Republican foreign-policy realists haven't changed their tune over the years, but some in the GOP have moved away from the realists, such as defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel, according to former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft.
"We haven't moved; the Republican party has moved," Scowcroft told The Cable in an interview. "I have been a lifelong Republican and I hold to what I are my own beliefs, which happen to be core Republican beliefs, but many in the party have taken a different course."
Scowcroft is one of several senior former GOP officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, to back the Hagel nomination in the face of opposition from half a dozen GOP senators and groups associated with the neoconservative and hawkish sides of the Republican foreign policy community. Scowcroft said the GOP is rooted in the realist principles he still espouses.
"The neocons go clear back to the 1970s. They were Democrats, then became sort of Republicans," he said. "I'm who I am. Whether the party wants to desert me, that's their privilege."
Hagel's controversial comments from years past, such as when he once referred to the "Jewish lobby" or his longstanding opposition to unilateral sanctions, shouldn't bar him from serving as defense secretary, according to Scowcroft.
"He is first and foremost an American and he takes an American perspective on everything he discusses," he said. "I'm frankly surprised [by the controversy], because he says what he believes at the time and there is a core in what he has said that makes some sense. Would you rather have someone who has never said anything?"
Scowcroft joined with several other former officials in both parties to sign a letter in support of Hagel las month on the letterhead of the "Bipartisan Group," a loose association of former officials that includes Hagel. The Cable reported that horse racing gambler Bill Benter paid to have that letter advertised in Politico's Playbook newsletter.
But the Bipartisan Group has no further plans to act on behalf of Hagel and is not working directly with the Obama administration on the Hagel defense effort.
"This is a group that got together to write a letter to the president in 2008 about the Palestinian peace process and then got together again to write this letter," said Scowcroft. "There's no organization, there's no strategy, there's no nothing as far as I am concerned. It was a one-off thing. That's the whole story as far as I know."
Scowcroft said it was "strong and brave" of President Barack Obama to choose a Republican such as Hagel, but he does not think this necessarily means Obama is cementing a foreign policy legacy that tracks with the Republican realist view of the world.
"The president on foreign policy is fairly eclectic,' he said. "It's a promising move. Whether it represents anything broader than that, I'm not prepared to say."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.