American foreign policy fundamentally remains the same. Irrespective of the administration or background of the president, the broad outline is constant. Yet in the early 2000s a phrase gained notoriety that was more attached to one administration and war, than any other, neoconservativism.
Whenever the “neocons” are mentioned the term is never defined and bears no relation to the facts which drive overall US foreign policy. Such is the flexibility with which it is described, David Brooks, writing a chapter in Irwin Stelzer’s Neoconservativism, wrote “If you ever read a sentence that starts with ‘Neocons believe’, there is a 99.44 per cent chance everything else in that sentence will be untrue”. The narrative is of a secretive, unilateralist, war mongering, oil obsessed, cabal running the Bush administration behind the back of the “stupid” president. The lead prophet of this shadowy sect was supposedly Leo Strauss. To be clear, there was a professor at the University of Chicago called Leo Strauss. However, he has no bearing on the actions of the George W. Bush administration. Strauss taught a class on the ancient philosophers, which Paul Wolfowitz and some other future administration officials happened to take during their time at Chicago. The fact that many of those who are called “neocons” rejected the phrase surely means that to those who are supposedly its advocates, it has little explanatory power.
To paint the Bush administration as merely war mongers is incorrect. The crisis that occurred in April 2001, when a US spy plane collided with a Chinese jet fighter, could have easily escalated. Thanks to the diplomacy of the Bush administration nothing more than embarrassment was caused with the US crew released safely. This is the administration that talked with great realism and multilateralism with the most repressive regime in the world, North Korea, with all the regional actors around the same table in the Six Party Talks. Equally, the world’s newest country, South Sudan, has much to thank the United States for with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that was negotiated with Bush administration assistance. Similarly, other than words, his administration did little to pressure Mubarak’s Egypt or Abdullah II’s Jordan to rush headlong into democracy.
As has been argued by many, including notably Tim Lynch and Rob Sigh in After Bush, American foreign policy is remarkably consistent. The war in Iraq has been discussed in detail previously so there is no need to go into it here in any depth. Yet, it is interesting to see how across the various Republican and Democratic administrations there was broad agreement. George H. W. Bush having pushed the Iraqi army out of Kuwait handed over to Bill Clinton. The new president went on to sign the Iraqi Liberation Act in 1998, making it official government policy to overthrow Saddam Hussein. President Clinton then bombed Iraq for four days that December. Furthermore, there is the fact that many in his administration had been pushing for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein for years. Especially bellicose were Clinton’s National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger and Vice-President Al Gore. Why is President Clinton feted around the world when President Bush merely carried on what had been building for years in Iraq? In addition to this, Clinton had an active foreign policy, sending forces into Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia and Serbia. Both Bosnia and Serbia had no UN mandate and yet there was no international outcry. There were no conspiracy theories of Clinton being manipulated by a secretive warmongering cabal.
The Obama administration tried to distance itself from the policies of the Bush administration but soon reversed this course after the election. On his second full day in office he signed Executive Order 13492 that would have closed Guantanamo Bay by 22 January 2010. Since then, this order has been quietly shelved as the efficacy of the facility in Cuba has become apparent. Equally, President Obama overturned the Bush era military trials, only to reverse that decision. Any notion that Obama is a “wimp” when it comes to war or the vital interests of the United States again came to naught when he sent in additional troops to Afghanistan and keeping to the withdrawal timetable agreed under President Bush, further, underlining the continuity with the mission of the actions of the Bush administration.
Though ironic it was hardly surprising that during his Nobel Peace Prize lecture he said, “There will be times when nations – acting individually or in concert – will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified”, he went on to say that “I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism – it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason”. No one could say these were the words of a weak, naive, peace at any cost, Democrat.
There are already signs that if elected, a President Romney would do very little different from what President Bush and President Obama have done. Romney still thinks Iran should not have nuclear weapons but is reticent about committing to hostilities. In the same manner he believes in American leadership in the world.
Lastly, people have argued that “Romney has criticized the president for choosing to withdraw troops from Afghanistan based allegedly on ‘electoral expediency,’ but has not indicated any willingness to keep troops in the country past 2014 and has called for speeding up the handover of security responsibility to the Afghan government — which is precisely Obama’s position on the war”.
Neoconservativism changed American foreign policy – yeah right!