- - Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The short answers: 1) Don’t forget where they came from — they’re mostly Democrats 2) they were right about the Soviet Union and the Cold War, hence enhanced the Republican reputation for national security matters, 3) however, they were wrong about invading and staying in Iraq as the strategic response to Sept. 11, hence damaged the Republican reputation for national security matters, 4) not accepting criticism for their Iraq failures, neocons have responded with personal attacks on Donald Trump.

The Details: What exactly is “neoconservatism” and where did it come from?

Neoconservatism (commonly shortened to neocon) is a political movement born in the United States during the 1960s among Democrats who became disenchanted with the party’s domestic and especially foreign policy. Many of its adherents became politically famous during the Republican presidential administrations of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Neoconservatives peaked in influence during the administrations of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, when they played a major role in promoting and planning the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Yes, neocons — bless their Cold War hearts — were and are Democrats. But we can’t explain their recent behavior just because of that, this because there have been other “Defense Democrats” — for example, the “Blue Dog Democrats” — who also supported Republican national security budgets and policies during the Cold War.

The neocons, the Blue Dogs and Ronald Reagan were very right about the Cold War and mainstream Democrats were very wrong about it. And, for years after the Cold war ended, Democrats did a political dance to disassociate themselves from the policies they had long urged — for “peaceful coexistence” and “strategic equivalence” with the Soviet Union, which was correctly described by Ronald Reagan as the “evil empire.”

In short, Republicans won big and Democrats lost big in the battle for Cold War national security policy primacy.

As a footnote, where did all the liberal Democrats who urged conciliation and accommodation with the Soviet Union go after the Cold War? Did they do a policy walk of shame? No. Proven wrong, most slunk back into academics and liberal think tanks, only to emerge after 2008, some as high level appointees in the Obama administration. In fact, many of the dangerous “new” arms control policies we’re now hearing from the Obama administration, such as the CTBT and abandoning the “no first use” policy, come straight from the Carter administration.

The Sept. 11 attacks changed us forever. Looking back, however, one wonders why the first attempt to blow up the twin towers in 1993 wasn’t taken seriously by the Clinton administration — instead, they treated this strategic attack as a law enforcement matter. This despite evidence that it was inspired by the same Middle East terror factions that were behind the Sept. 11 attacks a few years later.

Responding to Sept. 11, the George W. Bush administration quickly began its primary policy focus, but on Iraq, and based mainly on the alleged “WMD” programs there — this despite there being no direct relationship between Iraq and the Sept. 11 attacks. And, there was no national outcry to hold Iraq responsible as the perpetrators of Sept. 11 — this because most of the suicide attackers were Saudis.

In this same context, we should also recall that the existence of Iraq WMD programs was called a “slam dunk” by the CIA director; and that Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a convincing and impassioned presentation to the U.N. on Iraq WMD. Mr. Powell, while perhaps not a classic neocon, has been attempting to “walk back” his U.N. speech (and support for the Iraq invasion) ever since the WMD turned out not to be there, and the Iraq War turned to dirt. Then, of course — and demonstrating his fickle political loyalty — Mr. Powell endorsed Mr. Obama in 2008, but then only after it was clear that Mr. Obama would win.

But the Colin Powell part of this story is minor — even though Mr. Powell has also personally attacked Donald Trump, as have a bunch of other so-called “Republican national security experts,” including some high ranking ones, e.g., Bob Gates with the latest personal shot. And don’t forget that the Bushes have collectively stiffed Mr. Trump as well.

Many neocons also pressed the Iraq WMD case to Congress, and were big supporters of Ahmad Chalabi, now deceased, who wanted to replace the Baathist regime of Saddam with one that was more oil friendly — and profitable — for his supporters in the United States. Others have suggested that Chalabi was simply an Iranian agent who supplied the United States with fabricated information on the Iraq WMD program.

Could it be that Shiite Iran was really behind — through Ahmad Chalabi — the U.S. invading Sunni Iraq?

When you list the so-called “national security Republicans” who have signed letters and statements against Mr. Trump, you see that many, if not most of them were also advocates for the Iraq war, or supporters/advocates of Chalibi. And, don’t forget that the neocons are Democrats anyway — so if some are also now declaring for Hillary, it should surprise no one — anymore than Mr. Powell endorsing Mr. Obama in 2008.

So the reason they don’t like Mr. Trump is very simple: Mr. Trump doesn’t accept the idea that you can’t criticize a big national security policy decision most everyone agreed with if it was wrong. And invading Iraq as a strategic response to Sept. 11 was wrong — staying there for years with a so-called “democracy” mission was worse, pushing Iraq into chaos.

And Mr. Trump is not afraid to say it — so, tell me, who has the “thin skin” in Washington?

Daniel Gallington served as an arms control negotiator during the Reagan administration and writes about national security.

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