Weird How Interventionists Keep Finding Talented Politicians With Foreign-Policy Blank Slates

There's an interesting sub-theme at evidence in the interventionist battle to discredit Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) as a dangerous kook on foreign policy. Once again, it turns out, those who believe in blank-check executive-branch prosecution of global war and maintenance of American hegemony seem curiously disinterested in their surrogate politicians' actual views. On foreign policy. Here is Slate politics writer David Weigel from Friday:

Two summers ago, after Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels decided not to run for president, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was summoned to meet Henry Kissinger. "When he called me into his office," Christie told Washington Post reporter Dan Balz, "he just said, 'The country needs a change and you connect with people in a way that I haven’t seen a politician connect with someone in a long time.'"

Kissinger's pitch is a highlight of Balz's forthcoming campaign book Collision 2012. [...] [Christie] told Kissinger that he honestly didn't think he could run yet. 

"I haven't given any deep thought to foreign policy," Christie admitted.

"Don't worry about that," said Kissinger, according to Christie. "We can work with you on that. Foreign policy is instinct, it's character, that's what foreign policy is."

Emphasis mine (above and below).

Hmmm, provocative governor with political talent but no foreign policy experience treated as a promising tabula rasa by establishment hawks....Where have I heard that one before?

In June 2007, a cruise hosted by the political journal The Weekly Standard set anchor in Juneau, Alaska. Standard editors William Kristol and Fred Barnes then lunched with Governor Sarah Palin. It was a moment of discovery to equal Hernando Cortez's landing at Veracruz.

The Daily Telegraph's Tim Shipman saw this encounter as the launch of a Neoconservative project surrounding Palin. He interviewed a former Republican White House official now at the American Enterprise Institute about Palin:

"She's bright and she's a blank page. She's going places and it's worth going there with her." Asked if he sees her as a "project," the former official said: "Your word, not mine, but I wouldn't disagree with the sentiment."

Kristol appeared on Fox News on June 30, 2008, confidently predicting that McCain would select Sarah Palin and as a public display of support, oil prices would miraculously fall.

Kristol can fairly lay claim to having "discovered" Palin for Washington political circles. Palin's name appeared in 41 Weekly Standard articles since the Juneau meeting—starting with a paean entitled "The Most Popular Governor" that ran right after the reception.

Palin's running mate, of course, was one of neoconservatism's great blank-slate success stories, with his maverick interventionism, and Standard-supplied Teddy Roosevelt ideology melting the Fourth Estate's heart in the late 1990s:

It was at this time that Marshall Wittmann, one of Bill Kristol's best friends, handed McCain a stack of David Brooks essays on national-greatness conservatism, supplementing it with a little light reading on McCain's old hero Teddy Roosevelt. From that day forward, until well into 2001, it became difficult to determine where the Weekly Standard's imagination ended and McCain's stump speech began. [...]

The foundational document for the Standard-McCain fusion project was an April 1999 cover story by David Brooks entitled "Politics and Patriotism: From Teddy Roosevelt to John McCain." [...]

Brooks ... lets slip throughout the essay the sense that McCain's agenda was a piece of clay in the Weekly Standard's capable, intellectual hands. "Right now his sentiments are vague," wrote the same man who, when introducing national-greatness conservatism, argued that laying out "some sort of 10-point program" would be "silly" because "particular policies are less important than getting Americans to begin to think differently about politics." You could almost see Brooks rubbing his hands together at the prospect of marrying his opaque national greatness with McCain's lofty greater cause: "In fact," he wrote, "if you look at his policies, you can begin to imagine a national narrative and a public philosophy that might be created around them." They had the man; all they needed was the theory.

While it's true that McCain had a pre-existing interest in foreign policy, and a family tradition soaked in Naval supremacy, it was the neocon crowd who literally wrote the speech unveiling McCain's remarkably open-ended "rogue-state rollback" doctrine in 1999.

So what does it say about a smallish group of foreign-policy ideologues that they spend so much energy finding empty but promising vessels with which to contest elections and hopefully carry out a robustly interventionist defense policy?

Among other things, that they're successful. It has proven a useful strategy to populate think tanks and magazines and capital-P Projects while contantly recruiting ambitious politicians into the fold in case they gain proximity to office. (You probably don't remember this, but one of the great Kristol vessels last election cycle was another inexperienced governor, Tim Pawlenty.) Imagine a powerful group of libertarian ideologues who go hunting around for charismatic politicians to whom they say "Don't worry about the ideology part, just win elections!" That this is impossible to conceive of says something about the nature of libertarianism, and of the ineptitude that libertarians usually bring to Washington power politics.

But I'd suggest two other, less flattering interpretations. Maybe they keep searching for moldable clay—or failing that, straight-to-cable true-believer attack dogs like John Bolton and Peter King—because these ideas aren't particularly saleable 12 years after 9/11. If blank-check interventionism was producing its own camera-ready talent, its proponents wouldn't have to spend so much time head-hunting.

