By Jacob Heilbrunn
Oct 22 The neoconservatives who rebuffed the
Republican establishment's warnings about the perils of war in
Iraq have now opened another front -against President Barack
The neocons, unlike the muscular Democrats who led the U.S.
into the Vietnam War-including Defense Secretary Robert McNamara
and Secretary of State Dean Rusk- are not reflecting about what
went wrong in Iraq. Nor are they dodging the public spotlight.
They have instead signed on as foreign policy advisers for
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. He is now strongly
denouncing Obama as an abject failure, intent on appeasing the
world's dictators. Romney, who has scant foreign policy
experience, is now championing a new "American Century,"
featuring a pre-emptive foreign policy agenda, a $2-trillion
increase in the Defense budget and, most likely, hostilities
with Iran - not to mention skirmishes with China and Russia.
Ever since these once hawkish centrist Democrats denounced
President Jimmy Carter and signed on with Ronald Reagan in 1980,
they have sought a president who would carry out their grandiose
dreams: giving Israel carte blanche and exporting democracy, by
force if necessary, around the globe. In George W. Bush they
found him-a credulous president who denounced an axis of evil.
But with the Iraq war, their doctrines became discredited
until the very word "neocon" morphed into a term of abuse. Now,
however, these unrepentant ideologues are seeking another chance
to promote their militant doctrines - and have discovered a
fresh champion in Romney.
Romney recently praised former Vice President Dick Cheney as
a "person of wisdom and judgment." For his advisers are a
phalanx of neoconservatives who actively worked with Cheney in
the George W. Bush administration.
Yet, for all Romney's skill at turning around faltering
businesses, this neo-con attack on the Obama foreign policy
looks like one enterprise that is bound to fail. Instead of
reviving his campaign, Romney's embrace of the neocons is
sabotaging it. Romney may be good for the neocons - but they are
not good for him.
Neocons who have clambered on board the Romney campaign
include Bush administration officials Dan Senor, who served as
spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq; John
Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations, and Elliott
Abrams, a former deputy national security adviser for global
The neocons in the Romney camp appear to be focused on
blanket support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
and confrontation with Russia, China and, above all, Iran.
Abrams, writing in the Weekly Standard, for example,
declared that Congress should pass a resolution authorizing the
use of military force against Iran. Senor said on CBS' "This
Morning" last month that America "looks impotent" because Obama
has failed to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Both Abrams and Senor are also giving Republican vice
presidential candidate Paul Ryan, who recently decried Obama's
absence of "moral clarity" in foreign affairs, a neocon buffing.
Yet Romney's adoption of the neocons could be boomeranging.
During the former Massachusetts governor's maladroit trip abroad
this summer, Senor declared in Israel, "If Israel has to take
action on its own, in order to stop Iran from developing that
capability, the governor would respect that decision."
The Romney camp ultimately had to walk back this provocative
statement. But Romney, who declared in his infamous
behind-closed-doors video that the Palestinians have "no
interest" in peace, presumably believes in it.
Romney, in his second presidential debate with Obama,
flirted with disaster when he pointed to the attack on the U.S.
consulate in Benghazi to press the tired, and bogus, neocon line
that Obama is a wuss when it comes to confronting terrorism.
Instead of engaging in a semantic debate about whether Obama
described the attack as an "act of terror," Romney would have
been wiser to attack Obama on the more substantive grounds of
Overall, Romney would be better-served if he listened to the
few establishment advisers in his camp, including Robert
Zoellick, former deputy secretary of state and World Bank head,
who, not surprisingly, is loathed by the neocons for his
reasoned approach to foreign policy. Zoellick is also castigated
as a protégé of former Secretary of State James Baker, the
neocon bogeyman because of his criticism of Israel's West Bank
There are no signs, however, that Romney is seriously
deviating from neocon orthodoxy.
So when Romney debates Obama on foreign policy on Monday
night, he will likely be walking straight into a trap of his own
making. Romney wants to portray Obama-who approved the daring
raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden-as a warmed-over
But in caricaturing Obama, who has pursued a prudent and
cautious course in foreign policy, Romney is providing further
evidence that he is living in the past by endorsing the failed
policies of the Bush administration.
In the final debate Monday, Obama will surely pound home the
theme that Romney would likely mire the U.S. in new and
unpopular wars in both the Middle East and Asia.
Whether Romney as president would actually pursue the
neo-con piffle he's been touting is an open question. But given
that 17 of 24 of his top foreign policy advisers served in the
Bush administration, as Foreign Policy noted, it would be a big
gamble to bet against it.
Romney as president, for example could face an uproar in his
own ranks if he tried to restrain Israel from attacking Tehran.
He may discover that the only thing the neocons are essentially
loyal is their malarkey about reinventing the Middle East
So, if Obama defeats Romney would the neocons finally
disappear? Not a chance.
Their policies may have led to catastrophe in the Middle
East, but they have become a permanent part of the Washington
establishment. They now have sturdy perches at the American
Enterprise Institute, Fox News and the Weekly Standard, among
Instead of folding their collective foreign policy tents,
the neocons will likely latch onto a fresh candidate, like Paul
Ryan or Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to espouse their credo in
It's not as if the neocons are actually making a comeback.
They never really left.