After Bush's departure in 2009 and the arrival of Obama, the neocons retreated, too, to Washington think tanks and the editorial pages of national news outlets. However, they continued to influence the perception of events in the Middle East, shifting the blame for the Iraq defeat -- as much as possible -- onto Obama.
New developments in the region also created what the neocons viewed as new openings. For instance, the Arab Spring of 2011 led to civil unrest in Syria where the Assad dynasty -- based in non-Sunni religious sects -- was challenged by a Sunni-led insurgency which included some democratic reformers as well as some radical jihadists.
Meanwhile, in Iran, international resistance to its nuclear program prompted harsh economic sanctions which have undermined the Islamic rule of the Shiite mullahs. Though President Obama views the sanctions as leverage to compel Iran to accept limits on its nuclear program, some neocons are already salivating over how to hijack the sanctions on behalf of "regime change."
At this pivotal moment, what the neocons need desperately is to maneuver their way back into the White House behind Mitt Romney's election. And, if that requires Romney to suddenly soften his hard-line neocon rhetoric for the next two weeks, that is a small price to pay.
Which brings us back to Monday's foreign policy debate in which Romney abandoned what had been his supposedly principled stands, such as denouncing Obama's schedule to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Though Romney had called that a major mistake -- telling the Taliban when the Americans were departing -- he embraced the same timetable. The voters could breathe a sigh of relief over "Moderate Mitt."
However, in Romney's comment about Syria, he showed his real intent, the neocon desire to exploit the conflict in Syria to replace Bashar al-Assad with a new leader who would accommodate Israel and shut down assistance going to Lebanon's Hezbollah. It was in that context that Romney termed the Syrian violence, which has claimed an estimated 30,000 lives, an "opportunity."
But the real opportunity for the neocons would come if the American voters, satisfied that Romney no longer appears to be the crazy war hawk of the Republican primaries, elect him on Nov. 6 and then celebrate his arrival next Jan. 20 by pushing a crude wooden horse through the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.