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The zombie neocons have risen from the dead - and found a new Dubbya, says Mehdi Hasan

Romney is running for Bush's third term.

Susan Katz, an undecided voter, put these questions to Mitt Romney during the second presidential debate in New York on 16 October: “What is the biggest difference between you and George W Bush and how do you differentiate yourself from George W Bush?” The Republican candidate reeled off five “differences” between him and the worst US president in living memory. All of them, however, were related to economic or domestic policy. He had little to say about how he would “differentiate” himself from Dubbya on foreign policy. The honest answer would have been: not very much.

Romney is running for Bush’s third term. Listen to the verdict of Christopher A Preble, from the centre-right Cato Institute in Washington, DC: “Romney’s likely to be in the mould of George W Bush when it comes to foreign policy.” Check out the list of “special advisers” on foreign policy posted on Romney’s website: 17 of the 24 advisers worked as senior officials in the Bush/Cheney administration (and four of them signed the now notorious letter from the neoconservative Project for the New American Century nine days after 9/11, calling for “a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq”).

None of these 24 advisers disowns or regrets the Iraq invasion; few speak of the Palestinians as anything other than terrorists; almost all of them want to increase spending on the US military and they share a Manichaean view of a world in which America is the sole superpower.

Famous five

The Romney campaign is, basically, Neocon Central. Five names on the list of his advisers stand out: Eliot Cohen, Cofer Black, Dan Senor, Eric Edelman and Walid Phares.

Cohen was an adviser to Condoleezza Rice at the state department. In November 2001, he was one of the first neoconservatives to call publicly for a war against Iraq in a column in the Wall Street Journal (in which he bombastically described the west’s conflict with al-Qaeda and its allies as the start of “World War Four”).

Black was head of the CIA’s counterterrorism centre, where is he alleged to have overseen the introduction of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (torture) and “extraordinary rendition” (kidnappings). He went on to work for the Bush administration’s favourite private security company, Blackwater.

Senor was a spokesman for the corruption-ridden Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, which disbanded the Iraqi army and then sat idly by as that country descended into a sectarian civil war. Today, he acts as a cheerleader for the Israeli right and is a key backchannel between Romney and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. “Mitt-Bibi will be the new Reagan- Thatcher,” Senor tweeted in April this year.

Edelman is a well-known protégé of Dick Cheney. In 2007, as a Pentagon official in the Bush administration, he accused Hillary Clinton, then a senator, of reinforcing “enemy propaganda” for daring to ask for information on US troop withdrawals from Iraq.

Phares, a Lebanese-American academic, did not serve under Bush. His claim to fame is as a Fox News “terrorism expert” who constantly agitates for total war against “global jihadism”, accuses Democrats of “jihadophi - lia” and fearmongers about the rise of sharia law in the US. He has been accused of once having been a member of a sectarian Christian militia in Beirut.

Then there is the Romney-Bolton love-in – yes, John Bolton. Bush’s ex-ambassador to the United Nations may not be an official adviser but he has served as a foreign-affairs proxy for Romney on television and radio and is rumoured to be in line for . . . wait for it . . . the secretary of state’s job in a Romney administration. “John’s wisdom, clarity and courage are qualities that should typify our foreign policy,” Romney declared, as he welcomed the mous - tachioed hawk’s endorsement of his candidacy in January.

For the record, Bolton has called for Israel to use nuclear weapons against Iran. Yes, nuking Tehran is what passes for “wisdom” and “courage” in Romney world.

Despite being discredited and humiliated over Iraq, the zombie neocons are back from the dead. In 2000, neoconservative ideologues such as Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol alighted on a naive foreign policy neophyte from Texas. In 2012, Bolton, Cohen and Senor hitched the neocon war wagon to a former private- equity magnate from Massachusetts who believes that Syria is “Iran’s route to the sea”.

Remember, Willard Mitt Romney has zero foreign policy experience. A dossier compiled by John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008 noted: “Romney’s foreign affairs résumé is extremely thin, leading to credibility problems.” (The new candidate’s über-conservative running mate, Paul Ryan, an austerity-obsessed congressman from Wisconsin, has even less knowledge or experience of the outside world than the Mittster.)

There will be blood

In 2000, left-wing voters, disillusioned at having to choose between a centrist Democrat (Al Gore) and a self-styled “compassionate conservative” (Bush), voted for the Green Party’s Ralph Nader in droves, thereby helping to deliver the White House to the Republican Party . . . and the neocons. Less than three years later, Guantanamo was open for business and Iraq was in flames.

Obama – with his drone strikes abroad and assaults on civil liberties at home – has been a bitter disappointment but we cannot afford for history to repeat itself. Since the fall of Saddam, pushing for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities has been the neocons’ raison d’être. Obama, for all his faults and flaws, doesn’t seek a conflict with Iran; Romney – or Team Romney – does. If Ohio falls to the Mittster, prepare for a rerun of the blood-spattered Bush years. It is a chilling prospect. My message to US anti-war liberals who say they can’t bring themselves to reelect the “drone president” is this: Obama may not deserve your vote but the rest of the world does not deserve Romney and his gang.

Mehdi Hasan is the political director of the Huffington Post and a contributing writer for the New Statesman. This article is crossposted with the Huffington Post here.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 05 November 2012 issue of the New Statesman, What if Romney wins?

