Montana Politics

The Innocence of Neocons

The reaction to the ‘film’ (collection of bizarre video and offensive dubbing, apparently) “The Innocence of Muslims”, which ostensibly included the killing of the American ambassador to Libya, is a tragedy brought about by ignorance by multiple parties, and we would foolish not to learn from it.

Of course the Weekly Standard thinks that the answer is for Obama to be more aggressive. They reveal a profound misunderstanding of diplomacy. Statements issued by the State Department about the misguided and destructive nature of the film in question are not aimed at the films makers, no matter how they may be phrased. Terry Jones and his ilk are sociopaths and cowards, taking pleasure from causing the deaths of other humans while hiding behind the laws and constitution of the very nation whose soldiers, diplomats, and overall security they are flagrantly putting at risk. There’s no sense talking to them – the best the State Department can do is distance the US and it’s policies from the most crude and offensive examples of our citizenry. That has been precisely their approach.

It’s not that the statements put out by government about these attacks are totally accurate. There is more behind this than an offensive bit of film – there are decades of ill will built up throughout the Muslim world that are the result of US policies. But it is certainly not a question of those policies being too weak-willed; rather, of those policies being stubborn, ethnocentric, imperialistic, cruel, or all of the above (see “Operation Iraqi Freedom”). Insisting that the people of Palestine have no interest in peace, or that Obama’s foreign policy problem is being too ‘weak’ in Syria or Iran, is not going to solve that problem. American foreign policy is not ‘weak’, though it is frequently foolish. Unfortunately, the best the conservative ‘pundits’ can offer is the policy equivalent of a circle of adolescent boys chanting ‘fight! fight! fight!’. If the Bush years taught us anything, it is that conservative politicians, regardless of what they say on the campaign trail, are profoundly influenced by the same ideas that inform publications like the Weekly Standard – ideas suggesting that the US needs to be more pigheaded, more aggressive, to think less about their foreign policy, not more. That’s most assuredly a policy we can’t afford.

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  • The murderers and makers of that stupid, horribly insightful film are ONE IN THE SAME. Both are hateful people. However, one small group murdered and one didn’t. I’m not apologizing, but either should freedom of speech.
    I HOPE I’m being clear. It’s a complicated subject.
    This issue should not be politicized (although it’s inevitable). The fires being started and flamed are because of insanely hateful and awful people.
    That all being said, you’re pretty much right on point, Polish. You’re taking on a TOUGH issue…

    • Jag, PW politicized this issue with his “Neocon” label to smear anyone who feels a soft touch is the wrong way to go. Back in the 30’s Neocon was used to attack liberals who disparaged communists. The Obama administration has been begrudging to come around to the facts that this was a planned terrorist attack on the Lybian consulate and safe house. No surprise there, as the Washington Post reported that Obama had attended only 43.8% of his daily briefings where security matters have been discussed. No wonder his spinmeisters have been hard at work.

      • If by ‘soft touch’ you mean the use of shortsighted, preemptive military tactics and aggressive democratization you’re absolutely right. But since that would make absolutely no sense, I think you’ve a fundamental misunderstanding of what neoconservatism means for foreign policy (btw, ‘neocons’ in the thirties were a communist offshoot themselves–Trotskyists–and disparaged Stalinist communism, but I don’t think use of the term came about for another few decades). Today, neoconservatism is exactly what you accuse the Obama administration of, and as PW describes it–your stubbornness to agree with him on that point goes to show that your comment is just another flagrant attempt to make an insightful blogger feel like an asshole.

        • Actually Neocon means nothing of the kind as you describe it. It comes to denote those former liberals, like Paul Wolfowitz, that now advocate a more traditional conservative approach to the economy, foreign policy, the military, and social policy. “Neo” continues to mean new.

          • An approach to foreign policy largely characterized by fear, exploitation and pre-emptive measures of defense–>democratization–and yes, I think Obama’s administration is certainly guilty of it. Perhaps not as much as, say, the Bush administration, but insofar as its involvement in rebellion and democratic reform in Lybia, Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, etc. goes, its foreign policy takes grounding from neoconservative ideals.

            • Mal, since you are going to incorrectly use the neocon term, please explain the difference between conservative ideals and neocon ideals.

