I have a complicated relationship with neoconservatives. Laws prohibiting murder complicate things, but also the way ‘neocons’ ruin good ideas with bad analysis. Democratization in the Middle East is tainted by its association with them (though the claim that the Arab Spring vindicates their beliefs is like Jehovah’s Witnesses claiming credit for the Second Coming…). The disaster of Iraq has also made it near-impossible for Western governments to use the preventive use of force, something which neocons refuse to acknowledge in their demands for action against Iran.
Speaking of Iraq, Tim Montgomerie, the editor of ConservativeHome, wrote a blistering attack on President Obama in The Times last week, criticising his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the country. Tim seems to have copy-and-pasted his article from dumb neocon op-eds in America, as he covers the same bases they do. President Bush was a wise and farsighted statesman, whereas Mr. Obama is a populist with no foreign policy vision beyond ‘cultivating adoring crowds’. He has ignored ‘commanders on the ground’, and betrayed the achievements of the greatest of his commanders, General Petraeus. The president mishandled negotiations for maintaining American forces in Iraq, both because of his inexperience and his craven desire to see them back home in time for his re-election bid. A ‘massive gift’ has been handed to Tehran as a result, and so Mr. Obama can add Iraq to his ‘long list of foreign policy failures’.
The article reinforces two prejudices of mine: that it should be illegal for domestic pundits to write about foreign affairs, and that the definition of a neoconservative is someone who knows nothing about war and strategy but lectures others about them anyway.
I wrote a critique of Tim’s piece for Egremont yesterday, in which I argue that President Obama has a better claim to the soubriquet ‘wise and farsighted statesman’ than his predecessor does because the former appreciates where the interests of the United States lie: Asia-Pacific. With the war in Iraq, President Bush distracted his country from this grand strategic fact. This is something beyond the grasp of neocons like Tim because their understanding of the world is stuck in the early 2000s. Iraq seems to be the centre of their geopolitical universe: Tim doesn’t mention Asia once. (I suspect this is also because it is the region where Mr. Obama has had his greatest foreign policy successes, as I explain in my Egremont column).
There are other things wrong with Tim’s op-ed, which, in my view, is one of the most worthless opinion pieces ever published in a British broadsheet newspaper. He contrasts Bush’s courageous decision to surge troops in Iraq in 2007 with Obama’s decision to withdraw them in 2011, as opposed to contrasting it with Bush’s decision to withdraw them in the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement. He blames the president for the failure of the troop negotiations, but fails to mention that no leading Iraqi politician was willing to publicly ask for American forces to stay. Andrew Exum explains that unless they did this then the United States’ presence in the country ‘would be perceived as a continued occupation, exposing remaining U.S. troops to continued violent attacks.’
Curiously, Tim doesn’t mention President Obama’s foreign policy successes like the killing of Osama bin Laden or the brinkmanship against Pyongyang last November when the Korean peninsula was perilously close to war. Tim also doesn’t mention that the Libyan intervention, which he supported, would not have happened had Mr. Obama not backed it.
If Iraq is to be added to anyone’s list of foreign policy failures, it should be Tim Montgomerie’s…