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

By Jeffrey Goldberg

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. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/10/did-the-neocon-puppet-masters-get-outflanked-by-romney/264020/