‘Neocon’ ideas re-emerge amid US election race
August 21 2015 08:37 PM
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Once thought dead and buried on the battlefields of Iraq, a muscular and militaristic “neoconservative” approach to US foreign policy is making a comeback.
For most of the last decade, the “neocons” - personified by former vice president Dick Cheney and ex-Pentagon boss Donald Rumsfeld - have been out of office and out of fashion.
But the 2016 presidential race has seen Republican candidates embrace ideas and advisers once ostracised for the catastrophes and hubris of George W Bush’s “preemptive war” in Iraq.
During the recent Republican presidential debates, 17 candidates tripped over themselves to declare President Barack Obama weak and to vow a more robust approach to foreign policy.
What Obama aides see as caution, pragmatism and a realism about US power, Republicans painted as a lack of American leadership that had left a power vacuum allowing Russia, Iran, China and militant groups to run riot.
“We need a new commander in chief that will stand up to our enemies,” said one White House hopeful, Senator Ted Cruz.
Seeking to sweep aside the anti-war mood that ushered Obama to the White House, Senator Lindsey Graham insisted US troops are needed in Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State group.
If the rhetoric sounds familiar, so do some of the faces.
Paul Wolfowitz, an early and vociferous champion of invading Iraq as a senior aide to Rumsfeld, has been advising former governor Jeb Bush.
Senator Marco Rubio is aided by Jamie Fly, who worked on president George W Bush’s national security team.
In 2012, Fly and a co-author argued that the US should pursue a policy of regime change in Iran, with an extended bombing campaign against government targets.
It was always likely that Republican candidates would look to personnel from the two previous Bush administrations for foreign policy experience.
Washington’s highly politicised civil service means that for the last seven years many have been parked at think tanks and in the private sector waiting eagerly to get back into the game.
But some Republicans see more systemic reasons for reaching back into the past.
Lawrence Wilkerson, a Republican who went toe-to-toe with neocons as chief of staff to Colin Powell during the Bush administration, believes party politics and an unwillingness to accept a relative decline of US power has led to candidates’ embrace of neocon ideas.
“They find there is no possibility of them winning the White House without the 11 to 12% of America that is certifiably nuts,” he says, pointing to the extreme religious conservative voters who candidates need to court in order to win the nomination.
Obama’s remaining months in office and the campaign to succeed him look set to provide a new platform for tough-talking neocons.

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