Romney Appoints Realist Robert Zoellick To Policy Team, Risking Neocon Revolt

Mitt Romney seems to have a saboteur inside his campaign. After the controversial appointment of Paul Ryan as vice presidential nominee, he has now hired Bob Zoellick to run his national security transition team. Zoellick’s pragmatic view of foreign policy is wildly different than many members of Romney’s foreign policy team. It’s almost as if someone is trying to pick apart Mitt’s campaign from the inside. 

This appointment provides some serious insight into how Romney’s foreign policy is about to change. Either that, or we are about to witness a slew of back-room arguments, resignations, and leaks from within his cabinet should he become president in November.

Bob Zoellick is a Realist in the context of foreign policy. “Realism” at its most basic is a pragmatic paradigm for understanding the way countries behave, and how to sustainably maximize relationships with foreign powers for one’s own gain. For example, a Realist would not have invaded Iraq in 2003 given that there were no real U.S. interests in doing so, but would agree with the decision in 1991 to kick Saddam out of Kuwait in order to maintain the balance of power in the Middle East -- which is extremely important to U.S. interests. 

Realists are also opposed to a strike on Iran until all possible diplomatic means to a peaceful settlement are exhausted, and there is verifiable proof that Iran is trying to go nuclear. The same principle will apply to a potential armed intervention in Syria, according to the balance between the losses and the gains. 

It isn’t news that a presidential candidate will say almost anything he/she wants on policy just to shore up support and win votes. Therefore, it also shouldn’t be a surprise that once the candidate becomes president his or her policy can drastically change once the President’s Daily Brief -- a document composed by the U.S. intelligence community with time-sensitive, top-secret information about important world issues -- comes in.

Zoellick’s appointment has created an angry stir both in and outside the ranks of Romney’s heavily Neoconservative foreign policy team. Neocons are the antithesis of Realism. They believe in wielding U.S. power across the globe with a heavy hand to maintain U.S. dominance, spread democracy, and globalize the world in line with the American way of life with reckless abandon. They also give staunch support to Israel regardless of its actions.

Jennifer Rubin, a card-carrying Neocon who is all but foaming at the mouth over Zoellick’s appointment wrote a nasty op-ed in the Washington Post, stating, “The former governor of Utah prizes collaboration and teamwork, while legions of those who have worked with Zoellick are candid that he “does not play well with others.”

Rubin has made an incredibly ridiculous statement here, but I am giddy with excitement that she has outed her constituency for what they really represent. First, “playing well with others” in the context she intends translates to Zoellick not favoring foreign intervention when it is not prudent and not blindly supporting Israel, amongst other types of incredibly dangerous exercises in “groupthink” that have absolutely no place in foreign policy architecture. Luckily, Rubin has been proven wrong by former Secretary of State James Baker -also a Realist- in an interview he did with Foreign Policy on how Rubin’s statements against Zoellick are simply false.

Rubin charges that, “For foreign policy hawks, Zoellick is an anathema. As the right hand man in the State Department and Treasury Department of James A, Baker, who was infamous for his anti-Israel stance, Zoellick acquired a reputation as "soft" on China, weak on pressuring the Soviet Union at the close of the Cold War, opposed to the first Gulf War and unsupportive of the Jewish state.”

Apparently Rubin –- in true Neocon fashion -- wasn’t happy that Baker and Zoellick are opposed to allowing U.S. aid to Israel to be used to fund new settlements in the West Bank. Indeed, this was a liability for the U.S., and the realistic, prudent action was to curtail the use of aid for such purposes since it made the U.S. look complicit in Israel’s campaign against the Palestinians. On the issue of being opposed to the first Gulf war in Iraq, Baker states that Zoellick, “was never opposed to the Gulf War,” and, “was one of my right-hand aides when we built that unprecedented international coalition to kick Iraq out of Kuwait." Baker goes on to negate the rest of Rubin’s false charges throughout the interview.

Regardless of incessant Neoconservative whining, Zoellick is the man for the job, at least when it comes to his policy beliefs. It remains to be seen however whether he has the fortitude to stand up to the likes of Eliot Cohen, Robert Kagan, Eric Edelman, and the rest of Romney’s policy team that harbor hawkish, short-sighted, and outright dangerous views on foreign policy.

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Joseph Sarkisian

Joseph graduated with a Master of Science in international relations from the University of Massachusetts Boston and was an intern at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC. He completed his BA at Arizona State University in political science as well as studied Arabic language, terrorism/counterterrorism, and religion. Joseph also lived in Egypt where he studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo in 2007. Joseph was the Secretary of the Executive Committee for the University of Massachusetts Graduate Student Government, a teaching assistant in his department, and teaches a class on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. His main areas of interest are the Af/Pak region, Iran, Syria, and other current foreign policy issues.

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