North America // Analysis

22 october 2012

Len Colodny: What if Neocons are Back to Power?

Mitt Romney and his foreign policy
advisor John Bolton

Foreign opinion

In the current U.S. presidential race, the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, called Russia the “number one geopolitical foe”. Last week in the vice-presidential debates, when Paul Ryan was asked about intervention in Syria, he replied that he wouldn’t go through the UN to intervene. Romney and Ryan’s rhetoric is based on typical neocon’s principles: “peace through strength”, “carry big stick”, disrespect for international organizations and so on. Does this mean that if Romney gets elected we might return to the early 2000’s, when the United States preferred to act unilaterally and didn’t like to negotiate?

This is the second part of an interview with Len Colodny. The first part of the interview. Len Colodny discusses neocons’ targets, their current perception of Russia and expected changes in U.S. foreign policy if Romney gets elected.

Interviewee: Len Colodny, American journalist, author of the “The Forty Years War: the Rise and Fall of the Neocons from Nixon to Obama”.

Interviewer: Maria Prosviryakova, Russian International Affairs Council.

Photo: Len Colodny, American journalist,
author of the “The Forty Years War:
the Rise and Fall of the Neocons
from Nixon to Obama”

The collapse of the USSR meant that the then main enemy and threat dissolved. The neocons had to find another target for strengthening their stance. Where did they take it from there? Did the neocon’s attitude towards Russia change?

If the history is important, then you can look at the 1990-s to see where the neocons are; what their targets and beliefs are. In 1990-s neocons were advocating that the U.S. become the sole superpower in the world. They argued that America shouldn’t build down - it should build up; it should get stronger, not weaker because of the Soviet Union collapse.

It becomes really clear that the new target is Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Neocons say it in so many different ways. They push for legislation to take on: they were able to get President Clinton to sign the Iraq Liberation Act. They were going to Iraq one way or the other if they took power. They saw it as a state in the Middle East that they could control.

Neocons believed that it would be beneficial to Israel, that it would help balance out things where they would have more of a say and certainly give them a lot of power. As well, they hoped it would weaken Iran.

But their plan just did all the opposite: Iran is stronger as a result of this; their goals in Iraq are minimal at best. Yet they never had to take responsibility for this one of the biggest failures in the history of the American foreign policy.

The rise of neocon influence was the presidency of George W. Bush. They had unprecedented influence on US foreign policy. The neocons of this time were quite experienced individuals with a strong ideology, yet all their foreign initiatives failed. The most striking example is the complete debacle in Iraq. By the end of George W. Bush’s second term the American people turned against neocons. Obama’s victory in 2008 meant a shift to pragmatic foreign policy again. What happened to neocons after Obama took office?

Supporters of Mitt Romney spell out his last name.

They lost their influence, but they were not held accountable for the disaster they created in Iraq and Afghanistan with their policies. But they are back again. They have the same view they always had, having come out of the George W. Bush Administration with more power than the neocons ever had before.

The neocons are very difficult people to deal with. In some areas they put pressure through the Congress and other ways on President Obama. So, they still had an effect on him. I think that is the reason we are still in Afghanistan. It is them who pushed him into the surge, instead of just trying to do nation-building there. President Obama has made concessions to neocons - that he never should have made –such as dragging out the war.

Indirectly, the Soviet Union going into Afghanistan and the hostages in Iran shaped the ability for the neocons to come to power. To that extent the Soviets helped them, because the Americans were saying: “Carter is weak, he has got Americans held hostage. And by the way, look at the Soviets, they are invading Afghanistan.” Ironically, there we are in Afghanistan and there is a large part of the American public that wants us out.

I believe America needs to be strong, but these are extremes. There is a difference between the president who says: “I want to sit down and negotiate with you. I want to see if we can work out our differences”. And the one who turns to the opponent across the table and says: “Do it my way or the highway”. Yes, we have certain accomplishments – we have the opening to China, we have some deals with Russia, but look at what we have inherited internally, and how this affects the rest of the world.

Mitt Romney doesn’t have much experience in foreign policy, but he has the whole array of neocon advisors on foreign policy. Does this mean that if he wins the election, neocons again will take control over foreign policy? What could this lead to? What will it mean for US relations with Russia?

It would be scary if Romney were elected, we would be back in the early 2000-s again.

We are going to end up in a very bad situation if the neocons ascend to power with Romney. These are politically dangerous people, they are extremists.

One thing is to be strong, but it is another thing to be strong for political purpose. For example, during the middle of the Iraq war my friend said that the Department of Defense has become the Department of Offence under Cheney and Rumsfeld. I would hate to see us go back to that.

Neocons have got themselves the candidate who on surface appears to be very weak on foreign policy. And he says thing that he probably doesn’t understand the ramifications of. His and Ryan’s speeches are being written by the neocons. You can tell by the language: it is like if Kraemer came back from the grave and was talking directly to us.

There was a time when Russia and the U.S. had Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) doctrine and nobody ever dropped a bomb on each other. There were threats, but at the end of the day they sat down and talked, they cut deals. Even Ronald Reagan wanted to cut deals. These people don’t want to cut deals. These people want to impose power and they want to reflect American power in the Middle East as it is a very important region for the neocons.

Video: C-SPAN
Fritz Kraemer discusses the role of strategic
weapons in the post-Cold War era

Their target this time isn’t Iraq, it is Iran. I believe calling Russia “number one geopolitical foe” is related to that, as it was in the 1990-s to Iraq. As well, the fact that Romney mentioned Putin by name last week in his speech really means moving in that direction. You can see that people who advise him are basically Kraemer’s right –wing neocons: John Bolton, Den Senor. It is like an all-star roster of neoconservatives (17 advisors).

For 8-10 years we saw these incredible policies that dragged America into interminable wars. And it doesn’t look like they are going to get us out of any. The implications of their intentions towards Iran would be very difficult for America. These are the signals they are giving us today.

After America invaded Iraq– this is before Ahmadinejad took over- there were some signals from Iran that they were ready to cut a deal. And these signals were ignored. The neocons didn’t want to cut a deal with Iranians, they wanted to destroy them, destroy their ability to create nuclear weapons.

The neocons are the people that put the strain on U.S.-Russia relationship back in the 1990-s. They are talking about the United States being the sole military superpower in the world. They believe that America should only negotiate from the strength of being the only military superpower in the world. This position hasn’t changed at all.

There is a lot to learn from studying this people, understanding how they work and looking at what their history is.

Mr. Colodny, thank you so much for this interview.

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“Len Colodny: What if Neocons are Back to Power?,” Russian International Affairs Council, 22 October 2012,

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