WASHINGTON - Just days after the Nobel Committee in Oslo awarded Barack Obama its coveted peace prize, two of Washington's most prominent foreign policy hawks launched a new group and ad campaign designed to depict the president as weak and defend the more aggressive policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
The new group, Keep America Safe, was co-founded by neo-conservative heavyweight William Kristol, who also edits The Weekly Standard; and Elisabeth (Liz) Cheney, the outspoken daughter of Bush's vice president, Dick Cheney, who is believed to harbour political ambitions of her own.
"Amidst the great challenges to America's security and prosperity, the current administration too often seems uncertain, wishful, irresolute, and unwilling to stand up for America, our allies and our interests," according to the mission statement of the new group, whose third founder-director, Debra Burlingame, is also co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America.
"Keep America Safe believes the United States can only defeat our adversaries and defend our interests from a position of strengh [sic]," the statement says.
"We know that America has, for 233 years, been an unparalleled force for good in the world, that our fighting forces are the best the world has ever known, and that the world is a safer place when America is trusted by our allies and feared and respected by our enemies."
"Keep America Safe will make the case for an unapologetic approach to fighting terrorism around the world, for victory in the wars this country fights, for democracy and human rights, and for a strong American military that is needed in the dangerous world in which we live," it says.
The new group, which, under the rules of its incorporation, will be permitted to lobby Congress and endorse political candidates, will focus initially on raising money to help disseminate its video ads, the first of which is currently featured on its website.
"The Left has dozens of organisations and tens of millions of dollars dedicated to undercutting the war on terror," Kristol told "Politico" Tuesday. "The good guys need some help, too."
Earlier this year, Kristol co-founded with his long-time collaborator, Robert Kagan, another hawkish group, the neo-conservative Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), which has published open letters urging Obama to promote democracy in Russia, send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan, and reassure Washington's Central European allies about its defence commitment.
The two men were also co-founders and directors of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a number of whose 1997 charter members, including the elder Cheney, former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, and their two top aides - I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby and Paul Wolfowitz, respectively - played key roles in promoting the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Bush's other first-term policies when the hawks exercised their greatest influence.
Kristol and Cheney, who are also commentators for the far-right Fox News, have been among the sharpest right-wing critics of Obama's efforts to court foreign opinion, especially in Europe and the Muslim world whose publics were most alienated by the Bush administration's policies, according to public opinion surveys.
They have been particularly scornful of the Nobel Committee's decision to honour Obama.
Cheney, a lawyer who headed the State Department's Middle East democracy-promotion programmes from 2002 to 2004 and is reportedly considering running for Congress next year, called the award a "farce" and suggested that Obama send a "mother of a fallen American soldier to accept the prize on behalf of the U.S. military... to remind the Nobel committee that each one of them sleeps soundly at night because the U.S. military is the greatest peacekeeping force in the world today."
Kristol called the committee "anti-American".
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Like most other far-right and neo-conservative commentators, they have tried to paint Obama's foreign policy as designed to weaken and constrain U.S. power in a dangerous world by abandoning policies championed by Cheney's father, whose memoirs she is reportedly helping to write.
"By turning away from the policies that have kept us safe, by treating terrorism as a law enforcement matter, giving foreign terrorists the same rights as American citizens, launching investigations of CIA agents, cutting defense spending, breaking faith with our allies and attempting to appease our adversaries, the current administration is weakening the nation, and making it more difficult for us to defend our security and our interests," the new group's mission statement reads.
The developing right-wing narrative against Obama has been most comprehensively laid out by neo-conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, in an article entitled "Decline Is a Choice: The New Liberalism and the End of American Ascendancy" published this week by Kristol's Weekly Standard and featured on the Keep America Safe website.
"The current foreign policy of the United States is an exercise in contraction," according to the article, which goes on to argue that Obama's acknowledgement in various major speeches that Washington's conduct abroad has not always lived up to its principles "effectively undermine[s] any moral claim that America might have to world leadership".
"[T]he new left-liberal internationalism goes far beyond its earlier Clintonian incarnation in its distrust and distaste for American dominance," according to Krauthammer, an unabashed promoter of global U.S. dominance since 1990 when he penned a famous essay in Foreign Affairs entitled "The Unipolar Moment".
"For what might be called the New Liberalism the renunciation of power is rooted not in the fear that we are essentially good but subject to the corruptions of power - the old Clintonian view - but rooted in the conviction that America is so intrinsically flawed, so inherently and congenitally sinful that it cannot be trusted with, and does not merit, the possession of overarching world power."
Under Obama, Washington is engaged in "strategic retreat", according to Krauthammer.
He cites as evidence, among other things, the administration's abandonment of the phrase "Global War on Terror"; the "unilateral abrogation" of missile defence systems in Poland and the Czech Republic; "indecision on Afghanistan"; the failure to treat Iraq as a "prize... of great strategic significance that the administration seems to have no intention of exploiting"; support for a "Chavista caudillo" in Honduras; and "heavy and gratuitous America pressure on Israel".
The notion that such measures, which he sees as futile efforts to regain the moral high ground, will "lead to reciprocal gestures from the likes of Iran and North Korea is simply childish".
"In a word, it is a foreign policy designed to produce American decline - to make America essentially one nation among many," a process furthered by domestic policies that are social democratic and European in their privileging of butter over guns, according to Krauthammer.
"(W)hile globalization has produced in some the illusion that human nature has changed, it has not," he went on. "The international arena remains a Hobbesian state of nature in which countries naturally strive for power... Do we really want to live under unknown, untested, shifting multipolarity? Or even worse, under the gauzy internationalism of the New Liberalism with its self-enforcing norms?"
The point was echoed by Cheney in her critique on Fox News of the Nobel's decision.
"What the committee believes is, they'd like to live in a world in which America's not dominant," she said. "They may believe that President Obama also doesn't believe in American dominance and they may have been trying to affirm that belief with the prize. I think, unfortunately, they may be right, and I think it's a concern."