Mitt Romney, who in the past was considered a moderate Republican, has surrounded himself with neoconservative foreign-policy advisors. Romney’s chameleon approach to politics is to simply say, and sometimes do, whatever would appeal to his current audience. To win the governorship of Massachusetts, Romney had to be something of a liberal. To win the Republican presidential primaries, it was essential for him to place himself on the Right. In foreign policy that meant appealing to the Christian Zionists and hard-line American nationalists who identify with the aggressive foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration —which especially focused on the Middle East — with Iran now being the major target. All the other major Republican presidential candidates took the same position with the exception of Ron Paul.
Romney has gone so far as to threaten military action to stop Iran’s alleged nuclear-weapons program. That naturally pleased supporters of Israel, Iran being Israel’s foremost enemy, and it paid off bountifully for Romney in June, when multi-billionaire Zionist Sheldon Adelson, who had single-handedly kept Newt Gingrich in the Republican primary race, pledged to spend $100 million or more to help Romney defeat President Obama.
Romney’s foreign-policy advisors include such neocon luminaries as Robert Kagan, a contributing editor of the neocon Weekly Standard and scholar at the Brookings Institution; Eliot Cohen, a Johns Hopkins University professor of strategic studies, who coined the term “World War IV” for the war against Islamic “terrorists” (i.e., essentially against Israel’s Middle East enemies); Dan Senor, former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer in Iraq and a former intern for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC); Eric Edelman, an advisor to Vice President Cheney in George W. Bush’s first term and undersecretary of defense for policy in the second; and John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, as well as UN ambassador, during the younger Bush’s administration.
Kagan, Edelman, and Senor have served (with Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol) as directors of the Foreign Policy Initiative, which is considered a successor to the now-defunct Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a group that promoted the war on Iraq. Among its hawkish policies, the Foreign Policy Initiative has advocated a U.S. military strike on Iran’s nuclear program along with support for regime change in Teheran, and military intervention in Syria.
Bolton especially stands out since his name has been mentioned for the position of secretary of state in a Romney administration. In a recent Weekly Standard piece, “The Negotiation Delusion,” Bolton rejects the idea that negotiations, sanctions, computer-virus attacks, targeted killings, or anything short of an actual military attack will stop Iran from continuing its alleged “decades-long effort to build deliverable nuclear weapons.” Moreover, he goes so far as to state that, because of its alleged cheating, Iran does not have the right “even to ‘peaceful’ nuclear activities without fundamental regime change.”
In short, war is the only option for the United States. And Bolton does not sugarcoat the ramifications of such a war, as the neocons did in the build-up for the war on Iraq. For he holds that “Russia and China have a strategic national interest in preventing us from succeeding” because they see it as a “test case in limiting American power.” If Russian and Chinese strategic national interests are involved, it seems unlikely that those countries would sit on the sidelines while the United States bombarded Iran in order to achieve “regime change.”
As an aside, let me add that there are also old-line Republican realists/pragmatists (of the Brent Scowcroft-James Baker variety) listed among Romney’s advisors who, it is reported, are at loggerheads with the neocons. But official campaign pronouncements and Romney’s speeches indicate that the neocons are clearly dominant. In fact, the Republican foreign-policy stalwart Scowcroft has yet to endorse Romney. “I don’t think I’ve changed my views at all,” Scowcroft stated, as quoted by the New York Times. “I think the party has moved.”
Given that Romney’s identification with the neocons and their hard-line policies is likely motivated by opportunism rather than conviction, shouldn’t he now be expected to shift for the fall campaign to a more moderate position, which he would continue to observe as president? Furthermore, should he become president, would he really want to harm his own popularity at home and abroad by launching a war that would be apt to devastate the economy, just to placate the neoconservatives and other segments of the Israel lobby?
Those factors must be considered, but Romney has gone so far in his involvement with the neocons that it would be very difficult for him to extricate himself from their war agenda without serious negative repercussions for himself. The neocons and their wealthy supporters expect him to pursue a policy in line with their thinking, at least in key areas such as Iran, Syria, and Israel.
It must be remembered that the neocons are very influential in the conservative media, best represented by Fox News. Should the neocons turn on him for deserting their Middle East agenda, their criticism of him would likely resonate with the Republican base, which was never too keen about him in the first place, and thus undermine his administration. Since it is doubtful that Romney would be able to attract substantial support from independents and Democrats by adopting a more moderate foreign-policy stance, his alienation of the neocons, with their power over the G.O.P. base, could leave him with virtually no significant support.
Therefore it appears that Romney, out of self-interest, would need to keep his wagon tied to the neocons, while perhaps trying to ameliorate some of their most extreme positions. That approach definitely would mean that much stronger measures would be taken against Iran than have been implemented so far, and if the United States did not actually initiate war over Iran’s nuclear program, it would engage in belligerent tactics that would inevitably lead to war.
Romney’s identification with the neoconservatives also helps to reveal something about Obama’s likely Iran policy in the future. It is an ominous sign that the Obama camp refrains from criticizing Romney’s choice of pro-war advisors who had pushed for the unpopular war on Iraq, while at the same time it is quite willing to make all kinds of extreme charges against him, including the inflammatory claim that he is a felon. Furthermore, Obama’s campaign website does not tout any effort on Obama’s part to resist the war hawks’ demand for war. Rather, it features more militant positions. For example: “President Obama has been clear that he is determined to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Under Obama’s leadership, the United States gained the support of China, Russia, and other nations to pass the most comprehensive international sanctions regime that Iran has ever faced.” Moreover, it declares that “the President is working to address Israel’s security needs and ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people.”
Added to that is Obama’s continuing mantra that “all options are on the table,” which implies that if the sanctions and other short-of-war measures that have already been imposed don’t stop Iran’s alleged program to develop nuclear weapons, the United States would initiate a military attack. Since there is no valid evidence that such a program to build nuclear weapons exists, there can be no valid evidence that it has actually ceased. So sometime during his second administration, the neocons and other war hawks, using Obama’s very words, could pressure him into launching an attack on the grounds that the alleged nuclear-weapons program continues to operate despite the sanctions and all the other short-of-war measures that have been taken. And, of course, there is a good chance that his short-of-war measures could lead to an incident bringing about a full-scale war.