Conservative commentators and advisers to Mitt Romney’s foreign policy team have been chattering to the press a lot in the past few weeks, often on background to discuss in internal machinations over policy. The result is an emerging picture of a Romney team fractured by a lack of focus and unable to draw a sharp distinction between the candidate’s policies and those of President Obama.
Two press accounts today bolster the notion of disarray on Romney’s foreign policy team. In an article in the Daily Beast, neoconservative American Enterprise Institute vice president of foreign policy and defense studies Danielle Pletka — whose husband Stephen Rademaker advises Romney — lamented the lack of a top tier foreign policy spokesman for Romney who can speak to the press and keep the candidate abreast of developments, which in effect is keeping foreign policy on the back-burner:
One of the things that troubles me is that there is no lead foreign policy person who is traveling with the governor and who is there to talk to the press. … [Foreign policy] is one of President Obama’s biggest failings and the American people need to hear a debate about more than the economy.”
Former John Bolton aide Richard Grenell’s tenure as the campaign foreign policy spokesman ended almost before it started when the openly-gay Grenell resigned after the campaign buckled under pressure from right-wing groups and kept him cloistered during a critical foreign policy conference call with reporters.
One aide recalled to the Daily Beast a weekly team conference call where one adviser raised a report in Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency — known for its blatantly false propaganda — that Russia, Iran, Syria and China would stage a joint military exercise. The adviser told the Daily Beast:
It was so lame. These conference calls are really for people who have an hour in a half of time every week to waste.
The disarray was also on display in a Washington Times article from Monday. In the story, Romney advisers outlined a policy centered on supporting allies and not publicly diverging from supporting allies’ positions (something that already happened when an adviser trashed the British prime minister).
But when it comes down to policy specifics in the Washington Times, the Romney campaign again falls back on platitudes that offer little distinction from Obama’s policies. For example, Alex Wong, a young foreign policy adviser, told the paper:
In Afghanistan, while Mr. Romney agrees with 2014 as a realistic time frame for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, he simply would not have announced the withdrawal date ahead of time the way that Mr. Obama did.
The same could be said of Iran, where both the Washington Times article and past explanations have drawn little contrast with Obama’s policies, aside from heightened rhetoric.
Other recently emerging rifts on the team pit Republican moderates against the so-called “Cheney-ites” (those linked to former vice president Dick Cheney and his aggressive foreign policy). And the Cheney-ites often win out. But Americans, with Iraq just in the rearview and Afghanistan about to wind down, are war-wary. Perhaps that’s why an adviser said in May that “Romney doesn’t want to really engage these issues until he is in office.”