After Obama win, say goodbye to neocons

At least for a few years.

Mary Altaffer/AP
Dan Senor and Paul Ryan flying off the campaign trail.

Dan Senor has no more influence in the White House today than he did yesterday.

That's the key foreign policy takeaway from the US reelection of President Barack Obama last night. Mitt Romney had surrounded himself with neocons and other hawkish advisers, eager to regain the influence they lost when John McCain fell to Mr. Obama in 2008. Now, it looks like four more years in the wilderness for them.

The chance that the US will start a new war has decreased, and Obama and like-minded officials will continue to put their realist stamp on US foreign relations as they wind down the Afghanistan war and try to use sanctions, rather than combat, to slow Iran's nuclear program. The dreams of transforming the world with US troops and tanks that inflamed so many of President Bush's advisers at the start of the Iraq war, will now be dreamt a long way from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mr. Senor was a key political player for the Bush administration in Iraq after the 2003 invasion, advising Paul Bremer on how to run the country in 2003 and 2004. The frequent Fox News commentator emerged as Mr. Romney's main adviser for the Middle East, squiring him on visits to the UK and Israel. John Bolton, the Bush-Cheney ambassador to the UN (who is famous for hating the UN, among other things), also had Romney's ear and was rumored to be under consideration for Secretary of State in a Romney cabinet. Mr. Bolton has openly mused about going to war with Iran and Syria, and continues to insist the Iraq invasion and occupation was the right course of action. 

In all, 17 of Romney's 24 foreign policy advisers served under President Bush, according to Democratic Congressman Adam Smith, and the US approach to both war and peace abroad would have taken on a decidedly more Bushian cast if Romney had won.  While Americans mostly voted on pocketbook issues, the fact that most American voters dislike the Bush approach certainly didn't help Romney at the polls. Among the small number of voters who said they cared deeply about foreign policy, Obama had a 56-33 edge over Romney.

That more hawkish orientation was the reason that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was so eager for a Romney victory, since he expected the a Romney White House could be easier to talk into going to war with Iran than an Obama one.

It will be interesting to watch how Obama handles the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the years ahead, given his chilly relations with the Israeli prime minister. While it is unlikely that Obama will make any dramatic overtures to change the nature of US-Israeli relations, Mr. Netanyahu may find an administration that isn't as wholehearted, for instance, in arguing Israel's case at the United Nations. 

But in the broad strokes we'll be getting more of the same, with Obama promising to end the Afghanistan war by the end of 2014. The president was reluctant to get directly involved in the civil war in Syria before the election, and that reluctance is likely to persist.

But while there will be fewer boots on the ground, that doesn't mean Obama doesn't have an aggressive foreign policy of his own. It's just of a different style. The president seems as fond of using drones to kill America's alleged enemies abroad as ever, for instance. Obama has ordered alleged Al Qaeda-style militants killed by the hundreds on his watch in Pakistan and Yemen.

This undeclared drone war probably won't abate, with reports from Washington that Obama officials have been working on ways to justify the killings as legal, even when they involve the assassination of American citizens. There is simply no constituency in Washington against it. And the neocons, as they retreat back to their think-tanks and analyst positions on cable news shows, certainly won't complain.

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