How Neocons Destabilized Europe
The neocon prescription of endless “regime change” is spreading
chaos across the Middle East and now into Europe, yet the neocons
still control the mainstream U.S. narrative and thus have diagnosed
the problem as not enough “regime change,”
By Robert Parry
September 08, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "Consortiumnews"
- The refugee chaos that is now
pushing deep into Europe – dramatized by gut-wrenching photos of
Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi whose body washed up on a beach in Turkey
– started with the cavalier ambitions of American neocons and their
liberal-interventionist sidekicks who planned to remake the Middle
East and other parts of the world through “regime change.”
Instead of the promised wonders of “democracy
promotion” and “human rights,” what these “anti-realists” have
accomplished is to spread death, destruction and destabilization
across the Middle East and parts of Africa and now into Ukraine
and the heart of Europe. Yet, since these neocon forces still
control the Official Narrative, their explanations get top billing –
such as that there hasn’t been enough “regime change.”
For instance, The Washington Post’s neocon editorial
page editor Fred Hiatt on Monday
blamed “realists” for the cascading catastrophes.
Hiatt castigated them and President Barack Obama for not intervening
more aggressively in Syria to depose President Bashar al-Assad, a
longtime neocon target for “regime change.”
But the truth is that this accelerating spread of human suffering
can be traced back directly to the unchecked influence of the
neocons and their liberal fellow-travelers who have resisted
political compromise and, in the case of Syria, blocked any
realistic efforts to work out a power-sharing agreement between
Assad and his political opponents, those who are not terrorists.
In early 2014, the neocons and liberal hawks
sabotaged Syrian peace talks in Geneva by blocking Iran’s
participation and turning the peace conference into a one-sided
shouting match where U.S.-funded opposition leaders yelled at
Assad’s representatives who then went home. All the while, the
Post’s editors and their friends kept egging Obama to start bombing
The madness of this neocon approach grew more
obvious in the summer of 2014 when the Islamic State, an Al Qaeda
spinoff which had been slaughtering suspected pro-government people
in Syria, expanded its bloody campaign of beheadings back into Iraq
where this hyper-brutal movement first emerged as “Al Qaeda in Iraq”
in response to the 2003 U.S. invasion.
It should have been clear by mid-2014 that if the
neocons had gotten their way and Obama had conducted a massive U.S.
bombing campaign to devastate Assad’s military, the black flag of
Sunni terrorism might well be flying above the Syrian capital of
Damascus while its streets would run red with blood.
But now a year later, the likes of Hiatt still
have not absorbed that lesson — and the spreading chaos from neocon
strategies is destabilizing Europe. As shocking and disturbing as
that is, none of it should have come as much of a surprise, since
the neocons have always brought chaos and dislocations in their
When I first encountered the neocons in the 1980s,
they had been given Central America to play with. President Ronald
Reagan had credentialed many of them, bringing into the U.S.
government neocon luminaries such as Elliott Abrams and Robert
Kagan. But Reagan mostly kept them out of the big-power realms: the
Mideast and Europe.
Those strategic areas went to the “adults,” people
like James Baker, George Shultz, Philip Habib and Brent Scowcroft.
The poor Central Americans, as they tried to shed generations of
repression and backwardness imposed by brutal right-wing
oligarchies, faced U.S. neocon ideologues who unleashed death squads
even genocide against peasants, students and workers.
The result – not surprisingly – was a flood of
refugees, especially from El Salvador and Guatemala, northward to
the United States. The neocon “success” in the 1980s, crushing
progressive social movements and reinforcing the oligarchic
controls, left most countries of Central America in the grip of
corrupt regimes and crime syndicates, periodically driving more
waves of what Reagan called “feet people” through Mexico to the
southern U.S. border.
Messing Up the Mideast
But the neocons weren’t satisfied sitting at the
kids’ table. Even during the Reagan administration, they tried to
squeeze themselves among the “adults” at the grown-ups’ table. For
instance, neocons, such as Robert McFarlane and Paul Wolfowitz,
pushed Israel-friendly policies toward Iran, which the Israelis then
saw as a counterweight to Iraq. That strategy led eventually to the
Iran-Contra Affair, the worst scandal of the Reagan administration.
[See Consortiumnews.com’s “When
Israel /Neocons Favored Iran.”]
However, the right-wing and mainstream U.S. media
never liked the complex Iran-Contra story and thus exposure of the
many levels of the scandal’s criminality was avoided. Democrats also
preferred compromise to confrontation. So, most of the key neocons
survived the Iran-Contra fallout, leaving their ranks still firmly
in place for the next phase of their rise to power.
