According to today’s New York Times, two competing factions within the Republican party’s foreign policy community—the neoconservatives and the pragmatists—are waging a war for John McCain’s soul.
The A1, above-the-fold story, written by Elisabeth Bumiller and Larry Rohter, plays this contest as essentially an even fight. It’s entitled, “Two Camps Trying to Influence McCain on Foreign Policy,” and it notes,
McCain has been sympathetic to neo-conservative views on some other issues in other aspects of foreign and national security policy, he tilts toward the pragmatist camp.
But any fair reading of the evidence—both that presented in the story and not—suggests that it’s the neocons who easily have the upper hand.
First, McCain’s chief foreign policy aide, Randy Scheunemann, has, as the Times ungrammatically notes, “longtime ties to neoconservatives,” and was “a founder of the hawkish Committee for the Liberation of Iraq” as well as “an enthusiastic supporter of Ahmad Chalabi.” Scheunemann, we’re later told, works out of the campaign’s Virginia headquarters and essentially acts as the coordinator for all of the foreign-policy information McCain receives.
There’s no evidence that any of the “pragmatists” has anything like that kind of access to McCain. The most plugged-in of the pragmatists appears to be Henry Kissinger, who tells the Times that he spoke to McCain “15 or 20 times in the last year,” but admits, “In [McCain’s] speeches and daily pronouncements, I generally have no input.”
It’s also worth looking more closely at the “neocon” and “pragmatist” designations. The Times notes that some of the pragmatists “have come to view the Iraq war or its execution as a mistake,” while the neocons “played a pivotal role in building the case for war.”
But let’s set aside these men’s responses to the war’s execution, which tell us precisely nothing about their broader views on foreign policy. (Indeed, many of the neocons most closely associated with the decision to go to war—Richard Perle and Ken Adelman jump to mind—have criticized its execution as a way of arguing that the original decision to invade was not necessarily wrong, and that the war could have succeeded had it been waged more effectively.)
Having got rid of that red herring, it’s noticeable that, by our count, with the exception of Brent Scowcroft, not a single “pragmatist” listed in the story has come out, either before or after the invasion, in opposition to the decision to go to war.
(As for Scowcroft, his influence on McCain appears limited indeed. As the Cato Institute’s Justin Logan notes in a post that’s critical of today’s Times piece, in 2006 Scheunemann told the New York Sun: “I don’t think, given where John has been for the last four or five years on the Iraq war and foreign policy issues, anyone would mistake Scowcroft for a close adviser.”)
Granted, there are real ideological differences between neocons like Robert Kagan, Max Boot, and John Bolton, and pragmatists like Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, and Lawrence Eagleburger, which could have implications for a McCain administration. But the fact that all of these people were ultimately on the same side on the question that’s said to represent the major fault-line between the two groups is something that the Times might have grappled with at least a bit.
The paper also offers a strangely selective history of McCain’s foreign policy views that seems designed to convince readers that he’s more open to the pragmatists’ position than he actually is. Bumiller and Rohter write:
Before the Iraq war, Mr. McCain generally opposed aggressive assertions of American power abroad. As a freshman congressman he criticized Ronald Reagan’s deployment of marines in Lebanon in 1983; later, in the 1990s, he sought to cut off financing for American troops in Somalia, at first wanted to limit the American response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait to the air, and opposed military intervention in Haiti.