              • really?

                Neoconservative take on foreign policy: that our government should act in a way that embraces the idea that every country under the sun should be able to bask in the opportunity and luxury of democracy

                Conservative take on foreign policy: that our government should act in a way that exploits and takes advantage of other nations under the pretext that we are helping them to develop and cultivate democracy

                • Sounds like you are defining Obama’s foreign policy. Too funny.

                  Did it occur to you that the attack was an assualt on American soil since embassies and consulates belong to the country represented? Obama can no longer claim that there has never been a terrorist attack on American soil under his watch.

                • Isn’t the same true for US military bases as well, Craig? Which would mean that every US president has suffered attacks on our soil since, what, Hoover?

                • By the way, Mal already stated that he believes the Obama is also a neoconservative. Theoretically he is probably little different than GWB in the goals he has (as Mark likes to remind us); by Mal’s definition I share the neocon goals. But his methods are far more effective. I think the Weekly Standard would be happy to remind you of the difference – Obama (those who make decisions in his cabinet) ‘dithers’ (he waits to assess he situation before deciding to act), he shirks responsibility (lets other countries shoulder part of the burden), he gives in to our enemies (he takes the situation into account before acting).

                  The difference is clear – we can have a leader who appears strong but is gets us into bad situations, or a leader accused of weakness who nonetheless eliminates our enemies, weakens our rivals and strengthens democratic ideals worldwide.

              • I’m not Mal, but I’ll throw my hat in here. Traditional conservatism is far less interventionist than neo-conservatism. A traditional conservative couldn’t possibly support the huge taxes (or deficits) and government spending required to maintain a neo-con style foreign policy. Compare ‘conservatives’ before and after WWII if you want to see the difference. We were led into war by two relatively liberal Democrats; the Republicans between them were fairly isolationist, focusing on hemispheric concerns and laissez faire policies at home. Even an interventionist like T. Roosevelt had limited ambitions – not until after WWII was global dominance the goal of US foreign policy. Since that war, there have been no traditional conservative presidents, from either party – the military and intelligence apparatus is anathema to conservative ideals.

                What sets neocons apart from normal interventionists (basically every president until Reagan) is their view on what US force can reasonably accomplish. For them it is a panacea – enough force or pre-emptive spending thrown at a problem can solve it. They were right about the Cold War, they were wrong about the Middle East. Neocons by and large fail to recognize that it takes more than sheer strength and willingness to use it to solve modern international problems.

          • And what do you mean ‘now advocate a more traditional conservative approach’? Wolfowitz maintains the same position on our involvement in foreign affairs today as he did when his neocon flavor developed during Reagan’s administration (and as it continued to do through subsequent republican administrations). ‘Neo’ describes a change of context, not the fundamental ideals.

      • Actually, the Weekly Standard politicized the issue when they attacked Obama for being too soft of Muslims and too quick to condemn the inciters. I don’t think the Standard would shy away from the term neoconservative, or at least they certainly agree with the tenants we would agree define neoconservatives. But their answer to the problem is foolish. What happened in Libya was hardly a ‘soft touch’ – my understanding is that there is little soft about bombs and missiles. It was, however, an intelligent one – one that involved our allies globally and regionally and left the Libyan people themselves as the actual agents of change.

        The deaths of those representing our nation abroad are certainly tragic, and the murder of a diplomat is certainly beyond the pale of all responsible members of the international community. But by any measure – American or civilian lives, dollars spent, allies lost – the intervention in Libya was a wiser course of action than the invasion of Iraq, though they accomplished the same goals. That the conservative media continues to accuse Obama of being weak and unassertive suggests that the conservative movement has learned nothing in the last twelve years.

        • The ambassador was out of country, Obama was off campaigning and hates to attend his daily briefings. His front people, like Susan Rice, have done everything to spin how being unprepared to deal with the situation was unpreventable and unforeseeable. Totally laughable given what the Libyans tell us. And now there is begrudging acknowledgement that this was a terrorist attack. 4 people died because Obama et al. were asleep when the 3AM call came. Shifting focus away from this failure of intelligence, diligence, and preparation by the Executive Branch is a tragic dodge of responsibility.

