by Jim Lobe
A short item just to note that Bill Kristol, in a Sunday appearance on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopolous”, crystallized (shall we say) the internal split among neoconservatives over how to react to the military coup and subsequent repression against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Breaking with his fellow-neoconservative princeling, Robert Kagan (with whom he co-founded the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) and its successor, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), Kristol came out against cutting military aid to Egypt. Here’s the relevant exchange:
Stephanopoulos: Bill Kristol: one country that has not said [this was a coup and aid should be cut] is Israel. Israel, ironically, actually wants to keep the aid flowing.
Kristol: Well, I think they prefer the military to rule to the Muslim Brotherhood ruling. And I think an awful lot of people in the region prefer that. You know, an awful lot of the Arab governments prefer it. And it’s not clear to me that we shouldn’t prefer it.
So I’m a little — I’m — most of my friends in the foreign policy world are for cutting off aid. I’m much more uncertain about it at this point. I mean, this is a trigger we can only pull once. You can only cut off the aid once. And what’s the point of — what would happen concretely? What better thing is going to happen in Egypt or in the region if, tomorrow morning, the president got on TV and said we’re cutting off the aid?
I’m very doubtful about that, and I think there’s a lot we can do with our relationship with the Egyptian military that will be harder to do once we cut off the aid.
Of course, in referring to his friends, Kristol no doubt had Kagan in mind. For his part, Kagan, who has been by far the most outspoken neoconservative calling for an aid cut-off — even to the extent of accusing Washington of being “complicit” in the massacres that have taken place over the last two weeks — had just signed off on a statement last Friday by the “Working Group on Egypt” (which he co-chairs with Michele Dunne of the Atlantic Council) calling on Obama to immediately suspend military aid to Egypt and stating that a failure to do so would be a “strategic error.” The same statement called for Washington to use its influence to block funding by international financial agencies until the interim government reverses course. In addition to a number of liberal internationalists, other neocons who signed the statement included Elliott Abrams, Ellen Bork, and Reuel Marc Gerecht.
It’s a remarkable moment when the two arguably most influential neocons of their generation disagree so clearly about something as fundamental to US Middle East policy, Israel and democracy promotion. They not only co-founded PNAC and the FPI; in 1996, they also co-authored “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy” in Foreign Affairs, which among other things, advocated “benevolent global hegemony” as the role that Washington should play in the post-Cold War era. But they now appear to have a fundamental disagreement about how that benevolence should be exercised in a strategically significant nation which is also important to Israel’s security.
Of course, this disagreement highlights once again the fact that democracy promotion is not a core principle of neoconservatism. It also suggests that the movement itself is becoming increasingly incoherent from an ideological point of view. Granted, Kagan considers himself a strategic thinker on the order of a Kissinger or Brzezinski, while Kristol is much more caught up in day-to-day Republican politics and consistently appears to align his views on the Middle East with those of the Republican Jewish Coalition and the Likud-led Israeli Government. But what is especially interesting at this moment is the fact that Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham — both leaders of what could be called the neoconservative faction of the Republican Party — are moving into Kagan’s camp.