Or maybe that's whole attraction in the first place—playing ventriloquist for hand-picked dummies who seek to wield enormous power. I'm sure it must be exhilarating to think that there is something behind the throne greater than the king himself, but what a weird way to go through life.

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  • James Ard||

    Welch is onto something here. Moldable clay is exactly what they are looking for. That's what you need when you have no idea what you are doing and may have to change directions in an instant. Like Egypt.

  • Sevo||

    So the politicos have no investment in the interventionism; they just want power and their happy to have the puppeteers pull the strings if they get the power.
    This doesn't recommend the politicos.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    "Blank slate" is the kindest description of Sista Sarah I have ever heard.

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug| 7.29.13 @ 7:12PM |#
    "Blank slate" is the kindest description of Sista Sarah I have ever heard."

    It would be nice if that lying piece of shit in the WH could be so described.

  • Michael Price||

    I think he can be, or at least he could be when he started running for President. Another way to put it is he was an empty suit.

  • SugarFree||

    Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan is looking more prescient every day. The perfect running mate for his psychopathic presidential candidate? A force-grown adult clone that was only two-years old and had induced mild encephalopathy. No skeletons in the closet and did what it was told.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    From Brixton's lovely boulevards
    To Hammersmith's sightly shores
    We'll scare the Camden Palace poofs
    And worry all the whores
    There's leechers up in Whitehall
    And queers in the GLC
    And when we've done those bastards in
    We'll storm the BBC

  • Killazontherun||

    AhHH! It moved!

  • Generic Stranger||

    A force-grown adult clone that was only two-years old and had induced mild encephalopathy

    So....Joe Biden?

  • Art Vandelay||

    OKLAHOMA, OKLAHOMA, OKLAHOMA!

  • ||

    Transmetropolitan should be required reading for anyone getting into journalism, public policy, politics, social work, charity work, foreign aid work.... anything.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    "Don't worry about that," said Kissinger, according to Christie. "We can work with you on that. Foreign policy is instinct, it's character, that's what foreign policy is."

    Well fuck me, that's what's wrong with US foreign policy! We don't have experts, or even reasonable people running the State Department. Just some fuckers winging it, stumbling from one incident to the next and making decisions based on their "instincts."

  • ||

    I would say that is a fairly apt description of the people formulating domestic strategy as well.

  • gaoxiaen||

    "Stumbling from one incident to the next" is enough. They don't really wing it or decide.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    I would agree and disagree with this.

    The elected politicians have no idea what they are doing and why -- they are led around by the nose by the litany of "experts" and consultants who populate the bureaucracy. The bureaucrats are usually at least somewhat well-informed, but they have no scruples or morally practical understanding of public duty -- at best, they have an ideologically charged volante generale which allows them to do what they wanted to do anyways but with a sense of enlightened noblesse oblige instead of the revulsion that should accompany such skulduggery.

    It is a marriage of the inept and the evil.

  • Jon Lester||

    In honor of Kennedy's upcoming book signing, here's a video offered for illustration.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Always two there are, no more, no less. A master and an apprentice.

  • SIV||

    Considering how Sarah Palin got burned by some of those very same people she probably has foreign policy ideas of her own now.

  • SugarFree||

    One John is more than enough, SIV.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Like when she mentioned how she would speak with the Queen of England about the Iraq War?

    Yes, I am sure she has her own ideas now.

  • Sevo||

    Obozo should show such ideas; it's be a vast improvement.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    That seems to be the case. Her opinion of Syria and Libya appear to be at odds with what the Kristols of the world would like to see.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Hmmm, provocative governor with political talent but no foreign policy experience treated as a promising tabula rasa by establishment hawks....Where have I heard that one before?"

    Kissinger isn't exactly a neocon.

    Christie could do a lot worse.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Kissinger isn't exactly a neocon.<//blockquote

    You're right. While Neocons operate with the conviction that they represent the force of Good; Kissinger's political realism is completely amoral.

    Doesn't mean Kissinger's ideology is any better than neoconservatism, though.
  • Nazdrakke||

    Doesn't mean Kissinger's ideology is any better than neoconservatism, though

    To me Neocons are Kissinger's progressive children, where Us became Good and Them became Evil.

  • ||

    +1 "catastrophic and catalyzing event––like a new Pearl Harbor"

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    I'd take amoral over ideological, at this point -- though I do think we can do better than having to choose between Kissinger and Kristol.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    I'm inclined to disagree. For all its problems, realism can at least come to terms with the fact that there's limits to American power. Realism can at least confine itself to the realm of national interests. Realism can at least recognize that we live in a world of uncertainty where there are often unintended consequences.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Agree.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I'm not sure Kissinger is entirely amoral.