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Q&A: What are tax credits and how do they work?

All you need to know about the government's plan to cut tax credits.

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are payments made regularly by the state into bank accounts to support families with children, or those who are in low-paid jobs. There are two types of tax credit: the working tax credit and the child tax credit.

What are they for?

To redistribute income to those less able to get by, or to provide for their children, on what they earn.

Are they similar to tax relief?

No. They don’t have much to do with tax. They’re more of a welfare thing. You don’t need to be a taxpayer to receive tax credits. It’s just that, unlike other benefits, they are based on the tax year and paid via the tax office.

Who is eligible?

Anyone aged over 16 (for child tax credits) and over 25 (for working tax credits) who normally lives in the UK can apply for them, depending on their income, the hours they work, whether they have a disability, and whether they pay for childcare.

What are their circumstances?

The more you earn, the less you are likely to receive. Single claimants must work at least 16 hours a week. Let’s take a full-time worker: if you work at least 30 hours a week, you are generally eligible for working tax credits if you earn less than £13,253 a year (if you’re single and don’t have children), or less than £18,023 (jointly as part of a couple without children but working at least 30 hours a week).

And for families?

A family with children and an income below about £32,200 can claim child tax credit. It used to be that the more children you have, the more you are eligible to receive – but George Osborne in his most recent Budget has limited child tax credit to two children.

How much money do you receive?

Again, this depends on your circumstances. The basic payment for a single claimant, or a joint claim by a couple, of working tax credits is £1,940 for the tax year. You can then receive extra, depending on your circumstances. For example, single parents can receive up to an additional £2,010, on top of the basic £1,940 payment; people who work more than 30 hours a week can receive up to an extra £810; and disabled workers up to £2,970. The average award of tax credit is £6,340 per year. Child tax credit claimants get £545 per year as a flat payment, plus £2,780 per child.

How many people claim tax credits?

About 4.5m people – the vast majority of these people (around 4m) have children.

How much does it cost the taxpayer?

The estimation is that they will cost the government £30bn in April 2015/16. That’s around 14 per cent of the £220bn welfare budget, which the Tories have pledged to cut by £12bn.

Who introduced this system?

New Labour. Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, developed tax credits in his first term. The system as we know it was established in April 2003.

Why did they do this?

To lift working people out of poverty, and to remove the disincentives to work believed to have been inculcated by welfare. The tax credit system made it more attractive for people depending on benefits to work, and gave those in low-paid jobs a helping hand.

Did it work?

Yes. Tax credits’ biggest achievement was lifting a record number of children out of poverty since the war. The proportion of children living below the poverty line fell from 35 per cent in 1998/9 to 19 per cent in 2012/13.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a bit of a weird system in that it lets companies pay wages that are too low to live on without the state supplementing them. Many also criticise tax credits for allowing the minimum wage – also brought in by New Labour – to stagnate (ie. not keep up with the rate of inflation). David Cameron has called the system of taxing low earners and then handing them some money back via tax credits a “ridiculous merry-go-round”.

Then it’s a good thing to scrap them?

It would be fine if all those low earners and families struggling to get by would be given support in place of tax credits – a living wage, for example.

And that’s why the Tories are introducing a living wage...

That’s what they call it. But it’s not. The Chancellor announced in his most recent Budget a new minimum wage of £7.20 an hour for over-25s, rising to £9 by 2020. He called this the “national living wage” – it’s not, because the current living wage (which is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, and currently non-compulsory) is already £9.15 in London and £7.85 in the rest of the country.

Will people be better off?

No. Quite the reverse. The IFS has said this slightly higher national minimum wage will not compensate working families who will be subjected to tax credit cuts; it is arithmetically impossible. The IFS director, Paul Johnson, commented: “Unequivocally, tax credit recipients in work will be made worse off by the measures in the Budget on average.” It has been calculated that 3.2m low-paid workers will have their pay packets cut by an average of £1,350 a year.

Could the government change its policy to avoid this?

The Prime Minister and his frontbenchers have been pretty stubborn about pushing on with the plan. In spite of criticism from all angles – the IFS, campaigners, Labour, The Sun – Cameron has ruled out a review of the policy in the Autumn Statement, which is on 25 November. But there is an alternative. The chair of parliament’s Work & Pensions Select Committee and Labour MP Frank Field has proposed what he calls a “cost neutral” tweak to the tax credit cuts.

How would this alternative work?

Currently, if your income is less than £6,420, you will receive the maximum amount of tax credits. That threshold is called the gross income threshold. Field wants to introduce a second gross income threshold of £13,100 (what you earn if you work 35 hours a week on minimum wage). Those earning a salary between those two thresholds would have their tax credits reduced at a slower rate on whatever they earn above £6,420 up to £13,100. The percentage of what you earn above the basic threshold that is deducted from your tax credits is called the taper rate, and it is currently at 41 per cent. In contrast to this plan, the Tories want to halve the income threshold to £3,850 a year and increase the taper rate to 48 per cent once you hit that threshold, which basically means you lose more tax credits, faster, the more you earn.

When will the tax credit cuts come in?

They will be imposed from April next year, barring a u-turn.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.