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Hillary’s Neoconservatives

The Hillary Clinton campaign has recently been trumpeting endorsements from neoconservatives. The candidate’s embrace of figures such as Robert Kagan, Max Boot, and Eliot Cohen—all once regarded as anathema to the contemporary left—has engendered a wave of pushback from progressive critics.

Jane Sanders, wife of Bernie, is the most recent high-profile objector, publicly expressing [1] queasiness about Clinton’s perceived allying with “architects of regime change.” Now, predictably, the pushback has been met with its own pushback, including from Brian Beutler of The New Republic [2], who cautions progressives not to fret.

“There is no evidence yet—none—that conservative figures with blemished records are rehabilitating their reputations by endorsing Clinton, or that Clinton is cozying up to new advisers, or that together they’re doing anything other than insuring against the risk of a Trump victory,” writes Beutler. Progressive skeptics of military interventionism, he posits, should take solace in the fact that despite her repeated entreaties to neoconservatives, Hillary has tangibly offered them and other bad actors “squat.” So there’s no reason, according to Beutler, to fear that they would exercise any meaningful influence in a Clinton administration. But this framing fundamentally misunderstands how neoconservatives customarily build networks and attain power.

Because their political program has virtually no support among large blocs of voters, neoconservatives have historically been forced to forge coalitions with other movements. Often their ostensible affinities are only tangential. It was not a given, for instance, that neoconservative intellectuals should have had any mutual goals with Evangelical Christians or diehard American nationalists. But they nevertheless fostered partnerships with these groups in the late 1970s and early 1980s, figuring (correctly) that this path would eventually lead them to positions of state authority.

By building what Beutler calls a “permission structure” prominently featuring neoconservatives, Hillary need not make any explicit “offer” to confer upon them tangible benefit. (By the way, what form would an explicit “offer” even take? A press release announcing formal cooperation?) Rather, she provides neoconservatives with an opening to ingratiate themselves into power merely by welcoming them into her prospective governing coalition. Evidence that their catastrophic failures have been forgiven can be seen in the uncritical adulation showered on Kagan, Boot, Cohen, and similar operators by the liberal media, suggesting that their blemished reputations are undergoing undeserved rehabilitation.

Furthermore, Beutler errs in asserting that there is no evidence of Clinton “cozying up to new advisers” who might envisage a role for themselves in a future administration. Kagan has given Hillary not only rhetorical praise, but material support—he even headlined an official campaign fundraiser [3] on her behalf. Foreign-policy analyst Jim Lobe has suggested [4] that Kagan is most likely angling for a job with Clinton.

Kagan, who not so long ago was denounced by liberal Iraq War opponents, co-signed [5] a June report with Michèle Flournoy—the likely candidate for defense secretary under Clinton—calling for escalated U.S. military presence in Syria, a policy that could lead to all-out ground war or direct confrontation with Russia. So it seems he may already be on Clinton’s hawkish team in waiting.

Few reputable critics would argue that Hillary is herself a neoconservative. Far more plausible is that she’ll enable the implementation of a neoconservative foreign-policy agenda by casting the neoconservatives’ goals in liberal-interventionist terms, thus garnering Democratic support for initiatives that would face widespread opposition were they spearheaded by a Republican president. Lobe has written [6] that Hillary represents “the point of convergence between liberal interventionism … and neoconservatism,” and Hillary’s willingness to empower a foreign-policy establishment featuring neoconservatives shows that they have in fact received concrete reputational benefit from lining up behind her.


Hillary may operate on the premise that anything that might conceivably garner her additional votes is justified on that basis alone. Yet even on that premise, heralding neoconservative ideologues doesn’t make sense. Again, neoconservatives have virtually no support in the electorate, as the recent Republican primary contest indicated. Their base is mostly among elites. Beyond that, there’s a serious chance that continuing to tout these people will actually damage her electoral fortunes by alienating left-wing voters who might be cajoled into voting for the Democratic ticket, but can’t countenance the possibility of ushering the Iraq-invasion architects of the George W. Bush era back into power.

So if there’s no obvious electoral upside, the most likely reason why Hillary is reaching out to such characters is a deceptively simple one: she shares common interests with them, respects their supposed expertise, and wants to bring them into her governing coalition. For that, anyone interested in a sane foreign policy over the next eight years should be exceedingly worried.

Michael Tracey is a journalist based in New York City.

25 Comments (Open | Close)

25 Comments To "Hillary’s Neoconservatives"

#1 Comment By Chris Travers On August 19, 2016 @ 4:53 am

There’s another side to this also.

Trump has, effectively, pushed the GOP establishment to the margins. The best place they can go for power is now the Democratic Party. Clinton thus also represents the point of convergence generally between the Democratic Party establishment and the GOP Establishment.

I think it is for this reason that Clinton will almost certainly win in November. But the power vacuum the Trump campaign will leave will lead to a total transformation of American politics in 2020.