          • I challenge you to find anyone on this website who is blaming George Bush for the events of September 11. I fail to see any appreciable difference. Blaming Obama for this attack is the same as blaming Bush for 9-11, Clinton for Oklahoma City, or Reagan for the Beirut barracks bombing. It makes no sense. None of those presidents could have been expected to prevent the attacks in question, and no reasonable critic blames the chief executive for that attacks that take place under his watch.

            If we did, however, I think you’d find Obama is fairing a great deal better than Bush, whose war in Iraq increased Sunni terrorism seven fold, much of it fatally directed at our men and women in uniform. A more aggressive position towards Syria and Iran, advocated by conservative publications and the likely policy of Mitt Romney would almost certainly have the same effect.

            Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that the administration had much reliable intelligence about Libya – with a limited amount of time to gather intelligence about potentially dangerous groups that didn’t exist in anything like their present form a year ago – compared to trying to crack a plot by a decade-old organization whose nefarious intentions were already well known, it’s even more absurd to blame this administration for the Benghazi attacks than to blame Bush for the attacks that occurred during his administration.

  • people in this country need to accept the casualties as a product of our foreign policy. this is what happens in war, people. Obama blows up little girls picking up firewood, they blow up a building and kill a diplomat.

    • Of course, there is both a legal and moral difference between accidentally, even negligently killing non-combatants and targeting and murdering a diplomat. But you’re absolutely right; foreign policy involves casualties. An interventionist foreign policy brings those casualties closer to home – a neutral one allows us to pretend we’re not responsible for those deaths, even when they are clearly a result of inaction.

        • Those work both ways you know, Mark. I can’t prove to your satisfaction that more Libyans would have died without NATO intervention, but you also can’t prove otherwise (and I think available evidence suggests it is not the case). One way to avoid the non-falsifiable hypothesis problem is to put forth hypothesis that are falsifiable, about things that have yet to happen. I have done that more repeatedly – you refuse to do so. I have been correct, but you refuse to even put forth a prediction. When you do, you are wrong (remember that spring attack on Iran using nuclear weapons? Nice job on that one).

          • “One way to avoid the non-falsifiable hypothesis problem is to put forth hypothesis that are falsifiable, about things that have yet to happen. I have done that more repeatedly – ”

            This is the first I’ve heard of this. Do go on!

            The problem I have in dealing with you is your shape shifting nature – in any given debate you can be a war hawk, a pacifist, an apologist or a very clever analyst who sees the future. Any of these poses suits you as the situation demands. When called on one, you become another. You don’t appear to have any underlying philosophy of good and evil, and are pragmatic to the point where evil suits you just fine if you see in your great leader a somewhat defensible goal. In other words, you are the classic apparatchik, framed and hanged.

            What you cannot do, what you refuse to do, is cast a critical eye on your Democratic leaders. Identical actions by the other party draw your scorn. You are incapable of seeing what is before you – the same foreign policy extant since 2001. Instead, you look for refinements brought about by The One. It’s absurd, a waste of time and energy. What you get from it, I suppose, is validation, and that’s nothing more than an academic exercise … wait a minute … what do you do for a living?

            Currently there are war games going on in the Gulf, and Israel has amassed forces on the Lebanese border. With Libya, NATO ran war games in the Mediterranean, and then flipped the switch and attacked, using war games as the pretext for assembling the attack force. All done against the UN mandate of course. You demand that I know the dates for the attack on Iran, Lebanon and Syria? Syria is “last year,” Lebanon is “now,” and Iran is “imminent.” The outcome is “unknowable.” The casus belli partially manufactured in the nuclear bomb mythology, but requires an incident to justify flipping the switch.

            What holds them back? I cannot know. What enables them? You and yern.

            • Mark – I told you we would not nuke Iran, that the US would not invade Syria (while you breathlessly kept us updated about our troops massing for an invasion), I told you that air strikes in Libya would not involve our troops in a quagmire, that Libya post-Gaddafi would be less violent than Syria is right now. These ‘predictions’ were all correct, but that is not too impressive because they are all common sense predictions. What is telling is that you in every case predicted the opposite.

