Did the 'Neocon Puppet Masters' Get Outflanked by Romney?

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I'm on the road, with only intermittent access to reader e-mail, so sorry for the delay, but I've gotten a bunch of questions (and assertions!) from Goldbloggers who are wondering if the neocons were somehow outflanked by Romney in last night's foreign policy debate. After all, Romney spent most of his time agreeing with Obama; he made no effort to suggest that Afghanistan may become a more complicated, and dangerous, place, once American troops leave in 2014; he took no stand in favor of greater intervention in Syria, and so on. One reader wrote, 'It seems like the neocons have lost the battle for the soul of Romney. He said nothing about having a desire for state-building, or about the importance of intervention in humanitarian crises, etc. So what happened?"

What happened, I think, is that last night's debate wasn't a debate. If we had been watching an actual debate about America's role in the world, I'm sure Romney would have had a lot to say about the shortcomings of Obama's foreign policy. But this wasn't a debate: It was a moment for Obama to show himself to be all commander-in-chiefy, and for Romney to show himself to be sane, responsible and uninterested in foreign entanglements (Iran, of course, being the bipartisan exception). My assumption is that the so-called neoconservatives close to Romney didn't lose an argument about how to approach these issues, my assumption is that these people read polls, too, and know that Americans profess to be tired of the Middle East, and that therefore, it is best, two weeks before the election, not to recommend to their candidate that he push for greater involvement in the Syrian crisis, for example. Neocons, like everyone else in politics, are interested in winning.

Does this mean that Romney, if he wins the White House, will shed his moderate cloak and embrace the agenda of the interventionists? Maybe, maybe not. I tend to think of him as more of a pragmatist than an interventionist. I'm not suggesting that he was hiding anything last night. I'm suggesting only that he accentuated his non-interventionist impulses, and I'm also suggesting that his neoconservative advisers happily went along with this less muscular approach. 

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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