Neocon Princelings Kristol, Kagan Split on Egypt

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.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. And while these two factions of the same mindset go about their bluster, people are dying over there. Something is very wrong when these Neocons seem to split apart in this manner. In fact, when it comes to other peoples money, this Government needs a real wake-up call, pull the plug on the aid to every M.E. country, especially Israel. There seems to be more than enough wealthy Israeli firsters who can support Israel without the help of the American taxpayer, as well as those other countries too. So far, the only reward that the U.S. has received from doing so, including supporting Israel, is a failed M.E. policy, costing $$$ and lives in treasure, not to mention all the civilian causalities/infrastructure destroyed by such involvement in the various M.E. countries in the quest to satisfy these warmongers.

  2. So now we have Neocons who favor cutting aid and Neocons who want to cut aid.

    Breat – watch them OWN both sides of the debate while working for the same Israeli principles – namely, to use whichever course of action we take and GAME that to the max

    Full spectrum dominance of the discussion – twisting whichever way we go to Israeli advantage

  3. No neo-conservative will be against more war, more killing, and more violence, not for long. I’m sure Kagan will come around. After all, is it right for us to try and deny the Egyptians the “creative destruction” which helped so much in Iraq. Kagan probably doesn’t think the Egyptian troops can destruct as creatively as US troops.

    But then I guess when you turn out to be so right about things, like the WMDs in Iraq, and the benefits of a War on Iraq, it’s only right that everybody looks to your advice.

  4. I will never understand why Obama didn’t understand that unless he repudiated the Bush doctrines and policies, and cleaned the Bush corruption and criminality out of the military and intelligence that he, Obama will end up to be the fall guy, the guy holding the bag, and the scapegoat for all the Bush crimes.
    Obama is a real prize chump if he thinks the same military which so eagerly embraced and facilitated all the Bush crimes is interested in anything but the increasing chaos which prevents accounting.

  5. With all due respect, of course “neoconservatives” appear incoherent in message and ideology–they’ve always been about pretending to care about U.S interests in the region, while really only working on Israel’s.

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