Monday, October 17, 2011

Neoconservatives vs. Cain

It seems Herman Cain really stepped in it with some neoconservatives this weekend thanks to his appearance on Meet the Press, especially this portion:

MR. GREGORY:  What about foreign policy advisers?  Who, who has shaped your thinking about the U.S.  in the world and foreign policy?

MR. CAIN:  I've looked at the writings of people like Ambassador John Bolton. I've looked at the writings of Dr. Harry--Henry Kissinger.  KT McFarland, someone who I respect.  So...

MR. GREGORY:  Would you describe yourself as a neoconservative then?

MR. CAIN:  I'm not sure what you mean by neoconservative?  I am a conservative, yes.  Neoconservative, labels sometimes will put you in a box. I'm very conservative, but...

MR. GREGORY:  But you're familiar with the neoconservative movement?

MR. CAIN:  I'm not familiar with the neoconservative movement.  I'm familiar with the conservative movement.  And let me define what I mean by the conservative movement.  Less government, less taxes, more individual responsibility.

He seems to have made two cardinal sins here, first, he said he wasn't familiar with the neoconservative movement and, second, he said he liked John Bolton and Henry Kissinger at the same time which made some neocons short circuit (you could pretty much picture the sparks flying).  On the wonderful Commentary Magazine blog, the home of neoconservatism, Jonathan Tobin refers to Cain's ignorance as "ridiculous" and really seems insulted by Herman Cain:

As COMMENTARY readers know, neoconservatism has a long and honorable history as the movement that helped mobilize the country to oppose d├ętente and the Soviet Union as well as having played a key role in critiquing the failures of the welfare state. During the Bush administration, leftists used the word as an epithet seeking to demonize those who believed not only in the need to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but also in the whole idea of promoting democracy abroad. After all that, it truly says something about a public figure who would admit to never having heard the word or knowing what it means.

I'm sorry but this reminds me of how some academics get upset that you are completely ignorant of  their work within an obscure sub-genre of a relatively well known academic field.  Now I am not trying to belittle neocons, especially given the title of this blog, but even I know neoconservatism is nowhere near a movement.  When was the last time you saw a neocon demonstration?  I'm sorry but luncheons at the American Enterprise Institute don't count.  I think Herman Cain is a regular guy who thinks in terms of having a choice between a strong defense or a weak defense and is clearly for a strong defense, which, as a neocon, and an eyewitness to 9-11, I have to endorse.

Unfortunately, the neocon assault on Cain hasn't stopped there, Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post (who also used to write for Commentary, see how small the neocon world is these days?) outright mocked Cain for his mentioning Kissinger and Bolton in the same breath:

He told David Gregory he likes both John Bolton and Henry Kissinger as foreign policy thinkers. (What — he curries favor with the despots only on odd-numbered days?) These pairs of conservatives are polar opposites, of course. It is sort of like picking Justice Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg as your favorite Supreme Court justices — it suggests a lack of understanding of the diametrically opposed views they present. More to the point, it raises doubt as to how Cain could make national security decisions with no vision of his own or familiarity with the issues.

I think this criticism is completely unfair.  He didn't say he completely endorsed either person's views just that they helped shape his, which is something completely different.  Now I haven't read everything that either man has written but I did read Henry Kissinger's Diplomacy.  The point of that book was that countries should act diplomatically to further their long term strategic interests.  Is that controversial?  Is that something that John Bolton would disagree with?  Most neocons are neocons because they believe that supporting democracy abroad is in the long term interest of the United States (and world peace).  Sure Bolton and Kissinger probably disagree on what to do with Iran but if you look at the big picture, liking some writings from Bolton and from Kissinger doesn't have to be some sort of idiotic contradition.  Also, I find the crack about currying favor with despots pretty funny considering that one of the scions of neoconservatism, Jeane Kirkpatrick, wrote in Commentary (there it is again) in 1979 her famous defense of the support of US-allied despots "Dictatorships & Double Standards" (an article that I'm sure Kissinger supported aspects of).   So I actually think Cain mentioning both Bolton and Kissinger is a good thing.  It means he has ideals but won't hurt American interests to pursue them.  He won't be the guy to tell an American ally, like Mubarak, to go and only have him replaced by a military junta and possibly soon, a radical islamist government. 

I even am starting to think Cain's responses to questions about Iraq and Afghanistan, that once President he would want to see all the intelligence before drawing a conclusion, is wise and common sensical.  Didn't we see Obama harshly criticize W.'s foreign policy when he only had a small fraction of the facts and then,once President, continue many of those same policies?  Foreign policy isn't like the economic sphere, where everyone pretty much has the same information, it is actually the exact opposite.  There is just so much that lay people don't know that you really don't know what you would do if you were President until you see all the top secret files.

Do I wish Herman Cain were better versed in foreign policy, you bet.  It would certainly make me more comfortable supporting him as you never like supporting someone with too many unknown unknowns (to borrow a phrase from Rumsfeld).  But what I do know is this.  I think we'll find Cain is more of a neocon than Romney, since if you want someone to stand up for American ideals internationally you need someone who actually has some ideals to begin with.

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