Republican Foreign Policy Establishment Worried About Romney?

The New York Times finds some infighting among old Republican foreign policy hands.

The NYT changed the headline of a story trending on memeorandum from “Republican Foreign Policy Establishment Slow to Embrace Romney” to “Some G.O.P. Foreign Policy Experts Are Tepid on Romney.” Apparently, someone actually read the story.

The lede:

Henry A. Kissinger gave his endorsement to John McCain more than a year and a half before the last presidential election, explaining in April 2007 that Mr. McCain’s “record, character and belief that America’s best days lie ahead” made him the “the right leader for these times.”

But with the next election barely five months away and Mitt Romney gearing up for a tough battle with President Obama, Mr. Kissinger, a former Republican secretary of state, remains on the sidelines. The reason, according to several Republicans familiar with the matter: concerns about Mr. Romney’s aggressive statements on trade policy toward China, a keen issue for Mr. Kissinger, who helped reopen relations with China and who later, as a consultant, has had clients with significant interests there.

Kissinger is obviously a huge figure in the Republican foreign policy Establishment, even nearly four decades removed from his stints as Nixon’s National Security Advisor and Ford’s Secretary of State. But his displeasure with Romney on the China issue is as much about his consulting business as with policy. Nor, incidentally, is there any suggestion that Kissinger will ultimately withhold his endorsement–much less side with Obama.

As Republican leaders fell in behind Mr. Romney this spring, many members of the party’s foreign policy establishment have been more muted. Reluctance by this group to come forward for Mr. Romney more quickly reflects an unease over some of his positions, including his hard line on Russia and opposition to a new missile treaty.

Mr. Romney will soon get a boost, however: Condoleezza Rice is expected to endorse him formally on Wednesday night when she headlines a fund-raiser for him near San Francisco, according to one of her aides and a Romney aide.

She would join Frank C. Carlucci, a defense secretary under President Ronald Reagan, and Stephen J. Hadley, a national security adviser under President George W. Bush, in officially backing Mr. Romney. Other Republican foreign policy stalwarts are likely to endorse him once they get a chance to discuss their differences with him directly.

So . . . we’re up to three named figures endorsing Romney and one not yet endorsing because of business interests.

But some nevertheless believe that Mr. Romney has taken approaches too confrontational or too hawkish, or worry that harsh campaign-trail statements could hurt later diplomatic efforts and may signal a drift toward neoconservative passions as the party seeks to take back the White House, say Republicans familiar with the discussions.

Some longtime deans of the Republican establishment, like Brent Scowcroft, the two-time national security adviser, believe the party as a whole has drifted rightward. Mr. Scowcroft declined a request for an interview, but he has recently voiced opinions at odds with Mr. Romney’s.

This is thin gruel, indeed. Now, Brent Scowcroft is something of a polestar for me. That is, if he expresses a view on matters of national security policy divergent from my own, my instinct is to reassess my views. But Scowcroft hasn’t called out Romney; he’s merely expressed some policy views that are different. That’s . . . not surprising.

A month ago, Mr. Scowcroft criticized the Obama administration and Republicans alike as failing to push for a comprehensive Mideast settlement. In an appearance on CNN, he was asked then by Fareed Zakaria, the host, whether he was comfortable with the Republican Party. Mr. Scowcroft looked down and paused before observing that “many parts of the party” now call him a “Republican in name only.”

“I don’t think I’ve changed my views at all,” he added. “I think the party has moved.”

Preach it, brother. I’m in the same boat as Scowcroft here, as is Colin Powell, the only other named Republican who’s expressed unease with Romney’s views. Of course, Powell has gone further than Kissinger or Scowcroft, in that he actually endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and most expect he’ll do the same in 2012. At which point, it becomes hard to claim to be part of the Republican Establishment.

Regardless, it seems to me that what Richard Oppel has identified here isn’t a backlash against Romney but rather a fight between the old line Republican Establishment and the neoconservative wing that came to dominance after the 9/11 attacks before being shunted aside after the 2006 midterm debacle. As I noted in my October post “Mitt Romney’s National Security Team,” the diversity of his advisers makes it hard to get a good read on whose advice he’ll most listen to on foreign affairs. That’s of course important since Romney, like virtually all presidential nominees, is something of a blank slate on foreign policy.

Like Scowcroft and Powell, I’m a bit concerned about some of Romney’s public statements, notably his saber rattling on Iran and Syria. Ditto his knee-jerk support of hard line Likud policies. The problem, however, is separating stump speech rhetoric from governing priority. Romney is still trying to strengthen his appeal to conservatives. More importantly, he’s trying to draw deep distinctions with President Obama. That’s especially difficult since Obama has gone out of his way to make it hard to depict him as “weak” on foreign affairs, something that has plagued every Democratic nominee since Jimmy Carter–possibly George McGovern.

