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Weissman writes: "Robert Kagan is anything but dumb. But why do John McCain, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton all consider the neoconservative activist and historian such a deep thinker about US foreign policy? The answer, I'm afraid, reveals how little most Americans understand the full imperial scope of our country's role in the world."

Hillary Clinton. (photo: Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton. (photo: Getty Images)

Why Neocons Love Hillary

By Steve Weissman, Reader Supported News

01 July 14


obert Kagan is anything but dumb. But why do John McCain, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton all consider the neoconservative activist and historian such a deep thinker about US foreign policy? The answer, I’m afraid, reveals how little most Americans understand the full imperial scope of our country’s role in the world, or how it had its roots in the liberal internationalism of two iconic Democratic Party presidents, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). This was, of course, long before the neocons.

Co-founder of the neocon flagship the Project for a New American Century, which set the stage for George W. Bush’s war on Iraq, Kagan advised both McCain and Mitt Romney in their presidential campaigns and co-founded the neocon Foreign Policy Initiative, which is now cheering on Obama’s re-intervention in Iraq and re-escalation in Syria. Obama was a great fan of Kagan’s 2012 best-seller, “The World America Made,” while Kagan and many other neocons see Hillary and her coterie of “liberal interventionists” as the likely champions of their muscular approach to the world.

“I feel comfortable with her on foreign policy,” Kagan told The New York Times. “If she pursues a policy which we think she will pursue,” he added, “it’s something that might have been called neocon, but clearly her supporters are not going to call it that; they are going to call it something else.”

In fact, Kagan calls himself a liberal interventionist, preferring it to the more toxic neocon, while his longtime buddy William Kristol has been trying for years to drop the “neo” and just call himself a conservative.

“The scion of one of America’s first families of interventionism,” as The New York Times called him, Kagan is surrounded by gung-ho relatives. His wife, Victoria Nuland, served as Hillary’s chief spokesperson at the State Department and went on to become one of “the Americans who put together the coup in Kiev.” (See Part I & Part II). His brother Frederick was one of the architects of the American surge in Iraq in 2007. And their father, Professor Donald Kagan, a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant who became a leading historian of ancient Greece, was one of the first Cold War liberals to rebrand himself as newly conservative.

Most, though not all, of the neocons had come from Jewish homes, but their concerns had little to do with religion and even less with Israel. As they saw it, they were responding to the anti-war movement of the 1960s, as well as to the New Left more generally and the militancy of the Black Liberation movement.

The elder Kagan is famous for his dramatic epiphany at Cornell in April 1969, when the university’s Afro-American Society (AAS) staged a militant sit-in of the student union building following a cross-burning outside a housing cooperative for black women. White fraternity brothers entered the building and fought with the black students, who then armed themselves with rifles and bandoleers. Members of the radical Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and a few faculty members formed a ring around the building in support of the black protestors inside, while police from across the state massed for an assault.

Had the police gotten the command to do so, recalled a campus cop forty years later, “who knows what would have happened. It could have made Kent State and Jackson State look like the teddy bear’s picnic.”

In the event, negotiations ended the sit-in the following day, but for all his brilliance, the elder Kagan could never see why the black students and their SDS supporters acted as they did. Viewing the tumult only through the “the claustrophobic mental world” of his own ghetto, the historian lost all sense of perspective and saw little more than a replay of Nazi thugs attacking liberals in the Weimar Republic. “For the first time,” he told writer Jacob Heilbrunn, “I understood what happened in Nazi Germany.”

Even without the disturbing presence of guns on campus, other emerging neocons exhibited the same hysterical response to those fighting for radical change in the 1960s, and their stubborn identification with the established order and America’s “protective” role in the world continues to shape the younger Kagan’s work. Less a cautious historian than an ideologist and myth-maker, he tells those in power that their use of force makes the world a better, more liberal place.

“Many Americans and their political leaders in both parties, including President Obama, have either forgotten or rejected the assumptions that undergirded American foreign policy for the past seven decades,” he recently wrote in the New Republic. “In particular, American foreign policy may be moving away from the sense of global responsibility that equated American interests with the interests of many others around the world and back toward the defense of narrower, more parochial national interests.”

“At the core of American unease is a desire to shed the unusual burdens of responsibility that previous generations of Americans took on in World War II and throughout the cold war and to return to being a more normal kind of nation, more attuned to its own needs and less to those of the wider world.”

This is precisely the retrenchment and “de-Americanization” of the world that many of us on the left have been pursuing for years. But Kagan, the neocons, and the liberal interventionists are now using Obama’s mixed signals, especially in Iraq and Syria, to push for the kind of imperial policies that FDR began to put in place, that John F. Kennedy promoted, and that brought us much of the Cold War, Vietnam, and countless U.S.-backed coups from Iran in 1953 to Indonesia in 1965, Chile in 1973, and Ukraine just this year.

Somehow, in talking of “the liberal world order” that American policy has created, Kagan glosses over all this, and generally ignores the neo-liberal economics that have given multinational banks and corporations so much control of the world. This is the liberal intervention he supports, and he seems sure that – like her husband before her – Hillary Clinton will continue it. I fear he’s right.

A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he is researching a new book, "Big Money and the Corporate State: How Global Banks, Corporations, and Speculators Rule and How to Nonviolently Break Their Hold."

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