Matt Steinglass made an important observation after Monday’s foreign policy debate:

Does this indicate that Mr Romney would, as president, be less confrontational abroad than he sounded in his campaign for the Republican nomination? If he continues to follow Bill Kristol’s advice on foreign policy most of the time, I doubt it….This is the neoconservative foreign-policy prescription. It hasn’t changed just because they’ve recognised that their candidate needs to appear conciliatory and say the word “peace” a lot in order to get elected.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that there was nothing substantively different between what Romney said in his debate performance on Monday and what he said in his VMI speech or his speech to the VFW earlier this year. The main difference was one of presentation and language. If Romney emphasized strength, greatness, and the American Century in the earlier speeches, he used the word peace much more often on Monday, but the policies he was proposing and the criticisms he made were almost completely identical.

On Monday, he talked about tightening sanctions on Iran and complained that the administration didn’t do more to support the Green movement, which was what he had said in his previous foreign policy addresses. He endorsed providing heavier weapons to the Syrian opposition via the Gulf states in his VMI speech, and reiterated his support for that in the debate. On military spending, the war in Afghanistan, and Russia policy, Romney said essentially the same things in the debate that he has been saying all year, but presented them in a less belligerent manner.

It may suit Obama to portray Romney as being “all over the map,” but when Romney has been at his most specific on foreign policy he has also been fairly consistent in adopting positions at least as hawkish as Obama’s and frequently more so. That’s what should worry the public. This is a politician renowned for his inconsistencies and his willingness to pander and flatter almost any group of voters, but on foreign policy the most that he will do to appeal to a war-weary public is to insult their intelligence by talking about peace while endorsing aggressive and belligerent policies. Neoconservatism hasn’t gone “underground.” It’s just waiting in the wings.