COLUMNS Stephen Berk

Return of the Neocons

Over his years as politician, Mitt Romney has tacked from a pragmatic center-right as governor of Massachusetts, when he signed a health care bill identical to Obama care, to a hard right position that has become necessary to get the Republican presidential nomination today. One standard credential of the American right has always been the willingness to wage war. Ever since Vietnam and the disastrous McGovern peace campaign of 1972, Republicans have successfully tarred Democrats as soft on foreign policy, and Democrats have become increasingly hawkish to prove they are just as tough. If being tough gains points in conservative circles, then why shouldn’t Romney embrace the toughest, the neoconservatives?

Preeminent in the first George W. Bush administration, neocons have advocated an unabashed American imperialism. They led the preemptive war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq as a first step in building a “democratic,” Americanized Middle East. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld argued that “shock and awe” tactics would make victory in Iraq an inexpensive “cakewalk.” But trillion dollar quagmires in both Iraq and Afghanistan led Bush to resume the less blatantly imperialistic policies which had become the common stock of both political parties. That is, a hawkish posture toward those deemed “adversaries,” always leaving war “on the table,” but engagement in other forms of persuasion, such as negotiation or sanctions. During his second administration, Bush replaced Rumsfeld with the more conciliatory Gates. He also sidelined Vice President Cheney, who had been central to policy making in the “Global War on Terror,” relying on the more traditional “realism” of Condoleezza Rice, whose views were similar to those of Clinton secretary of state, Madeline Albright.

But Romney, feeling the need to prove his tough minded conservative credentials, now embraces the neoconservatives. He draws his foreign policy views from the very people who once clustered under the name Project for the New American Century. This was the think tank that authored a pre 9/11 document entitled “Rebuilding our National Defenses,” which argued that the end of the Cold War should not see a peace dividend in the form of new domestic infrastructure and social spending. Instead, they argued, it was the destiny of “the one remaining superpower” to so dominate the world that no country could ever challenge its supremacy. To achieve this end they called for greatly augmented defense spending. But they acknowledged that for post Cold War Americans to accept such imperialism, they would need to experience national trauma on the level of “a new Pearl Harbor.” Their wish came true, and they got their unending war accompanied by relentless decline of civil liberties in a militarized state.

“King Con” John Bolton

Among the most bellicose of the neocons is John Bolton, who wholly embraces continuous preemptive warfare, eschewing all negotiation as weakness. So belligerent has been his position that when Bush attempted to appoint him as UN representative, the Senate refused to confirm him. Bolton has opposed all US nuclear arms reduction treaties, such as the one negotiated between Reagan and Gorbachev. And he vehemently opposes any further negotiation with Iran. Yet, Mitt Romney singles out John Bolton as one “whose wisdom, clarity and courage are qualities that should typify our foreign policy.” He has even spoken of him as a possible secretary of state in a Romney administration.

Even though Iran has the right to enrich uranium under international law and all our intelligence agencies have stated that she has abandoned seeking a nuclear weapon, Bolton agrees with Israeli president Netanyahu that we should cease negotiations and launch an air war against Iran as soon as possible. The vast majority of American military brass and world opinion regard bombing Iran as inviting catastrophe. Iran controls the Straits of Hormuz, where US carriers are sitting ducks. And Iran has sophisticated arms it has acquired from Russia. War with Iran will lead to a major regional war that could easily draw in the Great Powers. The US is joined to Israel at the hip, and Iran is aligned to Russia, with whom she shares a border, and also China. Our vital ally in Central Asia, Pakistan, has stated that if Israel or the US attacks Iran, she will support Iran. This is what we have to look forward to for starters in a Romney presidency.

By Stephen Berk

Steve is a retired history professor from California State University at Long Beach. He's currently on the board of directors of Clatsop Community College, and teaches classes in the ENCORE program. He's written extensively on social, political and religious issues, and has been writing a column in HIPFiSHmonthly for over 5 years.