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Rising sentiment for Ukraine negotiations threatens neoconservative influence

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., speaks at a Congressional Progressive Caucus news conference on Aug. 12, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Standing with Jayapal are, from left, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., and Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis.

In the most famous presidential farewell address since George Washington gave the original in 1797, President Dwight Eisenhower warned his countrymen, in 1961: “In the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Today little known and less understood by ordinary Americans, the military industrial complex principally embodied by the neoconservative movement has acquired the “unwarranted influence” and achieved the “disastrous rise of misplaced power” that Eisenhower warned against six decades ago.

Founded in the 1970s by a diverse mix of public officials, both civilian and military, corporate leaders, particularly from the defense industry, and academicians from elite institutions, who were understandably alarmed by the relative weakness and passivity of American foreign policy during the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter years, neoconservativism’s public face and intellectual firepower were provided by the likes of Leo Strauss, Irving Kristol and Elliot Abrams, who advocated for forceful American policies to be asserted in every corner of the world where our interests were threatened. Their ideas would find significant validation in the muscular Reagan-Bush era, which culminated in a euphoric victory in the Cold War that, most ironically, was a prelude to a long period of hubristic “overreach” and the relative decline of America’s power in the world.

A recent article by Jeffrey Sachs, “Ukraine is the Latest NeoCon Disaster,” catalogs U.S. “wars of choice” — Serbia (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), Syria (2011), Libya (2011) — in which neoconservatives were principal architects. All ended badly, leaving a legacy of mayhem and mistrust that devastated the Middle East. Sachs concludes by lamenting that many of these same individuals are back for an encore in the Biden administration, where they are driving a dangerous Ukraine policy that may be their worst misadventure yet.

In a related article, “Washington’s Whoppers on the War in Ukraine,” Ted Galen Carpenter argues that the United States is “flying blind” in a dangerous nuclear threat environment because neither the government nor the mainstream media is telling an accurate story about reality in the Ukraine war. In particular, he punctures the twin myths of the Russian invasion being “totally unprovoked” and of Ukraine itself being a “model of democracy.” He notes that the U.S. campaign led by prominent “neocons” over 25 years to expand NATO right up to Russia’s border was denounced by former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and many analysts as a “needless provocation” that would end badly, and that during that period Ukraine was widely viewed as having one of the most corrupt governments in the world.

Further pieces of this puzzle are filled in via a recent article by Douglas MacGregor, “Playing at War in Ukraine,” which examines the unusual but much discussed proposal of former Gen. and CIA Director David Petraeus that the U.S. should consider direct military intervention in Ukraine — not under the auspices of NATO but as a U.S.-led “coalition of the willing.” From this MacGregor deduces two things: This trial balloon did not originate with Petraeus but more likely the U.S. government, and secondly, that Ukraine has suffered high casualties in its recent offensives as it awaits a winter offensive from Russia, a country with 10 times the GDP of Ukraine.

Aside from exposing a far less rosy Ukrainian scenario, the real threat to neoconservatism’s influence is that we are now seeing increasing sentiment for the inclusion of negotiations in U.S. strategy from two sources who cannot be ignored indefinitely: U.S. voters and Congress.

A recent poll shows that 57 percent of likely voters support the U.S. pursuing negotiations as a possible way to end the war in Ukraine, even if it means making concessions to Russia. This approach resembles the dual-track strategy President Kennedy employed to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the last time the U.S. and Russia were on the brink of nuclear war. Similarly, background diplomacy was the critical element in President Eisenhower’s strategy to end the Korean War in 1953.

This strategy closely parallels the letter from the Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus sent to President Biden urging negotiations — though the caucus later withdrew its letter — and comments by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) that the Republican Party would not support a “blank check” regarding future aid to Ukraine. Clearly, time is running out on the Biden administration’s dangerously secretive open-ended strategy for Ukraine. 

William Moloney is a Fellow in Conservative Thought at Colorado Christian University’s Centennial Institute who studied at Oxford and the University of London and received his doctorate from Harvard University.  He is a former Colorado Commissioner of Education.

Tags Biden Dwight Eisenhower military industrial complex NATO Neoconservatism Russian war in Ukraine

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