As I've noted before, taking Bill Kristol at face value, rather than with a view to the agenda he's trying to advance, is perilous. So Kristol's remarks at AIPAC arguing that "[t]here are actually no [significant foreign policy] disputes…with the exception of Iraq" between Barack Obama and John McCain — a scant month and a half after Kristol accused Obama of being a crypto-Communist, and the very same day that he accused Obama of being insufficiently patriotic — are baffling on several levels. Fortunately, John Schwenkler very nearly found the decoder ring:
[C]ould it be – could it be? – that, sly, unscrupulous, and politically sensitive weasel that he is, Mr. Kristol is aware that, on pretty much every foreign policy issue at stake in this election (including, of course, those issues with respect to which the candidates' disagreements are obviously inescapable), the voting populace is largely in sympathy with (what are at least perceived to be) the views of Senator Obama? Could it be that Ezra Klein's greatest dream – that the media will actually report on the differences between the presidential candidates – is Bill Kristol's worst nightmare, and that for this reason he is taking steps to prevent this from happening?
That's almost exactly right up until the last point. Yes, it's true that throwing up a wall of bullshit to deflect attention from your candidate's deeply unpopular views is a potentially effective means of helping him creep to victory on the strength of contentless non-issues — like, say, whether his opponent is an insufficiently patriotic crypto-Communist. But to conclude that's all Kristol is up to doesn't give him nearly enough credit for a long-term vision, at least when it comes to tactical moves in the Republican party's internal turf wars. Campaigning on xenophobia, guilt by association, and red-baiting has desperate and unintentionally self-parodic qualities this year that it didn't have as recently as 2004. The likelihood is that John McCain will lose; if and when he loses, the multilateral truce among neos, paleos, reformists, and GOP hacks — which is about as fragile as the truce in Basra to begin with — is going to shatter before Obama's victory speech ends.
The neocons are in a decidedly weak position. Fairly or not, it's their foreign policy more than anything else that has made the name of the GOP radioactive — and even worse for Republican partisans, has destroyed the party's nearly 40-year-old, frequently decisive advantage on national security. And though the Republicans somehow stumbled into nominating their only candidate with a prayer of victory, they exposed the neocons to even more risk by choosing, in John McCain, the most prominent exponent of their philosophy in American politics. Honest neocons like Lawrence Kaplan readily concede that neoconservatism's future rests on McCain's shoulders. Kristol, on the other hand, is trying to reframe the debate to obscure its ramifications for his ideology in case McCain loses.