In the 1990s, the neocons built up a well-funded
infrastructure of think tanks and media outlets, benefiting from
both the largesse of military contractors donating to think tanks
and government-funded operations like the National Endowment for
Democracy, headed by neocon Carl Gershman.
The neocons gained more political momentum
from the U.S. military might displayed during the Persian Gulf War
of 1990-91. Many Americans began to see war as fun, almost like a
video game in which “enemy” forces get obliterated from afar. On TV
news shows, tough-talking pundits were all the rage. If you wanted
to be taken seriously, you couldn’t go wrong taking the most macho
position, what I sometimes call the “er-er-er” growling effect.
Combined with the collapse of the Soviet Union in
1991, the notion that U.S. military supremacy was unmatched and
unchallengeable gave rise to neocon theories about turning
“diplomacy” into nothing more than the delivery of U.S. ultimatums.
In the Middle East, that was a view shared by Israeli hardliners,
who had grown tired of negotiating with the Palestinians and other
Instead of talk, there would be “regime change”
for any government that would not fall into line. This strategy was
articulated in 1996 when a group of American neocons, including
Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, went to work for Benjamin
Netanyahu’s campaign in Israel and compiled a strategy paper, called
“A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.”
Iraq was first on the neocon hit list, but next
came Syria and Iran. The overriding idea was that once the regimes
assisting the Palestinians and Hezbollah were removed or
neutralized, then Israel could dictate peace terms to the
Palestinians who would have no choice but to accept what was on the
In 1998, the neocon Project for the New American
Century, founded by neocons Robert Kagan and William Kristol, called
for a U.S. invasion of Iraq, but President Bill Clinton balked at
something that extreme. The situation changed, however, when
President George W. Bush took office and the 9/11 attacks terrified
and infuriated the American public.
Suddenly, the neocons had a Commander-in-Chief who
agreed with the need to eliminate Iraq’s Saddam Hussein – and
Americans were easily persuaded although Iraq and Hussein had
nothing to do with 9/11. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The
Mysterious Why of the Iraq War.”]
The Death of ‘Realism’
The 2003 Iraq invasion sounded the death knell for
foreign policy “realism” in Official Washington. Aging or dead, the
old adult voices were silent or ignored. From Congress and the
Executive Branch to the think tanks and the mainstream news media,
almost all the “opinion leaders” were neocons and many liberals fell
into line behind Bush’s case for war.
And, even though the Iraq War “group think” was
almost entirely wrong, both on the WMD justifications for war and
the “cakewalk” expectations for remaking Iraq, almost no one who
promoted the fiasco suffered punishment for either the illegality of
the invasion or the absence of sanity in promoting such a
Instead of negative repercussions, the Iraq War
backers – the neocons and their liberal-hawk accomplices –
essentially solidified their control over U.S. foreign policy and
the major news media. From The New York Times and The Washington
Post to the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise
Institute, the “regime change” agenda continued to hold sway.
It didn’t even matter when the sectarian warfare
unleashed in Iraq left hundreds of thousands dead, displaced
millions and gave rise to Al Qaeda’s ruthless Iraq affiliate. Not
even the 2008 election of Barack Obama, an Iraq War opponent,
changed this overall dynamic.
Rather than standing up to this new foreign policy
establishment, Obama bowed to it, retaining key players from
President Bush’s national security team, such as Defense Secretary
Robert Gates and General David Petraeus, and by hiring hawkish
Democrats, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, who became Secretary of
State, and Samantha Power at the National Security Council.
Thus, the cult of “regime change” did not just
survive the Iraq disaster; it thrived. Whenever a difficult foreign
problem emerged, the go-to solution was still “regime change,”
accompanied by the usual demonizing of a targeted leader, support
for the “democratic opposition” and calls for military intervention.
President Obama, arguably a “closet realist,” found himself as the
foot-dragger-in-chief as he reluctantly was pulled along on one
“regime change” crusade after another.
In 2011, for instance, Secretary of State Clinton
and National Security Council aide Power persuaded Obama to join
with some hot-for-war European leaders to achieve “regime change” in
Libya, where Muammar Gaddafi had gone on the offensive against
groups in eastern Libya that he identified as Islamic terrorists.
But Clinton and Power saw the case as a test for
their theories of “humanitarian warfare” – or “regime change” to
remove a “bad guy” like Gaddafi from power. Obama soon signed on
and, with the U.S. military providing crucial technological support,
a devastating bombing campaign destroyed Gaddafi’s army, drove him
from Tripoli, and ultimately led to his torture-murder.
