I’m grateful to the folks at LobeLog for publishing me twice today, and I’d be grateful to you folks for heading over there and checking both pieces out. First up was something I’d been working on last week with Jim Lobe, the “Lobe” in LobeLog, on what Donald Trump’s rise in the Republican Party (and his likely upcoming matchup with Hillary Clinton) is doing to the neoconservative movement. A lot of them are really quite unhappy with Trump as Republican nominee. They’ve spent a great deal of effort trying to sway Republican voters against him and, now that it appears to have all been for naught, many leading neocon voices are saying they won’t support Trump in the fall:
But Kagan isn’t the only prominent neoconservative to express his dissatisfaction with Trump. In early March, former Bush administration official Eliot Cohen wrote a letter denouncing Trump that was signed by over 100 influential Republican foreign policy thinkers, nearly all of them neoconservatives. Then, in another Washington Post editorial written after Cruz and Kasich had dropped out of the race, Cohen declared that “it is time for a third candidate, and probably for a third party.” In an interview with Vox.com in March, Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Max Boot said “I disagree with Hillary a lot less than I disagree with Donald Trump” and called Clinton “vastly preferable.” Elliott Abrams, formerly on Trump rival Ted Cruz’s foreign policy team, told Politico that he would be “unable to vote for Trump or Clinton” if those were the two nominees. Columnist Charles Krauthammer recently told Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly that “I don’t think I’d be capable of voting for Donald Trump.” Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens wrote on March 28 that “Trump is Obama Squared” (he didn’t mean it as a compliment), though he’s not yet said whether he could support Trump in November.
Robert Kagan, one of the most influential figures in neoconservatism over the past couple of decades, has already said he’ll vote for Clinton in the fall. Stephens just today wrote a column openly rooting for a Clinton victory, though where Kagan sees Clinton has preferable to Trump Stephens seems to be looking at it in terms of the survivability of movement conservatism. A Clinton presidency gives them all something to rally against, you see, while a Trump presidency would simply wreck everything. You have to assume for the sake of Stephens’s argument that Donald Trump isn’t the literal embodiment of all of the grossest, most hateful and xenophobic, aspects of movement conservatism. He is, of course, but Stephens won’t even admit that to himself, much less to his
My second piece of the day was something I wrote on the fly this morning, in response to a profile in The New York Times Magazine last week of White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes. The profile has reignited a debate about whether the Obama administration lied the country into the Iran nuclear deal, mostly because Rhodes said some unfortunately-worded things about how the White House fudged the actual start date of the talks (which began before Hassan Rouhani was elected, though the administration doesn’t like to admit that), and how he and his team created an “echo chamber” of non-proliferation experts to support the administration’s position. None of his quotes taken in isolation is especially damning, but when placed into the context of reporter David Samuels’s piece, the whole thing takes on a very sinister tinge. And there’s a reason for that: Samuels has been a pretty ardent opponent of the nuclear deal:
In April 2015, Samuels participated in a panel discussion at the Hudson Institute called “What’s Wrong with the Proposed Nuclear Deal with Iran?” On that panel, JCPOA opponent and Hudson senior fellow Michael Doran talked about the Obama administration’s “fundamentally false” story about the nuclear talks, which seems to be the framing that Samuels adopted when writing his profile of Rhodes. Samuels was on the panel to offer his opinion on how deal opponents could more effectively get their message across to the American public. This, of course, is exactly what Rhodes was doing, once you strip away the innuendo in Samuels’s profile, on the other side of the debate.
Nowhere in the piece does Samuels mention his own opinion explicitly, but he allows his bias to color every aspect of his reporting. Obviously he can believe what he wants about the deal and write accordingly, but it’s pretty shady business not to disclose where he stands on the issue in the context of a hit piece like that one.
By the by, I’m not the only person writing about Samuels’s questionable reporting today. The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, who was name-dropped in the Rhodes profile as one of the “handpicked Beltway insiders” who “helped retail the administration’s narrative” on the negotiations, also had some things to say. Understandably, he’s pretty pissed off:
On another level, though, I did not find this mention of my name amusing at all, because Samuels is making a serious, unsourced, and unsubstantiated allegation against me in an otherwise highly credible publication (one for which I happened to work, in fact). And he did so without disclosing that he holds a longtime personal grudge against me.
On Friday, I sent an e-mail to Jake Silverstein, the editor of The New York Times Magazine, outlining my concerns. In brief, I noted that the accusation Samuels leveled against me was unfair; that he had not given me an opportunity to respond (nor was I ever contacted by a fact-checker); and that he offered no proof that I “retailed” anything on behalf of the administration. I also provided Silverstein with links to several articles I had written during that period that were critical of the Iran deal, and of the U.S. approach to the issue (including a post unambiguously titled, “Iran is Getting Away With Murder”).