from the Project for a New American Century.

Why are they not at the world-figures-out-Afghanistan meeting? Because they lost the elections badly, specifically the Republican Party that attached themselves to the neocons, and put their cockamamie ideas into action to disastrous effect, the Republicans lost the last two elections badly.

So while Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke are working with 72 countries now to try to clean up the mess created by the Bush administration‘s neoconservative foreign policy, the neocons themselves are back home in Washington with their minority party lost the election Republican patrons. Together they are forming a new neocon think tank.

The old neocon think tank was called the Project for a New American Century. The new one is, the Foreign Policy Initiative. Yesterday, the paid blogger of the McCain campaign last year, Michael Goldfarb, Twittered, quote, “PNAC, Project for a New American Century equals mission accomplished. New mission begins tomorrow morning with the launch of the Foreign Policy Initiative.” Mission accomplished—you know, that does have a familiar ring to it with these guys.

Bill Kristol, who recently lost his job as a “New York Times” columnist, he was a founding member of both the Project for New American Century and this new neocon group. He is famous for proclaiming, quote, “The endgame seems to be in sight in Afghanistan.” He said that on—let me see—November 26th, 2001. That would be six weeks into the Afghanistan war, of which we are in year eight now, but six weeks in, Bill Kristol and the neocons thought the end game was in sight. So, no reason not to move on to Iraq then, right? Shazam! Mission accomplished.

In April 2003, a month after we invaded Iraq, Bill Kristol also proclaimed, quote, “The battles of Afghanistan and Iraq have been won decisively.” In 2003. So it was a six-week-long war in Afghanistan and a one-month-long war in Iraq before he proclaimed victory.

Is this the point where I point out that the new neocon think tank that has launched itself has done so with a conference called “The Path to Success in Afghanistan”? Would you buy a pack of batteries from these guys on the subway, let alone a supposed “Path to Success in Afghanistan”? And John McCain was the featured speaker at their conference today—really?

Joining us now, Matt Duss, national security editor for ThinkProgress.org. He attended the Foreign Policy Initiative conference today.

Matt, thanks very much for coming back on the show.


MADDOW: There are these guys here who said back in 2001 that Afghanistan‘s already won, mission accomplished. Then they made the case that we should go on ahead into Iraq. Those were the guys that were at this conference today. Does that mean that their conference was a “Whoops, we sure blew it” apology conference?

DUSS: Well, certainly not. There‘s never really been any accountability for these guys or any admission that any of their fantasies about transforming the world at the point of an American gun were kind of ridiculous. They‘ve just kind of moved on to their new attempt to rebrand themselves as a bipartisan foreign policy organization, protecting America from what they seem to think is this rising tide of isolationism.

I haven‘t seen any evidence of this isolationism, but they were telling us today that it‘s all around us and we need to guard against it.

MADDOW: Well, what about the things that have come to pass, that the neocons argued so vociferously against? Things like a binding time line for leaving Iraq, things like talks with Iran—are they still railing against all of those things, because they said it would be the end of the world if either of those things happened and they both happened?

DUSS: Right. I mean, they just moved very smoothly into, you know, support for President Obama‘s plan, and as part of their attempt to kind of reintroduce themselves into the conversation.

But as you said, it‘s very striking that a lot of these things that are now treated as really just conventional wisdom, the idea that we are going to reach out to our enemies and see if we can gain strategic advantage over other worse enemies, we‘re going to try to negotiate with Iran to see if we can come to some accommodation before just going ahead and bombing them, as the neoconservatives have advocated for many years. There‘s really no admission that these ideas have simply been discarded as part of this project that they‘re now trying to rebrand themselves.

MADDOW: Well, it‘s one thing to campaign against this straw man of isolationism that doesn‘t really exist; it‘s another thing for them to take policy positions that are different than what‘s actually happening in the U.S. government now. What, for example, is John McCain proposing when he spoke there today that‘s any different than what Obama is already doing?

DUSS: Well, you can always count on these guys to be in favor of more force, and to the extent that they differed from the Obama administration‘s plan for Afghanistan, there it was. There was general agreement among Kristol, Kagan and Senator McCain that President Obama should have gone ahead and just given General McKiernan all of the troops that he asked for instead of the more limited increase in troops that President Obama announced. And this really—this was what generally they‘ve always been about. There‘s really no problem in the world that can‘t be solved with the application of more military force.

But as President Obama said in an interview on Sunday, he seems to understand that there are problems that cannot be solved by simply adding more troops. And as we go forward in Afghanistan, and if it isn‘t working, he‘s not—as he said, he‘s not simply going to say let‘s add more troops. And I think that‘s really important and refreshing.

MADDOW: And, of course, one of the main things of counterinsurgency theory is sometimes more force is the problem and less force is more effective.

One very quick last question, Matt. Did you have any neocon celebrity sightings today?

DUSS: Oh, yes. There were quite—it was kind of a reunion of John McCain‘s presidential campaign but I also saw Scooter Libby showed up.

MADDOW: Oh, no way.

DUSS: Yes. You know, he came out for that, you know, to see all—to shake hands and kind of see the people. So, that was exciting.

MADDOW: Yes, I forget he‘s not in prison.

Matt Duss, national security editor for ThinkProgress.org—thank you for coming back on the show.

DUSS: Thanks, Rachel.

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