#2 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 19, 2016 @ 7:36 am

I guess trying explicate the machinations of advocates of needless interventions is fun fair.

She reality as describe is that she is a “neoconservative”. All rhetorical defense claiming she is not simply ignores the simple observation that:

One need not cozy up to anyone once joined at the hip.

#3 Comment By Johann On August 19, 2016 @ 9:36 am

There has always been little difference between the neoconservatives and the neoliberals/responsibility to protect/liberal interventionists people. They are two sides of the same coin. Both are disingenuous in their foreign policy objectives and have had both parties covered now for decades. Nothing new here.

#4 Comment By connecticut farmer On August 19, 2016 @ 10:49 am

Excellent and timely article, which should be read in conjunction with Robert Merry’s article in The National Interest which details the Clinton Administration’s bombing of Yugoslavia and corresponding expansion of NATO to the point where we are now at loggerheads with, of all countries, Russia– militarily the second most powerful country on earth with over seven thousand nuclear tipped missiles, some possibly with our name on them.

“Exceedingly worried?” You bet I am!

#5 Comment By Three Parantheses On August 19, 2016 @ 12:42 pm

Meh. Every few decades it’s time for a reshuffle. The Dems lost the Dixie vote after the 1960s and the religious vote after the 1980s-90s. The Republicans similarly lost the black vote after Goldwater et al. People in the Congress change seats all the time. It’s all in the game.

#6 Comment By No fan of neocons On August 19, 2016 @ 2:38 pm

One point not mentioned that supports Michael’s analysis, Hillary features prominent neocons in her latest commercial testifying how “dangerous” a Trump Presidency would be that has echoes of Cheney’s mushroom cloud scare tactics in the run up to the Iraq war.

#7 Comment By Franz Liebkind On August 19, 2016 @ 3:23 pm

Few reputable critics would argue that Hillary is herself a neoconservative. Far more plausible is that she’ll enable the implementation of a neoconservative foreign-policy agenda by casting the neoconservatives’ goals in liberal-interventionist terms . . . .

Jim Lobe’s analysis aside, what precisely is the practical difference–in execution rather than ostensible motivation–between a liberal interventionist and a neoconservative? I increasingly fail to discern it.

#8 Comment By Chris Chuba On August 19, 2016 @ 4:49 pm

There is no distinction between a Neocon and a Liberal interventionist except for their nominal party affiliation. Ideologically they are the same, Pax Americana.

Someone mentioned that Hillary is the establishment candidate, true. Well Trump is the 3rd party candidate. I never expected him to lock up the Wall Street Journal crowd. I just hope he cleans up his act and runs a decent campaign from now until Nov. to make it interesting.

#9 Comment By long live the king On August 19, 2016 @ 4:55 pm

Seems treacherous on its face. But seen in a larger context, it isn’t treachery at all, really. Many neoconservatives were Democrats before becoming Republicans. Now they’re Democrats again. They obviously feel they owe no loyalty to any political party, and given the damage they’ve done to American interests, it’s reasonable to assume they feel no loyalty to America either. Their only real, abiding loyalty is to Israel’s Likud Party. That is the one constant, so that they should hop from one host to another as Likud’s needs and priorities shift is to be expected.

#10 Comment By Gitta On August 19, 2016 @ 8:48 pm

Of course she shares ideology with neoconservatives, she’s always been one at heart, but would never have been elected as a Republican. What she’s really after now is their money.

#11 Comment By Frank Lettucebee On August 20, 2016 @ 12:50 am

“Few reputable critics would argue that Hillary is herself a neoconservative. Far more plausible is that she’ll enable the implementation of a neoconservative foreign-policy agenda by casting the neoconservatives’ goals in liberal-interventionist terms”

People forget that Hillary grew up a proud Republican in a proud Republican family. Hilary was a proud and ardent Goldwater Girl.

If she had never met Bill Clinton, she would have remained a proud Republican her whole life.

Bill and his triangulation strategy in his second term was a surrender and implementation of right wing policies and goals in liberal-interventionist terms”

In earlier times, before conservative parties and movements were taken over by the reactionary, radical, rabid right, both Bill and Hilary would have found their natural home in the Republican party. Hilary has never stopped being a Goldwater Girl

In terms of foreign policy, Hilary has been solely a neocon since her teens.

It as Goldwater who boasted,”I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!”

Hard to be more neocon than that.

#12 Comment By richard vajs On August 20, 2016 @ 10:33 am

Hillary is the consummate “careerist”. She, like many other “Baby Boomer”, intelligent women is used to being the “bright, young one in the office” and receive all of their emotional rewards being such. And Oh what a career enhancement being POTUS would be – the perfect thing to put on one’s resumee. In every move in their life, nothing matters more to a careerist. As examples: who has the “juice” – the Israelis or the Palestinians? Who has more money – Wall Street or Ghetto Street? Ghetto Street has the votes, but once spent has nothing to attract careerists. Who has a bigger audience – Chris Hedges or Henry Kissinger? The careerist judges every situation on its possibilities to help them.
People like Hillary have no deep thoughts other than advancing their careers. The careerist will instinctively use anyone and anything to burnish their credentials. Other than that, they are hollow and totally phoney . Time spent analyzing their “real” motives is wasted.

