Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks to workers and staff at the Care and Share of Southern Colorado food bank in Colorado Springs, Colorado July 10, 2012.
Like George W. Bush, Mitt Romney has responded to his lack of foreign policy experience by surrounding himself with clever neoconservatives who are now looking forward to expanding Bushâ€™s â€œglobal war on terrorâ€ into what neocon ideologue William Kristol calls a U.S. â€œwar with political Islamism.â€
In a Washington Post op-ed on Thursday, Kristol dismissed President Obamaâ€™s phased military withdrawal from Afghanistan â€“ and his statement that â€œthis time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will endâ€ â€“ as foolish wishful thinking.
â€œIt would be wonderful if Obamaâ€™s view of 9/11 and its implications were correct,â€ Kristol wrote. â€œBut if itâ€™s not going to be true that Afghanistan is where â€˜this time of war â€¦ will endâ€™ â€” even if Afghanistan is pacified and weâ€™re no longer fighting there â€” then the American people should know that.â€
What the American people should know, in Kristolâ€™s view, is that a post-Obama administration â€“ presumably headed by Republican Mitt Romney and staffed by neocon hawks â€“ will undertake a grander â€œwar with political Islamism,â€ a conflict whose full dimensions even â€œwar presidentâ€ George W. Bush shrank from.
â€œThis isnâ€™t a pleasant reality, and even the Bush administration wasnâ€™t quite ready to confront it,â€ Kristol wrote. â€œBut President George W. Bush did capture the truth that we are engaged in â€” and had no choice but to engage in â€” a bigger war, a â€˜global war on terror,â€™ of which Afghanistan was only one front.
â€œThere are, of course, problems with â€˜global war on terrorâ€™ as a phrase and an organizing principle. But it does capture what we might call the â€˜bigâ€™ view of 9/11 and its implications.â€
As part of an even â€œbiggerâ€ view of 9/11, Kristol called for engaging in a broader conflict, ranging â€œfrom Pakistan in the east to Tunisia in the west, and most visibly now in places such as Iran and Yemen and Somalia.â€
In other words, Kristol and the neocons expect a President Romney to let them refocus the United States onto a â€œwarâ€ not simply against al-Qaeda and its affiliates but against nations where â€œpolitical Islamismâ€ gains power, which could include Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and many other Muslim countries.
One might as well say the United States will be at war with the Muslim world, though Kristol hastily added that this â€œwar with political Islamismâ€ does not always have to involve open warfare.
He wrote: â€œThis doesnâ€™t mean we need to be deploying troops and fighting ground wars all around the globe. [But] unfortunately, the war in which we are engaged wonâ€™t end with peace in, or withdrawal from, Afghanistan.â€
A Romney Presidency?
Most political analysts say the November elections will turn on the economy with foreign policy a second-tier issue. In addition, many progressives have denounced Obama and his more targeted approach of relying on drone strikes to kill alleged terrorists as unacceptable, with some on the Left vowing not to support his reelection.
But it shouldnâ€™t be missed that a President Romney would reinstall the neocons, including many who worked for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, at the levers of American power. Indeed, Romneyâ€™s foreign policy â€œwhite paperâ€ was largely drafted by neocons. Even the name, â€œAn American Century,â€ was an homage to the neocon manifesto of the 1990s, â€œProject for a New American Century.â€ Romneyâ€™s foreign policy advisers include:
Cofer Black, a key Bush counterterrorism official; Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security; Eliot Cohen, a neocon intellectual; Paula Dobriansky, a former Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs; Eric Edelman, a national security aide to Vice President Cheney; Michael Hayden, the ex-director of CIA and the National Security Agency who defended Bushâ€™s warrantless spying program; Robert Kagan, a Washington Post columnist; former Navy Secretary John Lehman; and Daniel Senor, spokesman for Bushâ€™s Iraq occupation.
Romneyâ€™s foreign policy also would restore George W. Bushâ€™s â€œwith us or against usâ€ approach to the world â€“ except that Romney, like Kristol, advocates even a more confrontational style, essentially a new Cold War against â€œrogue nations,â€ a revised â€œaxis of evil.â€
â€œA special problem is posed by the rogue nations of the world: Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba,â€ Romneyâ€™s white paper declares. â€œTheir interests and values are diametrically opposed to our own and they threaten international peace and security in numerous ways, including, as in the case of North Korea and Iran, by seeking nuclear weapons, or by harboring criminal networks, exporting weapons, and sponsoring terrorists. â€¦
â€œMitt Romney would work to protect and advance Americaâ€™s interests by employing all the instruments of national power at the presidentâ€™s disposal. He will defend our country, defend our allies, and restore American leadership around the world. It is only American power â€” conceived in the broadest terms â€” that can provide the foundation of an international system that ensures the security and prosperity of the United States and our friends and allies. â€¦
â€œA Romney foreign policy will proceed with clarity and resolve. The United States will clearly enunciate its interests and values. Our friends and allies will not have doubts about where we stand and what we will do to safeguard our interests and theirs; neither will our rivals, competitors, and adversaries. â€¦
â€œThe United States will apply the full spectrum of hard and soft power to influence events before they erupt into conflict. In defending Americaâ€™s national interest in a world of danger, the United States should always retain a powerful military capacity to defend itself and its allies.â€
The Romney â€œwhite paperâ€ also treats any recognition of past American errors as unacceptable â€œapologizingâ€ and calls any notion of seeking multilateral consensus on a problem as an admission of weakness.
