Bring Back the Neocons

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So look where President Bush’s decision to sideline the neoconservatives has gotten him. Instead of worrying about America, Iran now holds the upper hand, choosing which U.N. officials will inspect it as America begs Tehran to accept an offer of negotiations and “incentives” that include civilian airline parts. North Korea is as belligerent as ever, test-firing medium range missiles. Iraq’s capital is a bloodbath of sectarian violence. Israel is under fire from a Hamas state in Gaza. Russia and Communist China are blocking American action at the U.N. Security Council.

The news that the neoconservatives were sidelined has been widely reported. “As ‘Neocons’ Leave, Bush Foreign Policy Takes Softer Line,” was the front-page headline in the February 6 issue of the Wall Street Journal. Time magazine’s cover this week heralds “The End of Cowboy Diplomacy.” I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, once chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, is now indicted. Douglas Feith, once defense undersecretary,is now a private citizen, as is Richard Perle,who had been chairman of the Defense Policy Board. Paul Wolfowitz, once deputy secretary of defense, is now at the World Bank.

Well, if this is what four months of a “softer line” has gained us, we say bring back the neoconservatives, particularly because Mr. Bush himself hasn’t totally abandoned their — and his — freedom agenda. “It’s not only ingrained in my policy, it’s ingrained in my soul,” Mr. Bush said just last week. It’s always possible in foreign policy that the administration is covertly pursuing more aggressive policies than it has publicly disclosed. Let’s hope so. For Mr. Bush certainly seems to give wide latitude to his advisers at the State Department, particularly — but by no means exclusively — the undersecretary for political affairs, Nicholas Burns.

While neoconservatives are blamed for troubles in Iraq, Mr. Bush has pretty much ignored their policy advice after the basic decision to liberate the country. The neoconservatives supported Ahmad Chalabi. As the neoconservatives’ position weakened, the administration raided Mr. Chalabi’s headquarters in Iraq and leaked false accusations that he was a spy for Iran. The administration rejected the neoconservative call for quick recognition of a provisional Iraqi government, opting for the prolonged regency of L. Paul Bremer.

The neoconservatives said success in Iraq depended on pressing on to neighboring Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. The administration stopped short, and Mr. Bush strolled through the Texas bluebonnets holding hands with Prince Abdullah of the House of Saud. Neoconservative calls for American support for Iranian democrats were met with a belated administration proposal of a paltry $75 million. When Senator Santorum, a Republican of Pennsylvania, tried to increase that to $100 million, Secretary Rice worked with a Democrat, Senator Biden, to get Mr. Santorum’s amendment voted down, while the administration let Europeans dicker with Iran over nuclear weapons.

Neoconservatives want to liberate North Korea by opening the door to refugees seeking to escape its oppression, the same way that the breach in the Berlin Wall took down the Soviet empire. Mr. Bush did sign into the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 and did meet on April 28, 2006, with North Korean refugees. But the Bush administration, in a variation on President Clinton’s approach, has been devoting energy to negotiating with Pyongyang in six-party talks that the neoconservatives think are a waste of time.

The Bush administration invested a lot of hope and political capital in Mahmoud Abbas, or Abu Mazen. Neoconservatives warned that he was a longtime Arafat aide and urged America to back non-Arafat Palestinian Arab leaders like Issam Abu Issa and Omar Karsou. Abbas’s administration turned out to be so corrupt and ineffectual that the Palestinian Arabs voted in the Hamas terrorist organization, which proceeded to let Gaza be used as a launchpad for attacks on Israel.

The United Nations has become an important playing field for the administration’s efforts on Iranian nuclear weapons, North Korean missiles, and even Iraq. Neoconservatives had warned that Turtle Bay is tainted by the inclusion of non-free, non-democratic states, and urged the administration to work instead through a community of free states. Despite the efforts of America’s ambassador at the United Nations, John Bolton, our adversaries and U.N. bureaucrats and the Bush administration’s domestic political enemies manage to stall our diplomatic progress there.

So it looks like it’s no coincidence that this rough patch comes as the neocons, whose influence was overstated to start with, has been sidelined. America’s troubles overseas aren’t the fault of any American faction. They are the fault of our enemies. But time makes it ever more clear that the right strategies going forward are those offered by the neoconservative camp. Mr. Bush has time to turn things around, and, if he truly has the freedom agenda ingrained on his soul, he’ll know where to turn to rectify the errors of the “softer line,” while Senator McCain and Mayor Giuliani will be working the problem for 2008.

The New York Sun

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