Bush All Over Again: Mitt Romney Is Trojan Horse for the Neocons
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Mitt Romney’s peculiar sense of geography – thinking Iran was some landlocked country that needed Syria as a “route to the sea” – may have raised some eyebrows over Romney’s lack of basic knowledge, but another part of the same answer, referring to the civil war in Syria as “an opportunity,” should have raised more alarm.
Though Romney’s goal in Monday’s foreign policy debate was to downplay his warlike neoconservative stands, his reference to the Syrian chaos as “an opportunity” suggests that his more moderate rhetoric is just another ploy to deceive voters and win the election, not a real abandonment of neocon strategies.
In that sense, the new “moderate Mitt” is less a sign of a neocon retreat from his earlier bellicosity than a Trojan Horse to be wheeled onto the White House grounds on Jan. 20, 2013, so the neocons can pour forth from its hollowed-out belly and regain full control of U.S. foreign policy.
So, the neocons don’t really mind that Romney has suddenly abandoned many of their cherished positions, such as extending the Afghan War beyond 2014 and returning U.S. troops to Iraq. The neocons understand the political need for Romney to calm independent voters who fear that he may be another George W. Bush.
In Monday’s debate, Romney said, “Syria’s an opportunity for us because Syria plays an important role in the Middle East, particularly right now. Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea. It’s the route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally Israel. And so seeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority for us. Number two, seeing a — a replacement government being responsible people is critical for us.”
The “route to the sea” comment – with its faint echo of a distant time in geopolitics – represented proof that Romney lacks even a rudimentary knowledge of world geography, since much of Iran’s southern territory fronts on the Persian Gulf and Iran could only reach Syria by transiting Iraq. Syria and Iran have no common border.
But more significantly, Romney was revealing the crucial connection between the neocon desire for “regime change” in Syria and the neocon determination to strangle Israel’s close-in enemies, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
Romney’s demand for a new Syrian government of “responsible people” further suggests that the Republican presidential nominee shares the core neocon fantasy that the United States can simply remove one unsavory Middle East dictator and install a pro-Western, Israel-friendly leader who will then shut off aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
That was the central fallacy in the Iraq War, the notion that United States with its unparalleled military might could shift the Mideast’s political dynamics to Israel’s advantage through coercive “regime change.” In Iraq, the U.S. military eliminated Saddam Hussein but then saw a new Iraqi government ally itself with Iran.
The new Iraq may be less of a military threat, but it has not reached out and embraced Israel as some neocons had hoped. Indeed, by removing Hussein’s Sunni-controlled regime – and ending up with a Shiite-dominated one – Bush’s Iraq War essentially eliminated a major bulwark against the regional influence of Iran’s Shiite regime.
Dream Still Alive
Yet, despite the bloody and costly catastrophe in Iraq, the heart of the neocon dream is still beating – and Romney’s comment indicates that he shares its illusions. Dating back at least to the mid-1990s, the neocon idea has been to use violent or coercive “regime change” in Muslim countries to secure Israel’s security.