    I certainly don't think of Realism as being inherently amoral, and I don't think of neocons as being inherently moral either--just because their hearts are in the right place.

    Realism/pragmatism kept us out of Iraq circa '91, and it might have kept us out circa 2003. Pragmatism can keep us out of places like Rwanda and the Congo.

    Obama's Libya operation was a pragmatic move, but I think that was by accident. He was trying to be a neocon; his Libya adventure just kinda worked out that way.

    I guess I'm just wary of neocons. We haven't had a pragmatist since Clinton was in office. We could use a pragmatic realist again for a while. I guess that's what I was trying to say.

    He could have buddied up with Cheney and company. That's about the last thing we need. He could have done a lot worse.

  • juris imprudent||

    Somehow I can imagine Kissinger talking to the House of Saud shortly after 9/11 informing them that they could curb their Wahhabi dogs or we could install a new ruling house in the Kingdom. That kind of realism would have been vastly preferable to W's driving us into the Iraq mess.

  • Nazdrakke||

    The Cathedral strikes again.

  • Warrren||

    Bizarre.

  • ||

    OT:

    Justin Amash was on my flight from Grand Rapids to BWI.

    1) I can't lie, I geeked out a bit and shook his hand.
    2) The thought did cross my mind that the plane was now somewhat less safe.

  • crashland||

    So you were enchanted just a bit?

  • Nazdrakke||

    Just as long as there was no leg tingling.

  • ||

    The leg tingling didn't occur till we me in the cabin bathroom.

  • Sudden||

    Wait, was Larry Craig on the flight too?

  • ||

    Shit, Craig was the head Flight Attendent! (NTTAWWT)

  • Hyperion||

    Fuck, if I would have known you and Amash were coming to Murland, I would have came down and picked you guys up and bought you beers. That airport almost feels like a 2nd home to me now, I've been in there so many times.

  • ||

    Hey I am still at the BWI Amtrak station, come on by!

  • Spiny Norman||

    Imagine a powerful group of libertarian ideologues who go hunting around for charismatic politicians to whom they say "Don't worry about the ideology part, just win elections!"

    Not after Bob Barr, anyway.

  • Hugh Akston||

    ...and a family tradition soaked in Naval supremacy...

    Does...does this mean what I think it means?

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Let's just say they were very familiar with sodomy, rum, and the lash...

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Rum, buggery, and the lash?

  • Warrren||

    Is it even possible to be an "expert" in foreign policy? Given how fast situations change in the world who could possibly keep up and make good predictions as to the future?

    Wouldn't it be like someone calling themselves a "price expert" and claiming to know what all the prices are, what they should be and what they'll be in the future?

  • The Last American Hero||

    Price experts - like the extreme couponers?

    I wonder if the government should hire a bunch of those extreme couponers to work in procurement. We'd probably get a bunch of shit we don't need but it wouldn't cost much.

  • H. ReardEn||

    Vastly preferable to what we have now - a bunch of shit we don't want, the costs of which is bankrupting the nation.

  • Hyperion||

    It was a moment of discovery to equal Hernando Cortez's landing at Veracruz

    Ok, talk about an exaggeration. Even I'm not that much of a melodramist/bullshitter.

  • Robert||

    I'm sure it must be exhilarating to think that there is something behind the throne greater than the king himself, but what a weird way to go through life.


    Who wouldn't love that? It's the next best thing to being a costumed adventurer. Who wouldn't want to secretly be Zorro? The only thing that'd make it complete would be true secrecy, where nobody would know "Heisenberg" because they've never seen his face, as if "William Kristol" were a shadowy figure whose real identity was unknown. Say...he'd have to be like The Phantom, so Irving Kristol would've had the same identity!

    And I'm not joking, it'd be great fun. Why do you think so many stories have been written like that, back to antiquity where it was gods or demi-gods who walked among us, like Jesus Christ, Odin, etc.? Weird, sure, but that kind of weird would be just awesome.

  • Paul.||

    Is it just me or has the establishment GOP gone off the deep end, in a way that only Democrats can agree with?

  • marguerite63||

    my co-worker's aunt makes $84 an hour on the internet. She has been laid off for eight months but last month her pay was $17533 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on this site.... www.cnn13.com

  • GILMORE||

    John, we await your indignant rectitude and chivalric devotion to the very mention of sarah palin's name. what the hell is keeping you brother?

  • Russell||

    The problem with political magazine seminars at sea is that the ships very often fail to sink with all hands +-}

  • Russell||

  • StopSexism||

    But, you forget then Senator Obama had no foreign policy. He even called himself a " Blank screen" in audacity of Hope. Foreign policy is often cultivated. If we required foreign policy we would always be voting for candidates with military experience.
    "I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views." Barack Obama

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