Bret Stephens claims that they are, and as evidence for this claim he offers an anecdote about an anonymous French writer who has found Obama’s foreign policy underwhelming and has somehow concluded that neoconservatives have “returned.” It is worth noting that this anecdote is all that Stephens has to back up his argument that “the world” finds Obama’s approach wanting and is “casting around for an alternative.”
It is not at all clear that neoconservatives have “returned” in any way, and it seems highly unlikely that many people overseas are now craving the firm smack of incompetent warmongering that the neocons can offer. To a large extent, the neocons never went anywhere in domestic policy and political debates. This is because there has not been any accountability in either the foreign policy community or the conservative movement for their colossal failures and misjudgments. That said, they are not exactly riding high, either. Neocons continue to be taken far too seriously and they continue to have access to a great many media outlets, but for the most part they have been leading the Republican Party’s charge into spluttering irrelevance on foreign policy. Having destroyed the party’s political fortunes with the war in Iraq, they seem intent on sinking the party even deeper into the ditch into which it has crashed. If this is a “return,” I wonder what decline looks like.
One of the problems the GOP and the conservative movement has had over the last several years is the retreat inside their own echo chambers, in which they keep repeating the same nonsense to themselves and reinforcing all of their false assumptions. The foreign policy cocooning seems the worst to me, but the stagnation and persistence in error we see in most Republican foreign policy arguments are functions of the larger intellectual collapse on the right. Stephens’ op-ed is one example of this. The world is not looking for an alternative to Obama at the moment, but Stephens simply asserts that it is because a foreigner (a Frenchman, no less!) pitched a counterintuitive idea for a column to him. This assertion is similar to the repeated claims made by Iraq hawks throughout 2006 and after that the public had not turned against the war when it clearly had. It is understandable that ideologues feel compelled to ignore reality, because it almost never fits their predetermined schemes, but when they are reduced to making things up out of thin air they have reached a new depth of desperation.
So Stephens claims that the world is turning against Obama at a time when it is doing no such thing. Just days before this Republican hawks were outraged at what a warm reception Obama had the U.N. Aziz has noticed the incoherence:
One need only look at Republican bastion Redstate.com for evidence that the GOP is unserious on foreign policy, such as this typically incoherent argument that wanting America to be respected around the world is a “leftist delusion” while simultaneously blaming Obama for a loss of that respect… in Russia, where earlier they were hyperventilating about Obama’s “cave” on the missile defense issue, on the anniversary of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Poland. The ideological whiplash about Russia is nicely instructive of the complete lack of any principle of actual national security, just recycled cold-war rhetoric. It’s embarassing.
What is remarkable is that Republican hawks are not embarrassed by it, and they are now so far out of it that they think they are winning the debate. They imagine that they have already become credible leaders on foreign policy, and they think that the rest of the world is now moving their way. That is what Stephens means when he says that neocons are “back,” and he could not be more wrong.