Now, though, it’s apparently unacceptable to the hawkish faction to have anyone involved in an important role in the Romney campaign who isn’t 100% “reliable” on foreign policy question. Zoellick, after all, was also part of that Bush transition team and part of the Bush Administration; was also on-board with the signature neoconservative project; is, by any measure, a perfectly mainstream figure within right-wing foreign policy circles as they have been understood not over the broad sweep of history, but over just the past decade. But he’s beyond the pale.
That is panic, and to me, it speaks of weakness. Intellectual weakness, but also institutional weakness. These are people who expect to be betrayed. They are getting louder and more vehement in response.
I’m not sure what institutional weakness Noah perceives here. At some level, all activists fear and worry about betrayal by the politicians they support, and Romney is one of the least trustworthy politicians alive. If Romney were going to betray them, for whose sake would he be betraying them? If they expected to be betrayed, why would they go out of their way to pick public fights with the campaign? They throw these fits every so often to remind Romney of the boundaries between what they will and won’t tolerate. They have to keep giving him cues, because even now he isn’t always familiar with their preoccupations, and because they know that Romney isn’t going to throw them overboard. He never seems to satisfy them because they keep raising the bar of what they demand from him, and he keeps trying to meet the new demands. What appears at first to be a panic is an episode of laying down a marker or issuing a new demand.
Another way to look at the backlash against Zoellick’s admittedly limited role in the Romney campaign is to think about how hard-line neoconservatives view Condi Rice now. Everything Noah says about Zoellick here could be said about Rice, too. She was in many respects much more closely involved in the
decision to invade Iraq. They have enough objections to how she conducted herself as Secretary of State that it doesn’t matter that she was closely connected to the first-term Bush foreign policy that they supported. She was perceived as being instrumental in Bush’s second-term foreign policy that they saw as too accommodating, and they consider the direction of Bush’s second term to have been mistaken. For her part, Rice got on the wrong side of neoconservatives by being too supportive of diplomatic engagement with North Korea and too supportive of Palestinian elections. This is one reason why many neoconservatives were adamant in rejecting Rice as a running mate whenever the idea cropped up.
During the second Bush term, new litmus tests were applied. Chief among these was support for the “surge.” That is what separated partisan and ideological loyalists from the rest. At one time not that long ago, Chuck Hagel was considered “a perfectly mainstream figure within right-wing foreign policy circles,” but his criticism of the “surge” led to his becoming persona non grata in the GOP in a matter of months. The point is that Hagel never posed much of a threat to the “surge” or to neoconservative influence inside the GOP, but he had dissented publicly and had to be attacked accordingly. Even at the nadir of the Iraq war, these people were busily purging and denouncing skeptics. What I called the Zoellick panic is just another example of the same thing.