Opinion Brief

Is Mitt Romney a neocon?

In the wake of renewed Mideast violence, neocons — still tarred by their hawkishness during the Bush years — are embracing Mitt as one of their own

Mitt Romney has taken a lot of heat, even from fellow Republicans, for his swift attacks on President Obama's handling of last week's first embassy protests in Egypt. One group, however, enthusiastically rallied to his side: Neoconservatives — the foreign-policy hawks who support using military might to spread democracy and defend U.S. interests abroad — argue that Romney was right to accuse Obama of projecting weakness. Of course, such support can be a mixed blessing for the GOP presidential candidate. Neocons like William Kristol and Liz Cheney, whose ideology defined George W. Bush's foreign policy, bring a lot of baggage with them, thanks largely to the problematic way the Iraq war unfolded. So Romney is left facing a delicate balancing act: He won't want to distance himself from a key GOP constituency, but likely wants to avoid the unpopular "neocon" label. So: Is Romney essentially a neocon, or isn't he?

Yes. Neocons have Romney in their clutches and are making him one of their own: After 9/11, neocons "captured one Republican president who was naïve about the world," says Maureen Dowd in The New York Times. They're at it again. Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, have no experience abroad, but their "disdain for weakness and diplomacy" and enthusiasm for bombing Israel's neighbors (look out, Iran) sound "ominously familiar." Why? When their lips move, you're hearing the voice of their neocon puppet masters."Neocons slither back"

No. Romney has a mind of his own: The suggestion that Romney is doing the bidding of some neocon puppeteer is offensive, says Ira Stoll at Future of Capitalism. The caricature of a Jewish adviser (hawkish Romney foreign-policy strategist Dan Senor is Jewish) manipulating things behind the scenes is classic anti-Semitic imagery. More to the point, suggesting that Romney has "no volition or judgment" of his own and is just putty in the hands of neocons "is just preposterous." Where's the proof? Oh, right. There is none."Maureen Dowd on neocons"

Romney likes the ideas... but not the name: To win over voters, Romney needs to "make President Obama look like a big fat weenie on foreign policy without sounding like George W. Bush," says Elspeth Reeve at The Atlantic Wire. To pull it off, he's hiring "people who believe in the neoconservatism of the Bush years," but Romney is having them repeat the slogan — "peace through strength" — of Ronald Reagan, a "much more popular Republican president." That way, he gets the neocons' help without being saddled with their toxic reputation."First rule of a Neocon Club is don't say the word neocon"

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

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