Palin’s Future and Neocon Rifts

By way of a follow up on Marsha’s post, I thought I’d expand on some tidbits of coverage as former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin teeters between Tea Bagger and neocon patsy — and what it might mean for the newly-invigorated Republican Party’s foreign policy.

The article on Palin in Saturday’s New York Times caught my eye. The main gist of the story is raising questions about what’s next for Palin, who has, according to the report, carved out a comfortable niche for herself. She’s got the pulpit and the money without having to bother with elections or governing.

But buried deep in the story, we got a quick glimpse of some neoconservative rifts developing over Palin.

During the race two years ago, one of Palin’s foreign policy advisers was Randy Scheunemann. Scheunemann was on loan from the broader McCain campaign, where, like in John McCain’s first presidential run in 2000, he held a senior foreign policy post. As the campaign staff fractured — and Palin went “rogue” — Scheunemann was the Palin aide who fired back publicly against disparaging leaks about Palin from McCain headquarters.

In Saturday’s Times article, we learn that Scheunemann is among a small staff that delivers daily briefings to Palin on matters of domestic and foreign policy (Scheunemann almost certainly handles the latter). The advisers surely keep Palin abreast of circumstances in order to prepare her for lucrative speaking tours and her appearances on Fox News (for which Fox constructed a mini-studio in Palin’s Wasilla, AK, home).

It seems Mr. Scheunemann is still firmly in Palin’s camp.

However, in the same article, another one of Palin’s biggest neoconservative boosters, Bill Kristol, went public with a criticism of her:

“I’m disappointed by her endorsement of [Rand] Paul,” said William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard and one of the conservatives credited with “discovering” Ms. Palin in 2007. “But they always disappoint you.”

It’s out of character for Kristol, who constructs political messages with scrupulous care, to publicly bash one of his horses — in the pages of his former employer (and evil liberal elitist media), no less. Kristol was right there with George W. Bush until that position became totally untenable.

And Kristol is credited with discovering Palin and pushing for her slot on the McCain ticket, and has since been a staunch supporter. Why this break?

For Kristol, the appeal of someone like Palin, and Bush before her, is their malleability on foreign policy.  With Sarah Palin’s propensity for “going rogue,” one has to wonder if Kristol is not concerned about her doing the same to the neocons. To wit: That’s exactly what happened with her endorsement of Rand Paul.

Paul, the son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the isolationist par-excellence of the libertarian right who has his own problems with the neocons, has taken a page from his father’s foreign policy book in the race for a Senate seat in Kentucky. Check out Paul the younger’s foreign policy campaign website (well, labeled as “National Defense,” anyway, because it seems Paul’s foreign policy is limited to trashing and defunding the U.N. and Bretton Woods institutions). There you’ll find a video where Paul says he would not have supported the war on Iraq. Now, that’s no way to make friends with Bill Kristol and his lot!

The story is one of the continuing rifts that are tearing apart the Republican Party — at least in, but not limited to, foreign policy. The Tea Baggers (cum quasi-isolationists) on one side and the neoconservatives on the other. It’s a debate that already played out in the 1980s — most notably with John McCain. In 2000, before Bush and Karl Rove’s reprehensible South Carolina push-polls sunk McCain’s candidacy, he was the top choice of neo-conservatives. McCain had, by that time, largely drifted from his post-Vietnam isolationism of the 1980s and early ’90s into an aggressive interventionist posturing — neocon territory, in other words.

Now it looks like the battle is playing out again. And the darling of the neocons, Palin, is caught in the middle. With her new comfort, however, she might not be running for office again. And if she spends her time endorsing the likes of Rand Paul, I’d say the Billy Kristols of the world will certainly be disappointed.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



  1. At least the Republicans have a non-interventionist foreign policy sect. If only the Democrats were so lucky. What Democrat has broached the issue of qualifying our support of Israel, support for Habeas Corpus, civil rights, right to exo-uterine privacy, serious restraint of the Pentagon, and drug legalization?

    I live in Texas and refuse to vote for the duopoly so I typically vote Libertarian–the greens and other lefty groups aren’t typically even on the ballot here. I appreciated Ron Paul’s gathering each leader of the 5 third parties in 2008. They all agreed on the issues I listed above along with 70% of Americans on most of these.

