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Originally published Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 12:45 PM

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Romney’s using the same old neocons who got us into this mess

President Obama’s foreign policy may be standoffish, writes Maureen Dowd, but at least he has a policy. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has simply parroted the views of neocon advisers borrowed from the George W. Bush administration.

Syndicated columnist

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So it has come to this:

While the Muslim world was burning, Mitt Romney was telling Kelly Ripa that he wears as little as possible to bed. And on the day world leaders gathered at the United Nations, President Barack Obama’s only high-level sit-down in New York was with the ladies of “The View,” teasing, “I’m just supposed to be eye candy here for you guys.”

Romney said he was very troubled that Obama went on “The View” and skipped meeting other leaders, especially Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

Netanyahu did not deserve a meeting and neither did President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt. But Obama would have been better off spending time in New York talking to Hamid Karzai, given that U.S. troops are still in Afghanistan and given how chary we are about turning over security to that less-than-inspiring government.

In a world of dogs, diplomatically speaking, Obama is a cat. Just as he suffered from his standoffish approach with Congress, donors and his base, our feline president can be oblivious to the neediness of other less Zen leaders.

As Helene Cooper and Robert Worth wrote in The New York Times on Tuesday, some Arab officials are critical of Obama’s impersonal, distant style.

“You can’t fix these problems by remote control,” one Arab diplomat told The Times.

At least the president has a foreign policy. Romney and Paul Ryan haven’t spent time thinking and speaking a lot about foreign policy. They have simply taken the path of least resistance and parroted the views of their neocon advisers. They talk all tough at Iran and Syria and label the president a weak apologist and buildup boogeymen and rant about how America must dictate events in the Middle East. That’s not a doctrine; it’s a treacherous neocon echo.

It’s amazing that many of the neocons who were involved in the Iraq debacle are back riding high. (Foreign Policy magazine reports that 17 of Romney’s 24 special advisers on foreign policy were in W.’s administration.) But no one has come along to replace them, or reinstitute some kind of Poppy Bush-James Baker-Brent Scowcroft realpolitik internationalism.

The neocons are still where the GOP intellectual energy is, and they’re still in the blogosphere hammering candidates who stray from their hawkish orthodoxy. Democrats have claimed the international center once inhabited by Bush senior and his advisers.

On foreign and domestic policy, Republicans have outsourced their brains to right-wing think tanks. It’s one thing for conservatives at the American Enterprise Institute and other think tanks to sit around and theorize about the number of people who are “dependent” on government programs and to deplore the trend, or to strategize on privatizing Medicare. If you’ve got a lot of people on government programs, their response is not to help those people get off the programs, it’s to cut the programs.

The Romney campaign has turned conservative theory into ideology and gone off the cliff with it. If you want to inspire, lead and unite people, it won’t fly to take ideologically driven findings and present them unvarnished to voters.

At the Clinton Global Initiative Tuesday, Romney talked about tying foreign aid to “the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise” in the Middle East and other developing countries.

It was a variation on what Romney said on the infamous leaked tape to the fat-cat donors about half the country being victims and moochers, promulgating the idea that any aid makes people worse off instead of better off. Next he will want to bring back debtors’ prisons.

(It’s the same in Europe, as Germany debates how much to give to Greece, Spain and Portugal, or whether to dismiss them as bad, reckless and unworthy of being bailed out more.)

Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and the neocons were inspired by deus ex machina theories baked at the AEI to try and force democracy on Iraq, assuming that people would just become better — and incredibly grateful to us.

Now the neocons inside Romney’s head are pushing the same idea: that we can whack countries in the Middle East and they’ll behave.

As Dan Senor, a top foreign policy adviser to both Romney and Ryan, told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC on Tuesday about Iran: “We’re not saying the military action should be used. But we are arguing that the threat of military action should be credible so it focuses the Iranian leadership on reaching some diplomatic solution.”

That was exactly the argument the same neocon gaggle used when they were pushing an invasion of Iraq. But somehow the diplomatic part got superseded.

As President Obama said on “60 Minutes,” “If Governor Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so.”

Looking at crumpling poll numbers, Romney may learn that when you don’t think for yourself, you tank.

© 2012, New York Times News Service

Maureen Dowd is a regular columnist for The New York Times.

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