Are We All Neocons Now?

Charles Krauthammer thinks so:

Now that revolutions are sweeping the Middle East and everyone is a convert to George W. Bush’s freedom agenda, it’s not just Iraq that has slid into the memory hole. Also forgotten is the once proudly proclaimed “realism” of Years One and Two of President Obama’s foreign policy – the “smart power” antidote to Bush’s alleged misty-eyed idealism.

Krauthammer is certainly right to mock Obama’s “smart power” pretensions, which turned out to be not just a failure but a joke:

It began on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first Asia trip, when she publicly played down human rights concerns in China. The administration also cut aid for democracy promotion in Egypt by 50 percent. And cut civil society funds – money for precisely the organizations we now need to help Egyptian democracy – by 70 percent.
This new realism reached its apogee with Obama’s reticence and tardiness in saying anything in support of the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran. On the contrary, Obama made clear that nuclear negotiations with the discredited and murderous regime (talks that a child could see would go nowhere) took precedence over the democratic revolutionaries in the street – to the point where demonstrators in Tehran chanted, “Obama, Obama, you are either with us or with them.”

Krauthammer says the Obama administration is hurrying to catch up with the freedom agenda it once scorned:

Now that revolution has spread from Tunisia to Oman, however, the administration is rushing to keep up with the new dispensation, repeating the fundamental tenet of the Bush Doctrine that Arabs are no exception to the universal thirst for dignity and freedom.

Michael Ramirez makes the same point with his usual flair; click to enlarge:
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But is the Obama administration really climbing on board the freedom train? That is far from clear to me. The administration did nothing to aid the rebels in Egypt, and has done nothing–nothing visible, anyway–to lend a hand in Libya. Obama’s own pronouncements have consisted of stilted demands that Col. Qaddafi “must” resign from power. Given that we once tried to assassinate Qaddafi, this is hardly going out on a limb. At every stage as the crisis has unfolded across the region, the administration has seemed to hedge its bets, waiting to be sure of the winning side before proclaiming its allegiance.
As one who has sometimes described himself as a neocon, I probably should be glad to see the so-called realists coming around, if that is indeed what is happening. I believed in 2003 that the only long-term solution to the problem of Islamic terrorism is to bring Islamic countries, especially the Arab nations where the problem is most acute, into the modern world. That means freeing up those countries, a process in which democracy is an important, but not the only, ingredient. Economic freedom, cultural freedom, the rule of law, a reasonable degree of separation of church and state are also important; perhaps more important than the mere holding of elections.
I still think, as I did in 2003, that the United States has a vital security interest in reforming Arab societies, to the extent that is possible. But overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime via invasion gave the U.S. an opportunity to oversee and shape, to some degree, the government and even the society that emerged in the aftermath of the war. That opportunity is currently lacking in Egypt and Libya. Moreover, the last seven years have not been encouraging for those who have been hoping for signs of change in Arab cultures.
As a result, some of us who cheered President Bush’s democracy agenda seven years ago are not confident that merely overthrowing a tyrant like Qaddafi or a more benevolent despot like Mubarak and calling an election will bring about change of the sort that will benefit the U.S. I’m not at all sure that the Obama administration endorses the freedom agenda in the current crisis; regrettably, I’m not sure I do, either.

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