#13 Comment By Agent76 On August 20, 2016 @ 11:06 am

Jun 29, 2016 Neoconservatives Endorse Hillary Clinton for President Because They Know She’s One of Them

Neoconservatives like Iraq warmonger Robert Kagan aren’t endorsing Hillary Clinton for president merely because they want rid of Donald Trump, but because she’s one of them, writes Trevor Timm at The Guardian.


#14 Comment By Hexexis On August 20, 2016 @ 1:43 pm

“architects of regime change.”

Need anyone be reminded that these include Pres. Bill Clinton (Iraq Liberation Act 1998) & old guard neoncon bailiwick Iraq Study Group & its duplicitous poster boy Chalabi?

#15 Comment By DonCHi On August 20, 2016 @ 2:27 pm

“Few reputable critics would argue that Hillary is herself a neoconservative.”

So I’m disreputable then, by your standards? Ok. Feels kind of good, actually. I’m going to own it.

#16 Comment By David Jones On August 20, 2016 @ 11:18 pm

From my experience, most Leftists and most “conservatives” have no idea what neo-conservatism means. All they have to do is have a Democratic president, and they seem to fall into a coma when it comes to anti war activism.

#17 Comment By HP On August 21, 2016 @ 8:13 am

In the words of the great conservative philosopher Confucius:

Tsze-lu said, “The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?”

The Master replied, “What is necessary is to rectify names.” “So! indeed!” said Tsze-lu. “You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?”

The Master said, “How uncultivated you are, Yu! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve.

“If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success.

“When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music do not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know how to move hand or foot.

“Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.”

The word “neo-conservatism” is incorrect. Neo-conservatives are the modern representatives of an old strand of Enlightenment thought which ruined France by pushing it to war with the rest of Europe in the vain hope of “liberating” it. If you want to really understand the neocons, study the First French Republic.

#18 Comment By Procopius On August 21, 2016 @ 9:11 am

I don’t understand the difference between a “liberal interventionist” and a “neoconservative.” Especially when the “liberal interventionist” has so openly advanced the neoconservative agenda. Who approved the coup in Ukraine? Who promoted Victoria Nuland?

#19 Comment By Hon. Schoolboy On August 21, 2016 @ 10:47 am

How dare anyone question neoconservative loyalty to the GOP? A grave libel indeed.

A Republican neocon who advocates and works for Hillary Clinton is no more disloyal to his party than one who advocates and works for Israel is disloyal to America. Or than a man who commits adultery is disloyal to his wife.

#20 Comment By jim On August 21, 2016 @ 11:11 am

Total Bunk — Hillary is a hard core Neo-Con, possibly more insane than Dick Cheney. According to reports she actually transferred chemical weapons to radical Islamists in Syria to use against civilians. She did this to force her President into a war with Syria. She also tried to do an end-run against the President and force an open war with Iran — all in coordination with her Neo-Con friends,

#21 Comment By Clint On August 21, 2016 @ 4:55 pm

Robert Scheer, February 2007,
“Hillary Clinton is not a peace candidate. She is an unrepentant hawk, à la Joe Lieberman. She believed invading Iraq was a good idea, all available evidence to the contrary, and she has, once again, made it clear that she still does.”

#22 Comment By A Secret History On August 22, 2016 @ 9:45 pm

“I don’t understand the difference between a “liberal interventionist” and a “neoconservative.””

Your confusion is understandable, Procopius. Their effects are nearly indistinguishable, and they have nearly equal contempt for the lives and values of real Americans. It is the motivation that sets them apart.

Liberal interventionist: someone who advocates invading foreign countries, killing thousands of brown people, putting American troops in harm’s way, and squandering trillions of dollars in order to make the world safe for abortion, pornography, and gay marriage.

Neoconservative: someone who advocates invading foreign countries, killing tens of thousands of brown people, putting American troops in harm’s way, and squandering trillions of dollars in order to make the world safe for Israel.

#23 Comment By Mary On August 22, 2016 @ 10:01 pm

It is worth noting that Robert Kagan is married to Victoria Nuland.

#24 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 23, 2016 @ 5:44 am

‘I don’t understand the difference between a “liberal interventionist” and a “neoconservative.”


party affiliation.

#25 Comment By The Windhover On August 24, 2016 @ 10:24 am

Liberal interventionists and neoconservatives found common cause in hatred and fear of Islam.

It has been a highly successful collaboration. They’ve basically destabilized and/or wrecked the entire Muslim Middle East. Toss in the destruction of the ancient orthodox Christian communities as a kind of bonus.

#26 Comment By Chuck Long On September 14, 2016 @ 1:30 am

I’m trying to think of a war that Hillary ever opposed from the outset, and I’m having a tough go of it.