What do neocons have to do with Obama?
President Obama may be a pragmatist, but he's now in charge of two fundamentally neoconservative wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Across those decades, neoconservatives have supported myriad, sometimes contradictory policies. For this reason, Mr. Kristol describes his creed as neither a social movement nor full-bodied ideology, but rather a "persuasion." Still, there exist core neocon values, all of which relate to a notion of imperialistic democracy.Skip to next paragraph
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Obama opposes them all.
The most crucial feature of neoconservatism is its Manichean worldview, wherein the Earth is pitted in an urgent struggle between purely good and purely evil nations. As George W. Bush famously told then Sen. Joe Biden: "I don't do nuance."
During the cold war, this perspective was understandably commonplace, but neocons clung to it dogmatically, even railing against Reagan's overtures to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. From their view, the USSR was evil, end of story. It is this dualistic mindset that led to Bush's designation of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as the "axis of evil."
Obama, conversely, does nuance and he does a lot of it. Consider his tactic to reach out to "good" Taliban, militants presumed to be more worried about their salary than global jihad.
A second core feature of the neocon "persuasion" involves a commitment to the military as the ultimate tool of foreign policy. Neocons are skeptical of diplomacy and international institutions. President Bush sent an ambassador to France who did not speak French. And he nominated John Bolton, irascible critic of the idea of the United Nations, as ambassador to the UN.
Obama has staked his foreign policy on a return to American diplomacy, renewing discussions with Iran, Syria, and Russia, and sending Susan Rice, one of his closest advisers, to the UN. But diplomacy doesn't equal pacifism and Obama is no dove, as his Afghanistan troop surge shows.
Related to the neocon's militarism is their abrasive foreign policy tone. Neocons fear for the future of Western masculinity and pride, maybe understably so, but they project power in a paradoxically juvenile manner, employing the silent treatment and name-calling, among other tactics. They seemingly view aggression in speech and act as intrinsically valuable; whether it leads to the best result often seems beside the point. Obama delivers a markedly calmer and more respectful approach to allies and enemies alike. The result is a cool confidence more genuine than the neocon brashness.