â€œA perspective has been gaining currency, including within high councils of the Obama administration, that regards that United States as a power in decline. And not only is the United States regarded as in decline, but that decline is seen as both inexorable and a condition that can and should be managed for the global good rather than reversed.
â€œAdherents of this view argue that America no longer possesses the resources or the moral authority to play a leadership role in the world. They contend that the United States should not try to lead because we will only succeed in exhausting ourselves and spreading thin our limited resources.
â€œThey counsel America to step aside, allow other powers to rise, and pursue policies that will â€˜manageâ€™ the relative change in our national fortunes. They recoil from the idea of American Exceptionalism, the idea that an America founded on the universal principles of human liberty and human dignity has a unique history and a special role to play in world affairs.
â€œThey do not see an international system undergirded by American values of economic and political freedom as necessarily superior to a world system organized by multilateral organizations like the United Nations. Indeed, they see the United Nations as an instrument that can rein in and temper what they regard as the ill-considered overreaching of the United States.
â€œThis view of America in decline, and America as a potentially malign force, has percolated far and wide. It is intimately related to the torrent of criticism, unprecedented for an American president, that Barack Obama has directed at his own country. â€¦
â€œAmong the â€˜sinsâ€™ for which he has repented in our collective name are American arrogance, dismissiveness, and derision; for dictating solutions, for acting unilaterally, for acting without regard for others; for treating other countries as mere proxies, for unjustly interfering in the internal affairs of other nations, for committing torture, for fueling anti-Islamic sentiments, for dragging our feet in combating global warming, and for selectively promoting democracy.
â€œThe sum total of President Obamaâ€™s rhetorical efforts has been a form of unilateral disarmament in the diplomatic and moral sphere. A President who is so troubled by Americaâ€™s past cannot lead us into the future. â€¦ Mitt Romney believes in restoring the sinews of American power.â€
Hawks in the Middle East
As for the Middle East, Romneyâ€™s team advocates unquestioned support for Israel both regarding its treatment of the Palestinians and toward Iran:
â€œIsrael is the United Statesâ€™ closest ally in the Middle East and a beacon of democracy and freedom in the region. The tumult in the Middle East has heightened Israelâ€™s security problems. Indeed, this is an especially dangerous moment for the Jewish state. â€¦
â€œTo ensure Israelâ€™s security, Mitt Romney will work closely with Israel to maintain its strategic military edge. â€¦ The United States must forcefully resist the emergence of anti-Israel policies in Turkey and Egypt, and work to make clear that their interests are not served by isolating Israel.
â€œWith regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Romneyâ€™s policy will differ sharply from President Obamaâ€™s. President Obama and his administration have badly misunderstood the dynamics of the region. Instead of fostering stability and security, they have diminished U.S. authority and painted both Israel and ourselves into a corner.
â€œPresident Obama for too long has been in the grip of several illusions. One is that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the central problem in the region. This has been disproved repeatedly by events, most recently and most dramatically by the eruption of the Arab Spring.
â€œBut it nonetheless led the administration to believe that distancing the United States from Israel was a smart move that would earn us credits in the Arab world and somehow bring peace closer. The record proves otherwise. The key to negotiating a lasting peace is an Israel that knows it will be secure. â€¦
â€œ[Under President Romney] the United States will reduce assistance to the Palestinians if they continue to pursue United Nations recognition or form a unity government that includes Hamas, a terrorist group dedicated to Israelâ€™s destruction.
â€œThe United States needs a president who will not be a fair-weather friend of Israel. The United States must work as a country to resist the worldwide campaign to delegitimize Israel. We must fight against that campaign in every forum and label it the anti-Semitic poison that it is. Israelâ€™s existence as a Jewish state is not up for debate.â€
Regarding Iran, the Romney â€œwhite paperâ€ repeats many of the canards about Iranian intentions that have been debunked even by Israelis, such as the mistranslation of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadâ€™s statement regarding â€œwiping Israel off the map.â€ But Romneyâ€™s neocon foreign policy team even suggests using that mistranslation to indict Ahmadinejad for war crimes:
â€œRomney will also push for greater diplomatic isolation of Iran. The United States should make it plain that it is a disgrace to provide Iranâ€™s Holocaust-denying president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the trappings and respect offered to responsible heads of state. He should not be invited to foreign capitals or feted by foreign leaders.
â€œQuite the opposite. Given his calls for Israel to be wiped off the map, Ahmadinejad should be indicted for incitement to genocide under Article III of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.â€
So, even Americans disappointed in Obamaâ€™s foreign policy should recognize what the stakes are in November. They include whether to put hard-line neocons back in charge of U.S. foreign policy and the American military.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & â€˜Project Truthâ€™ are also available there.