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The Progress Report

Posted March 31, 2009 | 01:28 PM (EST)

Introducing PNAC 2.0


by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Ali Frick, and Ryan Powers

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Today in Washington D.C., neoconservatives William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Dan Senor will officially launch their new war incubator -- The Foreign Policy Initiative -- with a half-day conference on "the path to success in Afghanistan" (never mind the fact that Kagan and Kristol declared that "the endgame seems to be in sight in Afghanistan" almost seven years ago). Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and Kagan, Carnegie Endowment fellow and Washington Post columnist, have long histories of advocating policies that rely heavily on the United States exerting its influence throughout the world by using military force. Senor, who has stayed relatively under the radar, served as Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman in Iraq under L. Paul Bremer. But as the New Yorker's George Packer noted, Senor "slowly lost his credibility in the daily press briefings he gave...during the first year of the occupation of Baghdad." In its initial focus on the war in Afghanistan, FPI chose heavy representation of Iraq war advocates for its panelists and guest speakers. As the Wonk Room's Matt Duss recently wrote, "a far better title" for FPI's maiden voyage would be "Afghanistan: Dealing With The Huge Problems Created By Many Of The People On This Very Stage."

'PNAC=MISSION ACCOMPLISHED': Kristol and Kagan -- with support from Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld -- co-founded the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) in the late 1990s with the mission "to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire." Military force was always an option, and often the preferred one. Indeed, the group led the charge to get President Clinton to sign the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, and it served as a key lobby for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But with neoconservatism now all but dead and its principles soundly rejected in the 2006 and 2008 elections, the face of PNAC 2.0 -- The Foreign Policy Initiative -- is less bellicose. Indeed, as Duss recently noted, "this new very innocuous sounding Foreign Policy Institute" indicates that neoconservatives "understand that they have something of an image problem," adding that it is "encouraging" that they "have some relation to reality." Yet there is no reason to believe there will be much of an ideological shift from its its predecessor, as its main founders -- especially Kristol -- are still deeply wedded to neoconservatism. Indeed, Michael Goldfarb, PNAC alum and editor of The Weekly Standard, wrote on Twitter yesterday: "PNAC=Mission Accomplished; New mission begins tomorrow morning with the launch of FPI."

ALREADY AT ODDS: Senor told Foreign Policy magazine last week that part of the group's mission is to build "consensus" on major international issues that challenge the current thinking of those who currently hold power in the U.S. government. "We think there needs to be consensus on the other side of these issues," he said. Yet even before the organization's first event, it appears that FPI is having trouble building that "consensus." Kristol called President Obama's recent "historic" message to Iran "an embarrassment" and a "message of weakness," claiming Obama has "no sense of urgency about Iran's nuclear program" and is "kowtowing" to its leaders. However, it appears that Kagan did not get Senor's "consensus" memo. Days later, commenting on Obama's message, Kagan offered a relatively more sensible view. "[T]here is logic to the administration's approach. After all, if the White House is going to give diplomacy and engagement a chance, it might as well do so thoroughly and aggressively," he wrote in the Washington Post. "I honestly can't see the harm in the Obama administration's efforts. I hope they succeed," he said.

EXPECT NO ACCOUNTABILITY: Despite the fact that the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq has been regarded as one of the worst foreign policy blunders in American history, expect no remorse from the PNAC/FPI crowd. In fact, Kristol has been declaring victory in Iraq at every step of the way, from saying in April 2003 that the "battles of Afghanistan and Iraq have been won decisively and honorably," to claiming last December, "We've won the war" in Iraq. Just last week, a caller on C-SPAN's Washington Journal asked Kristol if he would apologize for hyping the threat from Saddam Hussein before the war, given that no WMD existed and "the fact that there are 4,500 American lives lost there." "No. I think the war was right, and I think we've succeeded in the war," Kristol replied. While Senor thinks the war has been a huge defeat for Iran (it hasn't), Packer noted that Kagan has "written many words about the war, but has never been able to acknowledge his own intellectual failures on Iraq." Despite the failures of neoconservatism, FPI's mission statement contains the neo-neocon buzz words: military engagement in the world, "rogue regimes," "rogue states," "spread...freedom," "strong military" (with a "defense budget" to back it up), "fascism," "communism," and "pre-9/11 tactics." Discussing FPI with Duss last week, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow asked, "Why is it that people who are catastrophically wrong about big important things like foreign policy and war never, like, flunk out of that as a subject? "There seems to be this special dispensation in American foreign policy that, as long as you are wrong on the side of more military force, then all is forgiven," Duss replied. He added that "the way it works in Washington, if you're arguing for more military intervention which necessitates more military expenditures, you're always going to find someone to fund your think-tank."