Reuters reported yesterday that sharp disputes have erupted within Mitt Romney’s foreign policy team. One “long-time Republican activist” close to the campaign’s moderate wing expressed concern that Romney’s “instinct is to call the Cheney-ites.” In other words, the neoconservatives on Romney’s team often win out over moderate voices.
Today, a New York Times report reinforced that view with a more concrete example. During the diplomatic crisis over Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who escaped house arrest and sought refuge in the U.S. embassy, Romney took the Cheney-ite “hard line” on the advice of a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. Romney, at the time, blasted the Obama administration’s handling of the crisis — before it was resolved.
According to the Times, this “hard line” adopted by Romney came directly from a literal “Cheney-ite” — not a Cheneyesque ideologue, but an actual former adviser to the ultra-hawkish former vice president. According to Romney advisers who spoke to the Times anonymously:
One adviser said to favor a more calibrated approach was Evan A. Feigenbaum, a co-chairman of Mr. Romney’s Asia-Pacific working group and a former State Department official. Arguing for a relatively more aggressive response was Aaron L. Friedberg, another co-chairman who was a national security aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Friedberg is known for favoring a hard line on China, and others say it was almost certain the two men would stake out different ground.
Before the Chen incident, Romney-endorser and former U.S. ambassador to China Jon Huntsman said Romney’s China bluster was “typical” campaign rhetoric. As the Times put it, “Romney and his team respond to foreign crises and formulate policy in a highly charged political atmosphere.” The Times went on:
Mr. Romney and his tightknit staff often seek the most expedient way to gain political advantage and attack rivals. That can mean staking out ground well to the right in order to sharpen contrasts with Mr. Obama.
Romney probably stakes out these sorts of positions because his national security and foreign policies lack substance and, at other times, are difficult to distinguish from Obama’s. Romney presses for more military spending, but can’t overcome contradictions in his plan to reduce the debt and deficit. His bluster appears to draw distinctions on issues like Iran — where, despite past and some present hawkishness among advisers, Romney’s campaign positions looks a lot like Obama’s — and Syria, where Romney calls for arming rebels, something the Obama administration is already facilitating.