‘We Came, We Saw, He Died’
Secretary Clinton scurried to secure credit for
this “regime change.” According to one email chain in August 2011,
her longtime friend and personal adviser Sidney Blumenthal praised
the bombing campaign to destroy Gaddafi’s army and hailed the
dictator’s impending ouster.
“First, brava! This is a historic moment and you
will be credited for realizing it,” Blumenthal wrote on Aug. 22,
2011. “When Qaddafi himself is finally removed, you should of course
make a public statement before the cameras wherever you are, even in
the driveway of your vacation home. … You must go on camera. You
must establish yourself in the historical record at this moment. …
The most important phrase is: ‘successful strategy.’”
Clinton forwarded Blumenthal’s advice to Jake
Sullivan, a close State Department aide. “Pls read below,” she
wrote. “Sid makes a good case for what I should say, but it’s
premised on being said after Q[addafi] goes, which will make it more
dramatic. That’s my hesitancy, since I’m not sure how many chances
Sullivan responded, saying “it might make sense
for you to do an op-ed to run right after he falls, making this
point. … You can reinforce the op-ed in all your appearances, but it
makes sense to lay down something definitive, almost like the
However, when Gaddafi abandoned Tripoli that day,
President Obama seized the moment to make a triumphant announcement.
Clinton’s opportunity to highlight her joy at the Libyan “regime
change” had to wait until Oct. 20, 2011, when Gaddafi was captured,
tortured and murdered.
In a TV interview, Clinton celebrated the news
when it appeared on her cell phone and paraphrased Julius Caesar’s
famous line after Roman forces achieved a resounding victory in 46
B.C. and he declared, “veni, vidi, vici” – “I came, I saw, I
conquered.” Clinton’s reprise of Caesar’s boast
came; we saw; he died.” She then laughed and clapped her hands.
Presumably, the “Clinton Doctrine” would have been
a policy of “liberal interventionism” to achieve “regime change” in
countries where there is some crisis in which the leader seeks to
put down an internal security threat and where the United States
objects to the action.
But the problem with Clinton’s boasting about the
“Clinton Doctrine” was that the Libyan adventure quickly turned sour
with the Islamic terrorists, whom Gaddafi had warned about, seizing
wide swaths of territory and turning it into another Iraq-like
On Sept. 11, 2012, this reality hit home when the
U.S. consulate in Benghazi was overrun and U.S. Ambassador
Christopher Stevens and three other American diplomatic personnel
were killed. It turned out that Gaddafi wasn’t entirely wrong about
the nature of his opposition.
Eventually, the extremist violence in Libya grew
so out of control that the United States and European countries
abandoned their embassies in Tripoli. Since then, Islamic State
terrorists have begun decapitating Coptic Christians on Libyan
beaches and slaughtering other “heretics.” Amid the anarchy, Libya
has become a route for desperate migrants seeking passage across the
Mediterranean to Europe.
A War on Assad
Parallel to the “regime change” in Libya was a
similar enterprise in Syria in which the neocons and liberal
interventionists pressed for the overthrow of President Bashar
al-Assad, whose government in 2011 cracked down on what had quickly
a violent rebellion led by extremist elements, though the
Western propaganda portrayed the opposition as “moderate” and
For the first years of the Syrian civil war, the
pretense remained that these “moderate” rebels were facing
unjustified repression and the only answer was “regime change” in
Damascus. Assad’s claim that the opposition included many Islamic
extremists was largely dismissed as were Gaddafi’s alarms in Libya.
On Aug. 21, 2013, a sarin gas attack outside
Damascus killed hundreds of civilians and the U.S. State Department
and the mainstream news media immediately blamed Assad’s forces amid
demands for military retaliation against the Syrian army.
Despite doubts within the U.S. intelligence
community about Assad’s responsibility for the sarin attack, which
some analysts saw instead as a provocation by anti-Assad terrorists,
the clamor from Official Washington’s neocons and liberal
interventionists for war was intense and any doubts were brushed
But President Obama, aware of the uncertainty
within the U.S. intelligence community, held back from a military
strike and eventually worked out a deal, brokered by Russian
President Vladimir Putin, in which Assad agreed to surrender his
entire chemical-weapons arsenal while still denying any role in the
Though the case pinning the sarin attack on the
eventually fell apart – with evidence pointing to a “false flag”
operation by Sunni radicals to trick the United States into
intervening on their side – Official Washington’s “group think”
refused to reconsider the initial rush to judgment. In Monday’s
column, Hiatt still references Assad’s “savagery of chemical
Any suggestion that the only realistic option in
Syria is a power-sharing compromise that would include Assad – who
is viewed as the protector of Syria’s Christian, Shiite and Alawite
minorities – is rejected out of hand with the slogan, “Assad must
The neocons have created a conventional wisdom
which holds that the Syrian crisis would have been prevented if only
Obama had followed the neocons’ 2011 prescription of
another U.S. intervention to force another “regime change.” Yet, the
far more likely outcome would have been either another indefinite
and bloody U.S. military occupation of Syria or the black flag of
Islamic terrorism flying over Damascus.