  2. The outstanding point in this article is that fact the Palin, like Bush the Younger, is “malleable” on foreign policy matters. This, obviously, appeals to neocons like Kristol. However, I can assure you Sarah Palin will never be elected president. She will run, I think, and I can conceive of circumstances under which she secures the Republican nomination. But she won’t be elected.

    Don’t overestimate divisions within Republican ranks. The Pauls libertarian ideology has long been marginalized within the party. Most libertarians (a tiny minority to begin with) left or turned away from the Republican Party in disgust over the two Bushes. Bush the Younger actually enacted some big left-wing domestic initiatives (No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D), while fighting “Democrat wars” abroad and restricting civil liberties at home. Almost everything he did was anathema to libertarians (with the exception of the “paleolibertarians” who supported Iraq, etc,).

    Ron Paul uses the Republican Party machinery to get elected. Libertarians generally (including the small “L” variety) are as disaffected from the Republican Party of today as they are from the Democrats.

    Only if the Tea Partiers turn isolationist will Palin face a dilemma. Otherwise, she will simply follow the Kristol line. Even if at some point the Republican Party falls into the Tea Partiers’ hands, I see no problem for Sarah. To what extent libertarians could work with Tea Party Republicans is unclear at this time. But Sarah still wouldn’t be caught in the middle, for libertarians would only return to the Party if it became truly libertarian in ideology. And I seriously doubt that a truly libertarian party would nominate Sarah.

  3. Your questioning where the tea-partiers are on foreign policy goes to what I was saying. While I agree that the isolationist are marginalized in the GOP at least they are an identified block. However, that position is lampooned with their dismissal.

    You Jon, strike me as sympathetic to isolationism too, as is another real world John friend who lost his anger at terrorists and just wants to bring everyone home. I probably fit there too, via a libertarian cynicism that whatever we do will either have unintended consequences if not nefarious outright ends.

    Yet this very popular stance has little political representation. That, I believe is because isolationism isn’t profitable for any firm, so who’s to lobby for it? It is one of these positions that only helps the American taxpayer/citizen, but no one that any politico will push for.

    Again, I think the majority of Americans agree with you. Yet, there’s no elected politician short of Kuccinich who actively supports peace. What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?

  4. I’m not sure a majority of Americans support “isolationism.” Look at the polling data on whether we should attack Iran to keep it from getting the bomb.

    I actually would not call myself an isolationist. On the national security front, I believe in countering real threats to American security. Now, what constitutes a real threat? Nazi Germany was a real threat. The Soviet Union was a real threat (though I think it tragic that the budding detente of 1963 was aborted by JFK’s death). States like Saddam’s Iraq or today’s Iran are NOT threats to the security of the American people. We make our own problems when it comes to countries like these.

    I definitely want the United States to have the most powerful Navy and Air Force on earth. I also believe we should maintain a small but very efficient Army and Marine Corps. How did Gibbon put it? “The emperors maintained peace by a constant preparation for war.” So should we. That doesn’t mean, however, that we need bases in 130 countries (or whatever the number is), or that we should be intervening in areas that are of no consequence to the well-being of the American people. Take Korea (please). South Korea has twice the population and 30 or 40 times the GDP of the North. Three major powers (China, Russia, Japan) are Korea’s immediate neighbors. Why then must the American people spend a dime or a drop of blood on the place?

    I’m very much our against having an empire, which I think is bringing us to ruin, but I favor engaging with the world through trade, tourism, cultural exchanges, etc. We can only be enriched by engaging in these ways with other cultures.

    Terrorism is largely the spawn of our Palestine policy going back to 1948, as well as some other unfortunate events like Iran, 1953. Unfortunately, it appears no government can be elected in America that will undertake to do the things that would defuse the terrorist imperative. Therfore I see no alternative to continuing the so-called War on Terror. I suppport what Obama is doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan. On the other hand, I’m very disturbed by what the WOT is doing to our freedoms at home. But unless we can get a government that isn’t in effect a tool of Israel, we will, I fear, remain caught in this dilemma. I frankly see no way out at this point.

    I write for a libertarian magazine, and certainly I adhere to aspects of libertarian philosophy. But I’m a pragmatist first and foremost. One thing I learned long ago is that NO ideology or set of principles can meet every problem or answer every question. Ideologies, religions, political programs are human creations, and for that reason are, inevitably, flawed to a greater or lesser extent. That so many people fail to realize this is a primary cause of human misery.

Comments are closed.