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.
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.