Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Right-on-Right Violence, Take Two

Return of the conservative crack-up:

Conservative intellectuals and commentators who once lauded Bush for what they saw as a willingness to aggressively confront threats and advance U.S. interests said in interviews that they perceive timidity and confusion about long-standing problems including Iran and North Korea, as well as urgent new ones such as the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah.

"It is Topic A of every single conversation," said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has had strong influence in staffing the administration and shaping its ideas. "I don't have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration."


As the White House listens to what one official called the "chattering classes," it hears a level of disdain from its own side of the ideological spectrum that would have been unthinkable a year ago. It is an odd irony for a president who has inflamed liberals and many allies around the world for what they see as an overly confrontational, go-it-alone approach. The discontent on the right could also color the 2008 presidential debate.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who is considering a bid for president, called the administration's latest moves abroad a form of appeasement. "We have accepted the lawyer-diplomatic fantasy that talking while North Korea builds bombs and missiles and talking while the Iranians build bombs and missiles is progress," he said in an interview. "Is the next stage for Condi to go dancing with Kim Jong Il?" he asked, referring to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the North Korean leader.

"I am utterly puzzled," Gingrich added.


In fact, it has been Bush's willingness to respond to criticism from the foreign policy establishment -- which has long urged him to do more to pursue a more "multilateral" diplomacy in concert with allies -- that has led to distress among many conservatives outside Congress, particularly the band of aggressive "neoconservatives" who four years ago were most enthusiastic about the Iraq war.

Bill Kristol and colleagues associated with his Weekly Standard have been agitating for several years about what they see as inadequate troop levels in Iraq, an incompetently managed war effort and a failure to move aggressively enough to defeat the insurgency.

For many neoconservatives, a final straw came with the U.S. decision to offer direct talks and potential benefits to Iran as an inducement to curb its nuclear program. There appears little confidence that Bush will be able to muster support for strong international action against Iran, including air strikes to take out nuclear facilities.

"They are starting to see multilateral talks as an end to themselves," said Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "They are fooling themselves to think it could lead to tough sanctions."
And so it goes.

This should be an interesting series of conversations developing over the coming months.

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