I can’t figure out Mitt Romney, though I think I’m hardly alone in that sentiment. When he’s not trashing the president (his only clear-cut campaign initiative) he spends the rest of the time dallying around issues that deserve serious consideration. He’s inscrutable and you don't need to look any further than the list of names on his sizeable foreign policy team as evidence.
In a must-read article this week in Foreign Policy, Rep. Adam Smith is smart to point out that of “Romney’s 24 special advisors on foreign policy, 17 served in the Bush-Cheney administration.” And yet, mixed in with that decidedly neoconservative crowd are a number of very thoughtful and moderate voices.
Any foreign policy advisory board that seeks the counsel of Cofer Black, Michael Hayden, Dan Senor or John Lehman, to name just a select few, is a real cause for concern. Of that crowd, Black is the most worrying. Cofer “the gloves come off” Black was one of the most brutal figures in CIA history, heading the agency’s Counterterrorism Center at the time of the 9/11 attacks. Think Obama’s counterterrorism program is perverse? Black is about as “dark side” as you get, an American exceptionalist in the worst sense of the word, and perhaps the most vocal advocate for extraordinary renditions and so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
The public may have trouble with Obama’s use of armed drones, but with Black whispering in his ear, Romney’s counterterrorism policy would be a frightening true return to those heady, Bush-era days of CIA black sites and waterboarding sessions.
Michael Hayden you will remember was at the helm of the National Security Agency during the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping and Dan Senor, one of the most right-wing pundits on Romney’s list, is a regular contributor to Fox News. From 2003 to 2004 he was the spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority and managed to paint one of the rosiest pictures of a post-Saddam Iraq that in reality was rapidly descending into chaos (thanks, in large part, to the incompetence of the CPA itself).
Former Secretary of the Navy, under Reagan, John Lehman fits in well with the above crowd, though he may be the principal neoconservative behind Mitt Romney’s belief that the greatest strategic threat to the United States at the present time is… Russia.
But the list has some respected moderates, too. Paula Dobriansky is one of the most thoughtful foreign policy experts in the business and has had an impressive career at the State Department. As the Undersecretary for Democracy and Global Affairs, she was a staunch defender of human rights and has been a vocal advocate in the campaign to combat climate change.
Her colleague, Mitchell Reiss, is no less distinguished; serving as Director of Policy Planning at the State Department under Colin Powell and playing an integral role in the Northern Ireland peace process as a special envoy during the Bush Administration. Robert Kagan, while a leading neoconservative, and among the most vocal of the American exceptionalist crowd, is a thoughtful writer and respected by both Democrats and Republicans alike. His must-read piece in The New Republic on the myth of American decline is said to have influenced Obama’s State of the Union speech earlier this year.
One wonders then who on this list has Romney’s ear? Between his hawkish stance toward Russia or his belligerence toward Iran it would seem that there’s little room for moderates at the Romney foreign policy table. Even the list of countries Romney’s slated to visit in the next few weeks- Great Britain, Israel, Germany and Poland- looks like an itinerary “25 years out of date,” to quote the ever-clever Laura Rozen. It is further evidence that the inner circle is populated by old, right wing, Cold War warriors, which is as frightening as having no particular foreign policy experience or stance at all.
I would be far more comforted if that itinerary included a stop in India or South Korea, even China. Don’t we want a presidential candidate who at least appears vaguely aware of the geopolitical realities America is facing? Why isn’t Afghanistan on the list? In the words of Colin Powell, “C’mon Mitt, think!”
With just five months left before the election, Romney’s foreign policy “agenda” remains nebulous and thoroughly perplexing. There is just enough evidence, however, that when this agenda does in fact take shape, it will be alarmingly outdated.