Now (Robert) Kagan Pivots, Too

by Jim Lobe

As predicted, Bob Kagan follows in Kristol’s wake. Afghanistan is so passé; it’s clearly time to focus on Iran. Check out the last paragraph in his column in Sunday’s Washington Post — specifically, the order in which the problems facing Obama are presented, and then the singling out of Iran:

“It is only natural that President Obama should respond to unexpected or shifting circumstances by reevaluating his approach. Events in Iran, Afghanistan or China do not occur in isolation. You cannot expect a president to escalate a war without it affecting his broader attitude toward the questions of war and peace. You cannot expect Iran’s spurning of his good-faith offer to have no effect on his broader perception of the strategy of engagement. For Obama, as for all of us, these events, these decisions and these lessons affect our broader perceptions and understandings, about the way the world works and about America’s proper role in the world. Obama’s current understanding was on display at Oslo last week. People at home and abroad should take notice.”

The neo-cons clearly see a great opportunity in Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan and the follow-up of the Nobel speech in Oslo. They’re trying hard to re-establish alliances they made with liberal interventionists in and around Bill Clinton and the Balkans in the 1990s by appealing to that “great tradition of hawkish Democrats fighting wars both hot and cold: Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy, as well as that one-time Democrat, Ronald Reagan.” (Make sure you read Kristol’s and Fred Kagan’s editorial in the December 14 Weekly Standard, “Support the President.”)

Also, note this curious passage in an article in last week’s Newsweek about McCain and Obama, in which (Bob) Kagan argues that McCain (to whom Kagan is a top foreign policy adviser) has become critical to keeping Republicans behind the president’s Afghanistan policy:

Just as many Democrats supported the Iraq War before it became a disaster, then regarded it as “Bush’s war,” many Republicans will surely be determined to make Afghanistan “Obama’s war” if things get worse. Both (Sen.) Graham and Robert Kagan, a former McCain adviser and senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, think the administration hasn’t done enough to reach out to McCain. “I’m not sure the Obama administration realizes how close the Republican Party has come to just going into direct and total opposition to [White House policy on] Afghanistan, and just saying it’s Obama’s war,” Kagan says. “And I would say that McCain has singlehandedly held the line against that.”

So, it’s not just flattery the neo-cons are using to try to gain influence with the administration. There’s also the implication that Obama needs them (and McCain) to keep the Republicans in line on key foreign-policy issues.

This is very reminiscent of the mid- to late-1990’s when the neo-cons were battling what they saw as isolationism among Republicans and offered critical support to Clinton’s interventionism. Of course, that was the same period in which McCain himself evolved from a cautious realist into a gung-ho interventionist, thus winning the support of most neo-cons for his candidacy in the 2000 race for the Republican presidential nomination.

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. Makes sense; as the tried and tested methods of Iraq invasion of the neo-cons are being employed again. An “alarming” and “part of a body of evidence backing up deep concerns over Iran’s nuclear program,” which “a Western diplomatic source with knowledge of the papers told CNN on Monday (14 December)” can be far wrong. Particularly since the Times of London has also got hold of a copy of this secret report which IAEA has.

    Since Tony Blair, the junior member of the Iraqi WMD syndicate has come out and declared only the other day that WMD or not “he would have bombed Iraq anyway”, why not cut the charade and just go ahead and bomb Iran. Though, the UK does not seem to be in a position, politically, logistically and, above all, financially act this time round to provide a veneer of respectability and international support this time round. So the US has to do it alone while criticizing the Obama administration to notch up huge budget deficits.

  2. The question is: will Obama take the bait? I’m waiting to see if he’s more clever by half than his newfound friends in the neocon camp — will he use the cred they’ve bestowed on him to pull a Nixon (or something like it) with Iran? The next two years should be interesting.

  3. I agree w ithyou Jon, it’s down to Obama. Lets hope he makes the right choice, I don’t envy his position! Nice blog by the way!

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