Middle East Research and Information Project: Critical Coverage of the Middle East Since 1971

In Egypt, popular sentiment runs high against those dubbed fuloul (leftovers or dregs), the epithet for politicians and former officials associated with the immense corruption and despotism of the Mubarak regime. Anti-fuloul sentiment ultimately doomed Mubarak’s final prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to defeat in the presidential runoff against the Muslim Brothers’ candidate Muhammad Mursi. And public anger has fueled initiatives like Imsak Fuloul (Catch the Remnants), which, among other things, calls for the implementation of a law that would exclude former regime members from politics for ten years.

Contrast this ardor for accountability with the United States, where a “forgive and forget” attitude regarding fuloul seems to prevail, if the lack of indignation at the composition of the emerging Romney-Ryan foreign policy team is anything to go by.

The Romney-Ryan team is a virtual who’s who of the very same neoconservative ideologues who were responsible for many of the worst excesses of the Bush-Cheney administration, including two ruinous wars and occupations that destabilized the Middle East and helped bankrupt the United States; a counterproductive “war on terror” that embraced shameful policies of torture and undermined international law; and fervent support for Israel’s colonization of Palestinian lands and destructive wars in Lebanon and Gaza. Of Romney’s 24 special advisers on foreign policy, 17 served under Bush and Cheney. Many were original associates of the neoconservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC), wellspring of many Bush-Cheney policies, prompting Colin Powell to complain that Romney’s foreign policy team members “are quite far to the right.”

Although Romney’s choice of Robert Zoellick, a deputy secretary of state under Bush who was later appointed to head the World Bank, as head of his national security transition team has riled some who consider him too close to former Secretary of State James Baker and insufficiently friendly toward Israel, the rest of the team, as the New York Times’ Bill Keller notes, is chock full of “advisers with a decidedly neoconservative bent — confrontational, unilateral, with a missionary urge to spread American-style democracy and a particular affinity for Israel’s hardliners.”

At the top of the list of fuloul is the mustachioed über-hawk John Bolton, Bush’s former UN ambassador and an especially vociferous PNAC man, who has become part of Romney’s inner foreign policy circle. Bolton has campaigned energetically for Romney, serving as a key surrogate on national security issues. He is a steadfast opponent of international organizations and treaties, and was an avid backer of Israel and the war in Iraq. Lately, Bolton has been an outspoken proponent of an Israeli attack on Iran.

Cut from the same cloth is PNAC co-founder Eliot Cohen, counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 2007 to 2009, who wrote the foreword to the Romney campaign’s foreign policy white paper, which, not surprisingly, was titled “An American Century.” Cohen was a tutor to Bush administration neocons and particularly close to former Vice President Dick Cheney. Following the September 11 attacks, he dubbed the war on terror “World War IV,” arguing that Iraq should be the primary focus due to its weapons of mass destruction and close ties to al-Qaeda. Out of office, Cohen has urged the Obama administration to seek the overthrow of Iran’s government.

Romney’s top counterterrorism adviser since 2007 has been former CIA operative Cofer Black, another controversial figure from the Bush era, whom Romney has relied on for security assessments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Iran, including the last country’s nuclear program. As head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center when the harshest post-September 11 interrogations were carried out, Black supervised the agency’s “extraordinary rendition” program, which illegally transported alleged terrorists to secret detention centers abroad where they were often tortured. He joined Blackwater in 2005, specializing in intelligence gathering for governments and business before moving on to consulting with Romney.

Behind the scenes, the well-connected neoconservative Dan Senor is widely seen as a key player shaping Romney’s increasingly hawkish views on the Middle East. Senor served as the hapless spin doctor for Paul Bremer, who, as the American administrator of post-conquest Iraq, presided over the most ham-fisted stage of the occupation. Senor is also particularly close to the Israeli right, co-writing the 2009 book Startup Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, which reads like an extended infomercial for Israel. He now serves as a key conduit between Romney and right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and helped choreograph Romney’s summer trip to Israel, in which Romney shamelessly embraced extremist Israel backers like the billionaire Sheldon Adelson and gratuitously offended the Palestinians. His proximity to Romney foreshadows a Romney foreign policy that would take a harder line against Iran, embrace Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and openly sanction Israel’s continuing colonization of Palestinian lands.

The Romney team has even brought on board the self-styled terror expert Walid Phares, a Lebanese Maronite Christian with a history of involvement with violent militias in Lebanon, as a “special adviser” on Middle East affairs. Phares’ ties to Romney are long-standing, having consulted the candidate on “counter-terror” issues in the past. In a Salon piece on Romney’s “scary” Middle East adviser, As‘ad AbuKhalil details Phares’ involvement with the overlapping circles of Islamophobic activists and right-wing Israel supporters, noting his participation as a featured expert with the David Project, the Israel on Campus Coalition, David Horowitz’s FrontPage Magazine, Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch, and Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum, among others. An early proponent of the Iraq invasion, Phares would be a key point person in perpetuating the “war on terror” as a war on Islam. For Phares, Hizballah, Hamas and al-Qaeda amount to one global organization and the democratic uprisings in the Middle East are little more than vehicles for advancing Islamic extremism.

And finally, although Romney’s vice presidential selection Paul Ryan is better known for his libertarian economics than foreign policy experience, he has dipped into the same well by bringing into the fold the well-known neoconservative ideologue, Elliott Abrams. A key Middle East adviser at the National Security Council during the Bush presidency, Abrams was a leading proponent of the “war on terror” and a relentless behind-the-scenes political operative promoting views in line with those of hardliners in Israel, including opposition to any “land for peace” deals and supporting Israel’s ill-fated war on Lebanon in 2006 as a harbinger of a “new Middle East.” He is now advocating Israeli strikes on Iran. Abrams may even be considered double-dipping fuloul: As a key figure in the Reagan administration he was indicted by a special prosecutor for intentionally deceiving Congress about White House support for the contras — including his own central role in the egregious Iran-contra arms deal.

Any foreign policy advisory board that seeks the counsel of such figures as John Bolton, Cofer Black, Dan Senor, Walid Phares and Elliott Abrams is a real cause for concern. But even more disconcerting is the extent to which, in contrast to Egypt, such infamous former officials are stepping back into the limelight so quickly after producing such foreign policy debacles without a major outcry.

The Obama administration bears great responsibility for the shocking rehabilitation of neocon fuloul. It has consistently failed to pursue accountability or even public hearings into the crimes and foreign policy fiascos of the Bush administration under the ill-advised mantra of “looking forward, not backward.” Even worse, Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that he was closing without charges the only remaining cases under investigation related to the US torture program, according to the New York Times, “means that the Obama administration’s limited effort to scrutinize the counterterrorism programs carried out under President George W. Bush has come to an end.” As the columnist Glenn Greenwald ruefully noted, the Obama administration’s “aggressive, full-scale whitewashing” of the “war on terror” crimes committed by Bush officials is now complete. Not a single Bush-era official has been held accountable.

For now, one has to look outside the US for demands for Bush-era accountability. Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently refused to meet with Tony Blair on a visit to England, calling for both Blair and former President Bush to be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of the anti-apartheid movement, accused the former British and US leaders of lying about weapons of mass destruction and claimed that the invasion left the world more destabilized and divided “than any other conflict in history.” For Tutu, as with many Egyptians, there can be no “looking forward” until there has been accountability for the past. For the United States, by contrast, it may be “back to the future.”

How to cite this article:

Steve Niva "Romney’s Remnants," Middle East Report Online, September 12, 2012.
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