My strong sense is that, just as Obama’s foreign policy has been Bush’s Third Term (that is, a continuation of the post-2006 trajectory, not the neocon policy of the four previous years), there would be very little difference on the foreign policy front between a second Obama term and a first Romney term. New presidents, in particular, are incredibly reluctant to buck the military brass and senior intelligence and diplomatic corps.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. superdestroyer says:

    Romney might be better off with the establishment Republicans not endorsing him. How wants the support of a group that has a track record of 20 years of virtually absolute failure.

    Can anyone demonstrate any success that these supposed foreign policy experts have had in the last 20 yars. Can anyone show that any of these supposed experts will have any effect on the future of foreign policy.

    Romney would be better off throwing them under the bus, explaining to the world their long record of failure, and finding a new path that can be explained in conservative terms.

  2. superdestroyer says:

    Also,

    I find it odd that there has been more posts in the last few months about Romney’s foreign policy proposals than the actual policies of the Obama Administration.

    Are moderates and progressives so bored with politics that they must continually post about an irrelevant politician such as Romney instead of writing about the current administration.

    Instead of making four most posts about Romney, why not have four posts about the current administration.

  3. Hey Norm says:

    “…Preach it, brother…”

    ???

  4. Hey Norm says:

    “…Obama has gone out of his way to make it hard to depict him as “weak” on foreign affairs…”
    That’s an interesting take on the President’s motivation.
    A less biased observer…one not pledged to support Romeny for instance…may have said the Obama Administration has done a good job in very difficult times, leaving the meme about Democrats being weak on Foreign Policy ineffectual.
    Preach it, brother.

  5. Moosebreath says:

    James,

    “My strong sense is that, just as Obama’s foreign policy has been Bush’s Third Term (that is, a continuation of the post-2006 trajectory, not the neocon policy of the four previous years), there would be very little difference on the foreign policy front between a second Obama term and a first Romney term.”

    I think the charge is that the Romney Administration (if there is one) would be a return to the disasterous neocon policy of the first 6 years of the Bush Administrationm, and the fact that the non-neocons in the Republican foreign policy establishment are expressing concern is significant on this point.

  6. Hey Norm says:

    “…I’m a bit concerned about some of Romney’s public statements, notably his saber rattling on Iran and Syria. Ditto his knee-jerk support of hard line Likud policies. The problem, however, is separating stump speech rhetoric from governing priority…”

    Shorter James:

    “…Just waiting for Romney to shake the Etch-a-Sketch again…”

  7. CB says:

    …there would be very little difference on the foreign policy front between a second Obama term and a first Romney term

    im curious as to how you reconcile that statement with this:

    I’m a bit concerned about some of Romney’s public statements, notably his saber rattling on Iran and Syria. Ditto his knee-jerk support of hard line Likud policies

    whatever obamas flaws have been, he hasnt pursued hardline likudnik policies (which i think would be disastrous), nor has he been exceptionally hawkish on iran or syria. this seems like a fairly important distinction between the two. granted, i understand your point about general election rhetoric and actual policy, but given romneys FP staff, im not too confident that he wouldnt lean to the hard right once in office.

  8. anjin-san says:

    Can anyone demonstrate any success that these supposed foreign policy experts have had in the last 20 yars.

    They had a great deal of success when Bush 41 was President. GW, the only Republican President since then, ignored them and turned to the neocons. The result was disaster on top of disaster. Romney’s FP embraces the neocons and he seems to think every day should be Christmas for defense contractors.

  9. MBunge says:

    “there would be very little difference on the foreign policy front between a second Obama term and a first Romney term.”

    There is every reason in the world to think that war with Iran, while certainly possibly with Obama, would be become far, far more likely with Romney. And of course, in the tragic circumstance of another 9/11-type incident, who would you trust more to do the intelligent, wise thing? Obama and his foreign policy team or Romney and his?

    Mike

  10. CB says:

    @superdestroyer:

    obamas FP has been covered pretty extensively here, and romney is far more than an ‘irrelevant politician’ at this point.

    in the end though, i wouldnt complain about ANY foreign policy coverage. its an extremely important part of any presidents job (arguably the only area where they actually hold real sway), and one that recieves a ridiculously small amount of attention.

  11. James Joyner says:

    @superdestroyer: There have been numerous posts about Obama’s foreign policy over the past three-plus years. Right now, we’re in the midst of an election cycle and Romney is the known unknown. As more about him is known, there’s a lot to talk about.

