Yes, it's true that throwing up a wall of bullshit to deflect attention from your candidate's deeply unpopular views is a potentially effective means of helping him creep to victory on the strength of contentless non-issues --- like, say, whether his opponent is an insufficiently patriotic crypto-Communist. But to conclude that's all Kristol is up to doesn't give him nearly enough credit for a long-term vision, at least when it comes to tactical moves in the Republican party's internal turf wars. Campaigning on xenophobia, guilt by association, and red-baiting has desperate and unintentionally self-parodic qualities this year that it didn't have as recently as 2004. The likelihood is that John McCain will lose; if and when he loses, the multilateral truce among neos, paleos, reformists, and GOP hacks --- which is about as fragile as the truce in Basra to begin with --- is going to shatter before Obama's victory speech ends.
The neocons are in a decidedly weak position. Fairly or not, it's their foreign policy more than anything else that has made the name of the GOP radioactive --- and even worse for Republican partisans, has destroyed the party's nearly 40-year-old, frequently decisive advantage on national security. And though the Republicans somehow stumbled into nominating their only candidate with a prayer of victory, they exposed the neocons to even more risk by choosing, in John McCain, the most prominent exponent of their philosophy in American politics. Honest neocons like Lawrence Kaplan readily concede that neoconservatism's future rests on McCain's shoulders. Kristol, on the other hand, is trying to reframe the debate to obscure its ramifications for his ideology in case McCain loses.
But what if what Kristol was saying is (at least sort of) true? I mean, aside from Iraq - where Kristol readily admits that the differences are inescapable, though even here it's important to recognize that Obama's own opposition has sometimes been less than inspiring - Sen. Obama has, in no particular order,
- told that same AIPAC crowd that Jerusalem should be the undivided possession of Israel (though cf.), that he "will bring to the White House an unshakable commitment to Israel's security", etc.;
- backed down on his initial opposition to the Kyl-Lieberman amendment;
- backed down from the much-controverted interpretation of his remarks on meeting with foreign leaders;
- supported Joe Lieberman in his primary race against Ned Lamont;
- claimed that American security "is inextricably linked to the security of all people";
- threatened to strike Pakistan, perhaps with nuclear weapons, and thereby earned high praise from the WSJ editorial page, of all places;
- won over Robert Kagan (or is this just another smokescreen?);
and so on. You don't need to be as pessimistic as Daniel Larison or Brendan O'Neill to think that a President Obama is likely to let the anti-warriors down in any number of ways, and perpetuate at least some of the worst elements of the present Administration's militarism and diplomatic ham-handedness. There is, of course, a prominent example in recent memory of a presidential candidate who worried the GOP establishment by promising a "humble foreign policy" only to churn out a series of international efforts that were anything but that.
Now then. You might go over this history and share Ezra Klein's reaction:
Sigh. Maybe after the election.
Maybe. But maybe not. And the point is just that we don't really know. I can say with great confidence that I think a President Obama is likely to be better for the rest of the world, and indeed also for our portion of it, than a President McCain. But we cannot say with any reasonable confidence at all that he will bring an end to the worst excesses of neoconservatism. As one of the disgruntled conservatives now trying to help put back together the pieces of a movement co-opted and then run very nearly into the ground by the likes of Messrs. Bush, Rove, and McCain, I would advise Obama's supporters to hold fast to their principles and keep a critical distance, lest they should find that the future is not all it has been made out to be.
Hope if you must, but try your best not to let yourselves believe.
(Cross-posted at Upturned Earth.)
[UPDATE: More in a similar vein here, from Lee McCracken.]