Speaking Monday at a fascinating on-the-record session on U.S.-Russia relations at the Nixon Center, former Reagan administration official Robert McFarlane declared that McCain's first year as president would be "neocon redux." McFarlane, who was Reagan's national security advisor and who supports McCain's candidacy, emphasized that he wasn't speaking as a member of McCain's team, but as a practical realist and private citizen. His remarks were uttered in a calm tone, and all the more blistering for it. McFarlane pointed out that Ronald Reagan was dealing with a declining Soviet Union and from a position of strength, while McCain would be dealing with a resurgent Russia, one that it would be foolish to heedlessly antagonize. According to McFarlane, "the youngsters" would run foreign policy the first year and then likely be "fired" by the second after they mess up.
My ears perked up when I heard this assessment because it confirms what I've been hearing elsewhere: while Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, and other realist elders are consulted by McCain, his heart is with the younger neocons, the "beavers," in the words of one McCain supporter, who draft the speeches and get the grunt work done. As Fareed Zakaria points out in the Washington Post today, the result is disastrous recommendations such as threatening to expel Russia from the G-8. In the aftermath of the Iraq debacle, the U.S. needs allies, not enemies. But the neocons don't see it that way.
The gap -- and it is fundamental -- in the GOP today is generational. The elderly realists haven't groomed anyone to replace them. The neocons have. Hence neocon redux. When someone of McFarlane's stature offers the assessment that the neocons are in charge, then it's pretty much official. The longer the election campaign goes on, the clearer it becomes that the neocons aren't back. They never went away.
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