By MR Josse
KATHMANDU: Commenting on incoming American president Donald Trump’s controversy over Taiwan, Clifford A. Kiracofe alleges (Beijing Review) that “neoconservatives and assorted Cold War hawks” are conjoined with the “Taiwan lobby” in Washington which “not only influences various politicians, but also makes significant contributions to certain think-tanks which, in turn, produce pro-Taiwan and anti-Chinese mainland papers for politicians to lean on.”
That lobby dates back to the early Cold War years; after many decades, it is “well entrenched in Washington today and influences many Congressional politicians.”
Kiracofe identifies one ‘neoconservative’ – or ‘neocon’ – as Stephen Yates, connected with the conservative Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation; another is “China hawk” Michael Pillsbury, “a leading American China scholar” said to be an important Trump adviser; yet another is the former abrasive US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, Trump’s nominee for Deputy Secretary of State.
It is still too early to conclude that ‘neocons’ will control Trump’s foreign/security policy, although Trump’s nomination of three retired Generals – James Mattis as Secretary of Defence; John Kelly as Secretary/Homeland Security; and Michael Flynn, as National Security Adviser – would seem to reinforce and preordain a muscular accent to future foreign/security policy.
At this stage, it is in order to delve into the genesis of the so-called ‘neocon’ phenomenon. That is generally considered to coincide with the Republicans’ return to power in Washington in 2001, or with the advent of the presidency of George W. Bush. As recounted by James Mann (‘The Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet’), the new administration “displayed a pronounced skepticism about the value of international agreements and treaties that it believed were not in American interest…”
This distinctive worldview of the Bush-II administration became even more pronounced after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on 9/11. Over the following year, a group of Republican strategic thinkers – known informally as the ‘Vulcans’, the Roman god of fire – put forward a spate of novel doctrines and concepts that marked a dramatic break with the foreign policy and strategies of peace of the past.
The six most prominent Vulcans were: Richard Cheney, the Vice-President, Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary; Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (later, Secretary of State); Richard Armitage, a former Pentagon official in the Reagan administration and Powell aide; Paul Wolfwitz, a nuclear weapons expert and former Pentagon aide to Cheney when the latter was Secretary of Defence; and Condoleezza Rice, a Kremlinologist and protégée of Brent Scowcroft, the elder Bush’s National Security Adviser, who became National Security Adviser (later, Secretary of State).
Another striking feature: “The Vulcans were the military generation. Their wellspring, the common institution in their careers, was the Pentagon…Even Rice had started her career in Washington with a stint at the Pentagon, working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
Essentially, the Vulcans “embodied a unique generation in American foreign policy, one every bit as distinctive as the ‘Wise Men’ (such as Dean Acheson, George Kennan, Averell Harriman and John McCloy) who created a new American foreign policy at the end of World War II or the ‘Best and Brightest’ (the Kennedys, Robert McNamara, the Bundys and Rostows) who prosecuted the Vietnam War in the 1960s.”
The Vulcans were focused above all on American military power. With America’s war-making capabilities on the dramatic rise at the dawn of the 21st century they were especially alert to figure out a new role for America – following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact – “one that took into account the overwhelming gulf between America’s military power and that of any other nation” or, phrased differently, as America morphed by default, as it were, into the world’s single hyperpower.
With America now preeminent on the global stage, the Vulcans, or ‘neocons’ in general, were determined not only that such an enviable position in the world order be maintained but also that it should seize the opportunity to advance its values and ideals overseas – after the immediate trauma and turbulence created by 9/11 were overcome.
PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH
Even as one awaits the unveiling of the specifics of Trump’s foreign and security policies, it may be useful to recall the core of Trump hero President Ronald Reagan’s strategic doctrine of ‘peace through strength’ – not ‘through pieces of paper’. The long held general belief in America, and much of the West, is that it was precisely such a single-minded, brawny approach by Reagan to the erstwhile Soviet Union that eventually led to its disintegration.
The incoming American president’s recent comment on the imperative for America to ‘expand’ her nuclear weapons capabilities seems to have taken a page from Reagan’s strategic playbook, though a phalanx of American historians today affirm that a complex web of factors, not merely Reagan’s ‘peace through strength’ doctrine, provided the quietus for the demise of Communism in the land of its birth.
What remains tantalisingly opaque at this time is how he intends to square his ‘America First’ and ‘Make America Great Again” policy underpinnings with the astronomical costs that it would entail – if a sensible balance between expenditures/priorities on ‘guns’ and ‘butter’ is not carefully worked out to fulfill Trump’s hopes of “Making America Great Again” and putting “America First”.
I believe what Senator Robert A. Taft stated with respect to America’s conduct of the Korean War appears very relevant to the basic choices Trump now faces: “An unwise and overambitious foreign policy, and particularly the effort to do more than we are able to do, is the one thing that might in the end destroy our armies and prove a real threat to the liberty of the people of the United States.”
Another way of putting it, in today’s context, is: ‘Neocons’ and Cold War hotheads must not be allowed to call the shots on Trump’s watch – for America’s, and the world’s, sake!
Will ‘neocons’ control Trump’s foreign/security policy?
By MR Josse