    @Hey Norm: I think that Obama has both been effectual (ordering the Osama raid) and political. The Afghan Surge was almost surely as much a CYA move as a strategic calculation; my strong guess is that he would have preferred to pull the plug in 2009 but was boxed in by his 2008 stump rhetoric about Afghanistan being a “necessary war” and by fears of Republican “he lost Afghanistan” talk. The contrast being his intervention in Libya and non-intervention in Syria is also mostly political.

    @Moosebreath: That’s the concern. I just see very little evidence for it.

    @CB: The candidate to unseat a sitting president is always looking for contrasts. On Iran and Syria, he’s using the standard Republican attack that the sitting Democrat is weak on foreign policy. But he hasn’t really spelled out a clear alternative. That makes me think it’s posturing and rhetoric, not policy.

    @MBunge: I think there’s next to no chance of a real war with Iran, regardless of who’s in the big chair. Note that Bush-Cheney didn’t pursue it. Why? Because there are no good military options.

  12. DRS says:

    All of which is the more inexplicable considering he’s been running for the job for at least 5 years. He’s had plenty of time to put together a “brain trust” on foreign affairs. Why hasn’t he?

  13. Moosebreath says:

    James,

    “I just see very little evidence for it. ”

    From my point of view, Romney has put together a team which includes lots of people who served in Bush’s first 6 years, and far fewer from the last two. He seems to be taking his cues from uber-neocons like John Bolton. He has moved away from the decades-old doctrine of official neutrality on Israeli-Palestinian issues to explicitly stating that Israel is an ally whose views need to be unconditionally supported. He has expressed more confrontational views on Russia and China, and looks to be spoiling for a fight with both Iran and Syria. So I see lots of evidence for it.

  14. James Joyner says:

    @DRS: He released a huge list in October. I wrote about it then and linked it in the post above.

    @Moosebreath: The Israeli talk is pure domestic politics. He’s largely right on China and Russia, although the options for doing anything about it are negligible. And there’s next to no chance we’re going to war with Iran, regardless of what happens in November.

    The more interesting case is Syria. A President McCain would have intervened militarily months ago. Romney, on the other hand, hasn’t taken a position at all other than to say that Obama isn’t doing enough. But of course he’d take that position.

  15. Moosebreath says:

    James,

    “The Israeli talk is pure domestic politics. He’s largely right on China and Russia, although the options for doing anything about it are negligible. And there’s next to no chance we’re going to war with Iran, regardless of what happens in November.”

    I’d disagree about each of these statements (and suspect Scowcroft would as well). The Israeli talk may be directed at a domestic audience, but likely will have repercussions if Romney is elected, removing any chance for the US to be viewed as a neutral peacemaker. I don’t think he is correct on either China or especially Russia. And I think the chances of war with Iran if it does not back down on its nuclear program would grow far larger in a Romney administration, especially one with John Bolton as Sec. of State.

  16. CB says:

    @Moosebreath:

    …removing any chance for the US to be viewed as a neutral peacemaker

    methinks that ship has sailed.

  17. James Joyner says:

    @Moosebreath: There’s little doubt that China is artificially boosting exports through exchange rate manipulation or that Russia is backtracking on democracy and trying to push its weight around in its Near Abroad. And John Bolton couldn’t get approved as UN Ambassador, a largely meaningless position. He ain’t gonna be Secretary of State.

  18. Moosebreath says:

    James,

    “There’s little doubt that China is artificially boosting exports through exchange rate manipulation”

    True. Welcome to the 21st century. China is not yet a superpower, but will be one shortly. What sort of control do we have over this situation, and how is being aggressive to China going to improve this?

    “or that Russia is backtracking on democracy and trying to push its weight around in its Near Abroad.”

    Also true. To the extent this is a concern of ours, will these items be made better or worse by berating Russia?

    “And John Bolton couldn’t get approved as UN Ambassador, a largely meaningless position. He ain’t gonna be Secretary of State.”

    This isn’t the Republican Senate of the mid-Bush Administration. The party’s turn to the right means he will get through, short of a Democratic filibuster, which would be both uncertain to succeed and a terrible precedent.

  19. @James I have to agree with the previous commenter. No one doubts that China is a currency manipulator, but we all understand that publicly labeling it as such will provoke Chinese retaliation to no one’s advantage. Romney has said that he will provoke China over this issue early in his first term if elected.

    Romney’s position on Russia is that New START was a sell-out of American security (laughably untrue), the change in missile defense plans represented a betrayal of two NATO allies (neither of which felt betrayed by the decision), and that the U.S. has received nothing in exchange (except support on U.N. sanctions on Iran, Russian cooperation in supplying the war in Afghanistan, and overall warmer relations since the 2008 nadir).How is Romney right about any of this?

