The worst and most extreme elements of American foreign policy since 2001 have been largely the result of a wing of the Republican movement called the Neoconservatives or “neocons.”
The older Neoconservatives gravitated from the Democratic party to the Republican party in the late 1970s, and under Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush were considered too extreme even by the militaristic Cold war warriors under Reagan. In fact, in these years, the Neoconservatives were known in senior US policy circles as the “crazies” (I kid you not), as ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern points out in the video below.
And Ray McGovern was a policy insider: he was a CIA analyst from 1963 to 1990, and by the 1980s was a chair of US National Intelligence Estimates and prepared the daily briefings for the President.
Even as late as 2002 Colin Powell had the same opinion of the Neocons.
By the 2000s, the “crazies” had taken control of US foreign policy. The 2003 war against Iraq, for example, was designed and driven by the Neoconservative wing of the administration of George W. Bush, and the Neoconservatives captured the support of Dick Cheney, and, through Cheney, George W. Bush himself. These Neoconservatives fabricated the WMD intelligence to justify the war through a unit set up in the Pentagon called the Office of Special Plans (OSP) (in operation from September 2002 to June 2003).
If you want a fine history of the Neoconservatives and their role in the Iraq war I recommend Stephen J. Sniegoski’s The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel (Norfolk, Va, 2008).
Although Obama retreated from some of the more extreme aspects of Neoconservative foreign policy, his actual policies have continued key aspects of it, e.g., a new Cold war with Russia in the Ukraine, and promotion of liberal democracy in the Middle East by endless war. The latter policy in particular has been disastrous, and has tended not to promote secular liberal Western-style democracy in the Middle East, but regressive and anti-Western medieval religious fundamentalism.
The promotion of secular liberal Western-style democracies in the Middle East might have been possible in the 1950s and 1960s, but the chances for this have long gone with the rise of extreme religious fundamentalism since the 1970s in that part of world. We can see how much things have changed since the 1960s in the video below. This is the president of Egypt speaking about the veil.
How times have changed in that part of the world!
In the 2000s, the neoconservatives pushed a militant, almost neo-Trotskyist, liberalism that held that establishment of secular democracy by war in the Middle East would solve the West’s problems in that region. This policy has been a spectacular failure, again and again, whether in Iraq, Libya, and Syria.
But now Trump has rejected the Neoconservatives, even though he still talks like a hawk on some issues. Crucially, Trump refused to support the Iraq war back in the 2000s – and, even worse, openly sides with the view that the 2003 Iraq war was a total disaster and justified with lies, as we see in the videos below.
In the latter video, Trump is also right to point out we don’t really know whether George W. Bush himself knew the intelligence he received on WMD was a lie: probably he did not, because George W. was – let’s face it – a rather dumb man who believed whatever his advisers told him.
In fact, what Trump said in the videos above is moderate compared to the scathing indictment of Bush (and by implication the neocons) in 2007 in the video below.
The Neoconservatives are dead set on removing Bashar al-Assad in Syria and ramping up a new Cold war with Russia, but Trump seems opposed to this. Trump has also exposed the bizarre idea that there are “moderate” insurgents in Syria in any significant numbers or strength: this has been exposed again and again as a lie.
Now these comments, as well as various other things (e.g., Trump’s open ridicule of the warmonger McCain last year), have caused the Neoconservatives to foam at the mouth; they have been gathering in lynch mobs to lynch Trump since mid-2015, but Trump has simply crushed all opposition.
A typical neoconservative is Bill Kristol of the US journal the Weekly Standard. Bill Kristol hates Trump with a passion as we see in the videos below.
Apparently, Bill Kristol has threatened to vote for a third party presidential candidate if Trump wins the Republican nomination.
Finally, this point is crucial: the victory of Trump (even with his gung-ho, loud-mouth views on some aspects of foreign policy such as Iran or Ukraine) is a savage blow to Neoconservatism. Trump will return to a more traditional, realist US foreign policy. As bad as that might be, it is not as bad as the unhinged Neoconservative policy agenda that has been highly influential in the US government since 2001.
These are three books I highly recommend on American policy and the Nonconservatives:
Baker, Peter. 2013. Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House. Doubleday, New York.
Sniegoski, Stephen J. 2008. The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel. Enigma Editions, Norfolk, Va.
Wawro, Geoffrey. 2010. Quicksand: America’s Pursuit of Power in the Middle East. Penguin Press, New York.