Maureen Dowd / Neocons slither back: Romney and Ryan are taking their cues from hawks who got it wrong the last time

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WASHINGTON -- Paul Ryan has not sauteed in foreign policy in his years on Capitol Hill. The 42-year-old congressman is no Middle East savant; till now, his idea of a border dispute has more likely involved Wisconsin and Illinois.

Yet Mr. Ryan got up at the Values Voter Summit here Friday and skewered the Obama administration as it struggled to manage the Middle East mess left by clumsily mixed U.S. signals toward the Arab Spring and the disastrous legacy of war-obsessed Republicans.

Mr. Ryan bemoaned "the slaughter of brave dissidents in Syria. Mobs storming American embassies and consulates. Iran four years closer to gaining a nuclear weapon. Israel, our best ally in the region, treated with indifference bordering on contempt by the Obama administration." U.S. foreign policy, he said, "needs moral clarity and firmness of purpose."

Mr. Ryan was moving his mouth, but the voice was the neocon puppet master Dan Senor. The hawkish Mitt Romney adviser has been secunded to manage the running mate and graft a Manichaean worldview onto the foreign affairs neophyte. A moral, muscular foreign policy; a disdain for weakness and diplomacy; a duty to invade and bomb Israel's neighbors; a divine right to pre-emption -- it's all ominously familiar.

You can draw a direct line from the hyperpower manifesto of the Project for the New American Century, which the neocons, abetted by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, used to prod an insecure and uninformed president into invading Iraq -- a wildly misguided attempt to intimidate Arabs through the shock of overwhelming force. How's that going for us?

After 9/11, the neocons captured one Republican president who was naive about the world. Now, amid contagious Arab rage sparked on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, they have captured another would-be Republican president and vice president, both jejune about the world.

Mr. Senor is emblematic of how much trouble America blundered into in the Middle East -- trillions wasted, so many lives and limbs lost -- because of how little we fathom the culture and sectarian politics. We're still stumbling in the dark. We not only don't know who our allies and enemies are, we don't know who our allies' and enemies' allies and enemies are.

As the spokesman for Paul Bremer during the Iraq occupation, Mr. Senor helped perpetrate one of the biggest foreign policy bungles in U.S. history. The clueless desert viceroys summarily disbanded the Iraqi Army, forced de-Baathification, stood frozen in denial as thugs looted ministries and museums, deluded themselves about the growing insurgency and misled reporters with their Panglossian scenarios of progress.

"Off the record, Paris is burning," Mr. Senor told a group of reporters a year into the war. "On the record, security and stability are returning to Iraq."

Before he played ventriloquist to Mr. Ryan, Mr. Senor did the same for Mr. Romney, ratcheting up the candidate's irresponsible bellicosity on the Middle East. Mr. Senor was the key adviser on Mr. Romney's disastrous trip to Israel in July, when Mittens infuriated the Palestinians by making a chuckleheaded claim about their culture.

Mr. Senor got out over his skis before Mr. Romney's speech in Jerusalem, telling reporters that Mitt would say he respected Israel's right to make a pre-emptive, unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

While the Muslim world burned on Friday, Mitt was in New York with Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan confessing that he wears "as little as possible" to bed. With no global vision or historical perspective -- he didn't even remember during his Tampa convention to mention our troops or the years of war his party reigned over -- Mr. Romney is simply kowtowing to the right again.

Paul Wolfowitz, an Iraq War architect, weighed in on Fox News, slimily asserting that President Barack Obama should not be allowed to "slither through" without a clear position on Libya.

Republicans are bananas on this one. They blame Mr. Obama for casting Hosni Mubarak overboard and contradict themselves by blaming him for not supporting the Arab Spring. One minute Mr. Romney parrots Bibi Netanyahu's position on Iran, the next Mr. Obama's.

Mr. Romney's cynical braying about Obama appeasement in the midst of the attack on the American diplomatic post in Libya and the murder of the brave ambassador, Christopher Stevens, was shameful. Richard Williamson, a Romney adviser, had the gall to tell The Washington Post, "There's a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you'd be in a different situation."

He's right -- a scarier situation. If President Romney acceded to Mr. Netanyahu's outrageous demand for clear red lines on Iran, this global confrontation would be a tiny foretaste of the conflagration to come.

Mr. Cheney, described by Mr. Romney as a "person of wisdom and judgment," is lurking. On Monday, he churlishly tried to deny Mr. Obama credit for putting Osama bin Laden in the cross hairs, cattily referring to a report that Mr. Obama had not gone to all his intelligence briefings.

Well, yes. W. got briefings, like the one that warned him on Aug. 6, 2001: "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." That didn't work so well either, did it?

opinion_commentary

Maureen Dowd is a syndicated columnist for The New York Times.


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