  20. James Joyner says:

    @Daniel Larison: Again, I think 99% of this is campaign stump posturing. Most presidential candidates mouth off on foreign policy and then fall into line once in office. See Bill Clinton’s 1992 remarks on China, for example.

    I agree with Romney’s general position on Russia but disagree on New START, which I thought a no-brainer. The “reset” has been an utter joke. In terms of missile defense, the rollout was awful and alienated Poland, in particular. But that’s been smoothed over. Russia continues posturing and saber rattling on missile defense, though.

  21. @James Joyner: In other words, Romney is right about Russia and China, except for everything that he says he will do once elected, which we can safely dismiss as empty demagoguery? Whenever he says something embarrassing and misguided he is just playing to the crowd?

    Yes, Russia still doesn’t like missile defense. That was never going to change. The “reset” hasn’t been an “utter joke.” The name is silly, but that’s how everyone refers to it. It has been a modest success on its own terms, and U.S.-Russian relations are significantly better than they were four years ago. His general position on Russia is one of needless antagonism–do you really agree with that? If so, I’d be interested to know why.

    Romney vows to undo the improvement in relations. Why should we assume that he wouldn’t? New START was, as you say, a “no-brainer,” so it doesn’t say much for Romney’s Russia policy(or his judgment) that he was an early opponent of it and labeled it Obama’s worst mistake.I don’t see how you can disagree with his opposition to the treaty, which is the centerpiece of his criticism of the “reset,” and still agree with him on Russia policy.

  22. James Joyner says:

    @Daniel Larison: I think Romney’s macro view of China and Russia–that they’re powers antagonistic to our values and worldview–is right and have no problems with him articulating that. At the same time, a president’s actual options in changing that are small, indeed.

    By and large, I’ve been pleased with Obama’s foreign policy, which is more-or-less Realist. (Libya being a notable exception, although there were certainly Realist considerations in play in taking that on while staying out of the larger mess in Syria.) My main criticism has been on the optics and expectations game. Bad rollout on BMD. Stupid, misleading labeling of the Reset and Pivot. “Leading from behind.” Etc.

  23. @James Joyner: I agree with you on how many of these decisions were presented and described. “Leading from behind” was stupid, but it was also an anonymous quote from an official, and not something they announced with great fanfare in public. The Russian and Chinese governments obviously don’t share our political values, and their interests sometimes clash with ours, but Romney’s view is that their interests never coincide with ours and all attempts to cooperate with them are the equivalent of appeasement. You can describe that as nothing more than posturing, but there’s a lot more to it than just pointing out the reality of Russian and Chinese authoritarianism. Romney doesn’t just object to how Obama’s policies have been presented and named. Particularly on Russia, he rejects the substance of Obama’s policy of cooperating with Russia on a limited range of issues. Why is this just posturing and not an indication of what he would do once in office?

  24. James Joyner says:

    @Daniel Larison: I think he’s posturing for his base and drawing contrasts. Obama ran on an absurd platform of being open to talk to anyone, anytime, without preconditions. Romney is running on an absurd platform of only talking to our friends while telling our rivals to screw off. Both tacks played well with the base; neither is a realistic way to conduct foreign policy.

  25. grumpy realist says:

    @Daniel Larison: Especially since Mr. Etch-a-Sketch hasn’t given any evidence that he won’t be at the whim of whatever neo-con he accepts into his administration.

    I can see Romney deciding it would be a Good Thing to attack Iran simply because he thinks it would gain him points with the peanut crowd and boost chances for re-eleection. The man has no morality at all.

  26. @James Joyner: One can question how serious Obama was about his proposed engagement with various authoritarian regimes when he first made that statement, but this did translate into action when Obama sent an ambassador to Damascus and briefly attempted an opening to Iran. He gave up on engagement with Iran quickly, and has obviously had to abandon it in Syria. My point here is that Obama ended up following through on some part of what had originally been an opportunistic “anything but Bush” slogan during the campaign. I assume that Romney would mark the start of his term with a number of specifically anti-Obama moves. Wrecking the relationship with Russia would satisfy a lot of people in his party, it would cost him virtually nothing at home, and it would clearly separate him from Obama. I agree that Romney’s position doesn’t allow for conducting a realistic foreign policy, but then I don’t expect Romney to conuct a realistic foreign policy.

  27. Barry says:

    @grumpy realist: “Especially since Mr. Etch-a-Sketch hasn’t given any evidence that he won’t be at the whim of whatever neo-con he accepts into his administration.”

    More importantly, does he have *any* non-neo-conmen in his ‘brain trust’ for foreign policy?