              As to me lacking convictions save defending Barack Obama – that is quite silly. You say I am sometimes a pacifist and sometimes a hawk, when indeed I am neither – I am certainly not a pacifist in that I don’t oppose our participation in violence that is already underway, and yet I have never called for the creation of war where it is not already underway, the hallmark of a hawk. Wise foreign policy cannot tolerate adherence to strict dogma, but if I had to state one, only participating in wars already raging would be it.

              “academic exercise … wait a minute … what do you do for a living? ”

              If you actually knew anything about my job or my students, you wouldn’t comment thus. Academics are maybe a tenth of my responsibility.

              By the way, the US did not attack Syria last year. It is likely we provided the rebellion with weapons or logistics, though almost certainly less than Turkey provided. But if you’re calling that an attack, Russia has been attacking the Syrian people since they continued to sell the Assad’s weapons after the elder Assad slaughtered over 10,000 of them in Hama. What’s the difference? Assad is the de jure government? And we’re back to you worshiping sovereignty again. It’s ironic, Mark – you question everything except the basis for the current international system and the justification of the most atrocities. Even more so since sovereignty is ultimately derived from power, and what’s that thing you always accuse me of worshiping? Oh yeah.

      • neutrality shouldn’t equate to inaction. neutral parties are in better positions to engage diplomatically.

        and where you seem to imply US inaction, the reality is covert action often lays the groundwork for our interventionist policies.

        take Syria, for example. would you say there has been inaction by the US, or would you acknowledge the reality that the US and its proxies have been actually quite involved by providing what tactical, financial, and weapons are available to the rebels, both the Syrian ones and the al-Qaeda affiliated ones.

        and, I would add, any responsible interventionist should explain how the US and its allies plan on assisting these poor countries after the evil regimes who rule them are violently overthrown.

        • ” neutral parties are in better positions to engage diplomatically.”

          That is true, but that diplomatic position is only really useful when dealing with interstate relations between parties of similar strength. I think we can see this with Brazil’s ability to work with the EU and Iran, for example. The problem is that interstate conflicts are really rather rare in the modern world, and those that occur are rarely between states of roughly equivalent power. Switzerland is not going to talk the US out of invading Iraq, or ensure that Sudan doesn’t just re-occupy Juba, or rein in the Egyptian army.

          take Syria, for example. would you say there has been inaction by the US

          I certainly would suppose their is American involvement, though trying to guess its extent is a fools errand until more information is available. It is also inappropriate to refer to Turkey or Libya as US ‘proxies’ – they are quite independent, and have a far greater stake in Syria than the US does, and it is pretty clear that they are providing more help to the rebels than the US is (of course, probably less than Russia has provided to Assad for some time now).

          “any responsible interventionist should explain how the US and its allies plan on assisting these poor countries after the evil regimes who rule them are violently overthrown.”

          Indeed. That is the interventionist element that is missing most obviously from the current US policy. There’s no denying that.

  • As usual, there is far more going on unreported in American news. The origins of the film itself are hazy. Much of it is curious – why was the embassy guarded by Libyans? Where were the marines, who are charged with embassy security everywhere? All American embassies, which are usually headquarters for CIA station chiefs and agents as well, have “safe houses,” highly secret locations for high-level people for just such incidents as this. As I understand it, the ambassador died at the safe house of smoke inhalation. The safe house itself was attacked. There was a huge security breach.

    The administration response is war ships and drone attacks … An odd response when the object is to root out malcontents. This appears to be yet another cover for expansion of the Mideast wars, and a predictable one. Libya was not pacified by the NATO bombs. It was ignited. This incident, whether instigated by Libyans or Americans, appears to be the springboard for yet another counterinsurgency.

    • “why was the embassy guarded by Libyans?”

      A couple points here, Mark. The building in question was a consulate, not an embassy; the embassy I presume is in Tripoli. And while Marines do traditionally guard the embassies, the actual day-to-day security is done by private contractors who hire whoever will do the job. Moreover, Marines are not stationed at every embassy, much less every consulate. There were, however, American security personnel killed in the attack.