Another villain who emerged from the 2013 failure
to bomb Syria was Russian President Putin, who infuriated the
neocons by his work with Obama on Syria’s surrender of its chemical
weapons and who further annoyed the neocons by helping to get the
Iranians to negotiate seriously on constraining their nuclear
program. Despite the “regime change” disasters in Iraq and Libya,
the neocons wanted to wave the “regime change” wand again over Syria
Putin got his comeuppance when U.S. neocons,
including NED President Carl Gershman and Assistant Secretary of
State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland (Robert Kagan’s wife),
helped orchestrate a “regime change” in Ukraine on Feb. 22, 2014,
overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych and putting in a
fiercely anti-Russian regime on Russia’s border.
As thrilled as the neocons were with their
“victory” in Kiev and their success in demonizing Putin in the
mainstream U.S. news media, Ukraine followed the now-predictable
post-regime-change descent into a vicious civil war. Western
Ukrainians waged a brutal “anti-terrorist operation” against ethnic
Russians in the east who resisted the U.S.-backed coup.
Thousands of Ukrainians died and millions were
displaced as Ukraine’s national economy teetered toward collapse.
Yet, the neocons and their liberal-hawk friends again showed their
propaganda skills by pinning the blame for everything on “Russian
aggression” and Putin.
Though Obama was apparently caught off-guard by
the Ukrainian “regime change,” he soon joined in denouncing Putin
and Russia. The European Union also got behind U.S.-demanded
sanctions against Russia despite the harm those sanctions also
inflicted on Europe’s already shaky economy. Europe’s stability
is now under additional strain because of the flows of refugees from
the war zones of the Middle East.
A Dozen Years of Chaos
So, we can now look at the consequences and costs
of the past dozen years under the spell of neocon/liberal-hawk
“regime change” strategies. According to many estimates, the death
toll in Iraq, Syria and Libya has exceeded one million with several
million more refugees flooding into – and stretching the resources –
of fragile Mideast countries.
Hundreds of thousands of other refugees and
migrants have fled to Europe, putting major strains on the
Continent’s social structures already stressed by the severe
recession that followed the 2008 Wall Street crash. Even without the
refugee crisis, Greece and other southern European countries would
be struggling to meet their citizens’ needs.
Stepping back for a moment and assessing the full
impact of neoconservative policies, you might be amazed at how
widely they have spread chaos across a large swath of the globe. Who
would have thought that the neocons would have succeeded in
destabilizing not only the Mideast but Europe as well.
And, as Europe struggles, the export markets of
China are squeezed, spreading economic instability to that crucial
economy and, with its market shocks, the reverberations rumbling
back to the United States, too.
We now see the human tragedies of neocon/liberal-hawk
ideologies captured in the suffering of the Syrians and other
refugees flooding Europe and the death of children drowning as their
desperate families flee the chaos created by “regime change.” But
will the neocon/liberal-hawk grip on Official Washington finally be
broken? Will a debate even be allowed about the dangers of “regime
change” prescriptions in the future?
Not if the likes of The Washington Post’s Fred
Hiatt have anything to say about it. The truth is that Hiatt and
other neocons retain their dominance of the mainstream U.S. news
media, so all that one can expect from the various MSM outlets is
more neocon propaganda, blaming the chaos not on their policy of
“regime change” but on the failure to undertake even more “regime
The one hope is that many Americans will not be
fooled this time and that a belated “realism” will finally return to
U.S. geopolitical strategies that will look for obtainable
compromises to restore some political order to places such as Syria,
Libya and Ukraine. Rather than more and more tough-guy/gal
confrontations, maybe there will finally be some serious efforts at
But the other reality is that the interventionist
forces have rooted themselves deeply in Official Washington, inside
NATO, within the mainstream news media and even in European
institutions. It will not be easy to rid the world of the grave
dangers created by neocon policies.
reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The
Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest
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