Politics & Law

Neoncons and the foreign-policy presidential debate: The ism that dare not speak its name

Lawrence Rosenthal

In Monday’s final presidential debate, President Barack Obama came full circle and more from his conflict-averse showing in the first debate. Obama not only attacked his opponent, but, in the absence of much challenge from Mitt Romney, took it upon himself to raise the very points required to mount his attacks.

For the most part, when the debate was not sidelined back to the domestic economy, Romney tended to endorse Obama’s specific policies, while offering weak and generic bromides about being strong and increasing defense spending. On critical matters, like Afghanistan, Romney’s earlier campaign-trail objections seemed to turn ethereal. As Obama observed in a discussion of sanctions on Iran:

 I’m glad that Governor Romney agrees with the steps that we’re taking. There have been times, Governor, frankly, during the course of this campaign, where it sounded like you thought that you’d do the same things we did, but you’d say them louder and somehow that would make a difference.

On point after point, Obama brought up earlier statements and positions that Romney has enunciated during his long run to the nomination and since. And a notable list of topics it was: Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden, Libya, Syria. It was as though Obama himself needed to conjure up the foreign policy adversary he was debating with — the Romney from the campaign trail, not the Romney sitting beside him.

But there was good reason for Romney’s failure to offer his counter foreign-policy positions, much less a competing foreign-policy vision. He has taken on a foreign policy team that, above all, needs to be kept out of sight as much as possible from the American public. He has resurrected the neoconservatives, and they are spoiling for an attack on Iran.

Fully 17 of Romney’s 24 special advisers on foreign policy served in the Bush administration. His key advisers on the Middle East are all neocons…Romney’s advisers — most of whom supported the Iraq war — have already concluded that war with Iran is essential.

The names pass by in baleful parade: Kagan, Senor, Bolton, Chertoff, Cofer Black, Carlucci. As the authors of the Bush administration’s disastrous Iraq invasion, it would be hard to think of a more profoundly discredited foreign-policy vision than neoconservatism — or one more anathema to a public drained and disappointed by a decade of war.

In fact, the neoconservatives have always been aware that their ideas unvarnished would seem baffling and Strangelove-like to most Americans. The invasion of Iraq was the linchpin of a strategy cooked up years before and awaiting a pretext like 9-11 to turn into policy. Even then, it was sold to the American public and the world (remember Colin Powell at the UN) not on the neocons’ strategic vision of an interventionist American hyperpower, but on the fictive threat of weapons of mass destruction, playing on post-9-11 fears.

Today, as in 2003, neoconservatives understand that Americans are loath to support their militaristic vision of the world. To a wide audience both here and abroad, the neocons resemble spiteful school children playing Risk. It was never clear to what extent they sold George W. Bush a bill of goods, playing on that president’s ignorance of the world and personal issues both oedipal and napoleonic. Romney’s own lack of worldliness became clear in his July gaffe-filled international tour. His ignorance came through in his Palinesque observation in the debate that “Syria is Iran’s…route to the sea.”

Hence the baffling bifurcated Romney Obama faced in debate—the Romney present and the Romney absent. The latter was the Romney of the stump who Obama was obliged to summon from the campaign deeps. Of the former, the President observed, speaking of Syria:

What you just heard Governor Romney say is he doesn’t have different ideas, and that’s because we’re doing exactly what we should be doing to try to promote a moderate, Syrian leadership and a — an effective transition so that we get Assad out. That’s the kind of leadership we’ve shown. That’s the kind of leadership we’ll continue to show.

The neoconservatives are employing a Trojan horse strategy to return to the helm of foreign-policy decision-making in this country. More than anything else, they needed to get through the foreign policy debate without showing their hand. It looks like they succeeded.

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Comments to "Neoncons and the foreign-policy presidential debate: The ism that dare not speak its name":
    • Mark Talmont

      I have seen most of these people interviewed on Fox and CNN with the on-screen byline “Romney advisor”. This is a Trojan Horse?

      Hilary, Biden, Kerry, and s bunch of other Dems in the Senate voted for everything the neocons cooked up. Kerry ran a presidential campaign where he couldn’t seem to put a photon between his position and theirs. Then there were no investigations into matters such as the MISSING BILLIONS in Iraq after the Dems took the Senate and Obama had both houses in 2008.

      I’m starting to see the wisdom of the view I see on some of the alternative, non-mainstream sites (some of them are extremist!) suggesting that the Grand Design controlling the foreign policy of both parties is to promote radical Islam–because the brain trust at the CFR thinks this is more a long-term threat to Russian and China than to the U.S. But probably they’re doing it because it just makes more trouble, the one thing they really know how to do and benefit from (because the more trouble, the more the government needs to rely on policy “experts” provided by…the CFR and their associates).

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    • Bruce

      Being of a more conservative persuasion, I used to believe that it would be possible to have a rational and open-minded discourse concerning politics, economics or social issues with Berkeley faculty. After all, don’t they profess to be the epicenter of free speech and openness to differing viewpoints.

      Sadly, I have come to the conclusion that they have become so inbred in their thinking, via decades of selective hiring, that they truly can’t even conceive that any rational person would have any beliefs that don’t fit in with their world view.

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    • Sunil C

      I hope there is a left wing study report to inform the public about the realy differences between both parties policies and the truth. Public really need a non partisan perspective on policies that matter. Thanks

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    • Mid-Eastern woman

      I wish Obama had articulated what “promoting a moderate Syrian leadership” means? If it means we have to get off the sidelines and support the anti-Assad forces in Syria, it is a lot simpler said than done. Providing weapons to the rebels (who may have radical elements?) hummm note: we are dealing a with a regime that has the largest arsenal of chemical weapons in the world. And what happens with Iran and Russia who are supporting the Assad regime?

      It’s interesting that foreign policy is now strictly talked about in terms of the Middle East and to some extent China-bashing (by Romney). Somethings never change!

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    • Mark Talmont

      RT.com (and their cable news channel) and a few right-leaning sites have been discussing evidence that what was going on in Libya that the Obamas wish to sweep under the rug was training of Islamist fighters to be sent to Syria. If so, this would be another episode of “blowback” if some of these operatives wound up in the embassy attack.

      RT just reported how the U.S. vetoed the Russian Security Council resolution regarding what looks like a massacre of civilians going on at Bani Walid. Don’t hold your breath to see if this shows up on the cable news talk shows.

      It would be good if just once somebody on the left would acknowledge that there is conservative opposition to the neocons. American Conservative magazine and Pat Buchanan for instance (notice how they purged him off MSNBC prior to the presidential campaign?) They opposed the Iraq war and even Bush 41′s Gulf War before that. Congressman Walter “freedom fries” Jones has condemned the Iraq war as “based on a lie” on the house floor (he’s also teamed up with Marcy Kaptur to bring back Glass-Steagal, cue roaring silence from the brothel in the Senate).

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    • Henry Stimson

      Now that the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies has weighed in on the election, where’s the corresponding commentary critical of the left-wing?

      If it’s valid to claim the Republican slate “needed to get through the foreign policy debate without showing their hand”, who’s examining President Obama’s statement that he can be “more flexible” after the election, the New York Times coverage about negotiations with Iran that had to be deferred, and other other policy items that have been pushed past election day?

      Could it be that Berkeley no longer has faculty willing to challenge the conventional wisdom?

      [Report abuse]

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