      “Libya was not pacified by the NATO bombs. It was ignited.”
      You’re wrong both about the intent of operation in Libya and the result. The intent was not to pacify Libya – that was Gaddafi’s intent. Our intent was to complete a revolution in progress. Nor did those bombs ignite Libya – combustion was already well under way when US involvement started, and the situation, though imperfect, is much more positive now.

      “This incident, whether instigated by Libyans or Americans, appears to be the springboard for yet another counterinsurgency.”

      Willing to bet on that, Mark? Your foreign policy prediction record isn’t great. But I also have a bigger point –

      You say counterinsurgency as though were inherently evil, as you clearly oppose it in Iraq and Afghanistan. And yet that is absolutely what was going on in Libya and is going on in Syria, and you seem to believe it is the perfect right of Assad (of either generation) to do so. Why? Obviously, because those are THEIR people they are killing – they are allowed to kill their own people, we just aren’t allowed to stop them. Why? Sovereignty! Of course, we come to your religious conviction, with the Treaty of Westphalia as your Scripture and the UN as your church.

      • My prediction record is better than yours, it seems, as Libya is still in play, Obama is sending war ships and drones. Your harping about specific dates for specific events is Kaileyism, a hall of mirrors of petty details while the big picture unfolds. I might be willing to say that you are clever in argumentation, but am more inclined to think you merely obfuscate to hide your own confusion as you view your own leaders engaged in identical activities as those you oppose.

        Please look at Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, and the activities of The One, and construct a big picture for me that is in any way different from Bush and the Neocons other than bombs that are better directed and so kill fewer and button pushers who are more clever.

        • All right, Mark, lets watch those war ships and drones morph into American soldiers trapped in a quagmire, then you’ll be right. Or when we launch nuclear weapons at Iran, or invade Syria.

          “bombs that are better directed and so kill fewer and button pushers who are more clever.”

          Hell, that could almost be a campaign slogan – Barack Obama: Better Directed Bombs. Nice alliteration to it, too. I never argued that Obama fundamentally or philosophically changed the goals of US foreign policy, and ultimately I guess I agree that he couldn’t. But that’s not what I’m asking for – I want the US to pursue those goals more intelligently, so as to kill fewer people, spend less money, and get better results. This administration has delivered precisely that.

  • The Muslims are not happy!

    They’re not happy in Gaza .

    They’re not happy in Egypt ..

    They’re not happy in Libya .

    They’re not happy in Morocco ..

    They’re not happy in Iran .

    They’re not happy in Iraq ..

    They’re not happy in Yemen .

    They’re not happy in Afghanistan ..

    They’re not happy in Pakistan .

    They’re not happy in Syria ..

    They’re not happy in Lebanon .

    So, where are they happy?

    They’re happy in Australia .

    They’re happy in England ..

    They’re happy in France .

    They’re happy in Italy .

    They’re happy in Germany .

    They’re happy in Sweden .

    They’re happy in the USA .

    They’re happy in Norway .

    They’re happy in every country that is not Muslim.

    And who do they blame?

    Not Islam.

    Not their leadership.

    Not themselves.

    They blame the countries they are happy in.
    And they want to change them to be like the countries they came from, where they were unhappy;

    Excuse me!

      • So…Muslims are happier with America than ordinary Americans. That’s not much evidence, Craig. Are Muslims happier in America than Muslims in other countries That’s what I asked. It may well be true, I just haven’t seen the evidence yet.

        Interesting that African American, native-born Muslims are the ones least likely to oppose al Qaeda, when they are also probably the least likely to have had any real experience with what it’s like to live in proximity to real Islamic fundamentalism.

        • With all of the mass killings at markets, places of worship, and schools through out the ME and North Africa an a daily basis, all of the poverty, and deprivation of electricity, clean water and other essential services for a “happy” populace and you haven’t seen any evidence? That’s amazing.

          • Seems to me, Craig, that there’s been a fair number of riots and a couple of killings among Muslims in Europe as well. You assume that Muslims must be happier in Europe because Europe has all the things that make Europeans happy. Again, I’d like to see a poll of how satisfied Muslims really are with living in Europe.

            But even if it is true, and it may well be, there’s a problem with your logic – the point of many in Muslim countries is that they experience the deprivation you’re talking about precisely because the global economy is controlled by Europeans and Americans.

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