Mitt Romney turned attention to his foreign policy this week, with a largely substance-free and fact-challenged speech on Tuesday and a European tour that will eventually take him to Israel. While Romney has gone to great lengths to avoid talking national security, it’s no secret that neither Romney nor his advisers appear capable of outlining a clear vision of a Romney administration’s foreign policy. What little specifics we do hear sound suspiciously like the Obama administration’s positions. So for those wondering what a Romney presidency might mean for U.S. troops and diplomats, there’s not much to go on.
But what’s troublesome about Romney on foreign policy is what’s cooking behind the scenes. Gen. Colin Powell recently complained that Romney’s foreign policy team is “quite far to the right.” Indeed, veterans of the Bush/Cheney administration “pepper” Romney’s foreign policy team and the so-called “Cheney-ites” are reportedly winning the presumptive GOP presidential nominee’s ear. Here’s an in depth look at some of the key advisers a President Romney will hear from on foreign policy and what we might come to expect in a Romney administration:
Before advising Romney, Amb. John Bolton served briefly as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under a recess appointment — awkward from the start because of his lifelong disdain for anything multilateral. After leaving government and taking up a position at the American Enterprise Institute, he turned on the Bush administration for not being hawkish enough on Iran. It’s a note he’s been striking since as a Fox contributor, sometime presidential candidate, and frequent guest on right-wing conspiracy theorists’ radio shows. He cheers for negotiations with Iran to fail, a position that supports his “default setting” of wanting to bomb Iran for any old reason even though he has admitted it might not work. Ominously, Bolton even once suggested a nuclear attack against Iran.
Just months after the war in Afghanistan began, Eliot Cohen — who “was closely affiliated with the circle of hawks who surrounded Vice President Dick Cheney” — was agitating for a war in Iraq, calling it the “big prize.” As a co-founder of the Project for A New American Century, a neoconservative pressure organization critical to the development of the Iraq War, Cohen helped push the case for toppling Saddam. Though critical of the execution of the Iraq War, Cohen appears to have drawn only the most limited of conclusions, as he was seen as recently as 2009 making the case for a new war in Iran.
The Daily Beast described former C.I.A. officer Cofer Black as “Mitt Romney’s trusted envoy to the dark side”: “he often acts as the campaign’s in-house intelligence officer.” When the two first linked up during Romney’s first campaign, Black still had his position as a vice chairman of the controversial security contractor known then as Blackwater. In 2007, Romney refused to rule out torture of terrorism suspects, and said he’d have to consult with Black about it. Black led the C.I.A. counterterror shop when the harsh interrogations were carried out and he took the lead on President Bush’s secret rendition program. His speakers’ bureau bio says Black “conceived, planned and led the CIA’s war in Afghanistan.” In a history of the C.I.A., Tim Weiner wrote that Black was “the man who vowed to bring Osama bin Laden’s head to George W. Bush on a pike and did not make good on that promise.”
When you’re too controversial for Congressman Peter King’s hearings on terrorism among American Muslims, that ought to be a warning flag for any prospective employers. Yet Walid Phares, a Lebanese Christian with a long history of involvement in violent militias back home, is prominently listed as a “special adviser” in official Romney campaign literature. Investigations into Phares’ role in the brutal Lebanese Civil War suggests he was personally responsible for infusing Christian theology into the official ideology of the sectarian Lebanese Forces, an important fighting group in the war. Phares also has numerous links with the Islamophobic anti-Sharia movement.
One might think Michael Hayden, who led both the CIA and the NSA at different points under George W. Bush, might be a calming influence: he has publicly warned about the consequences of a strike on Iran. However, Hayden is one of the most vigorous and defenders of torture, although accurately describing the practice he helped implement clearly makes him uncomfortable. Despite the overwhelming evidence that torture isn’t an effective means of getting intelligence and the simple truth of its moral repugnance, Hayden continues to defend the practice, comparing those who agree with the expert consensus to birthers and truthers. In office, Hayden demonstrated a clear track record of covering up the facts about Bush-era torture.
A number of Romney’s advisers who rose to prominence defending the Iraq war and its conduct, but none quite as much as Dan Senor. Currently the cofounder of a neoconservative pressure group, Senor was the spokesman for the U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, where he painted a rosy picture of the occupation, even once telling reporters, “Well, off the record, Paris is burning. But on the record, security and stability are returning to Iraq.” Even after he was done, he continued to work toward improving the optics of the occupation gone awry. That approach carried over to debates about attacking Iran, where, as part of a Romney campaign call, he suggested the administration should not openly discuss consequences of a strike.
Max Boot has a remarkably consistent standard of advocating for war, even by neoconservative standards. In October of 2001, Boot called for “America to embrace its imperial role,” jauntily proclaiming that “Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.” Though one might think he would want to downplay those remarks today, Boot recently decided he got it entirely right, only wishing “policymakers in the Bush administration had listened.” Boot took an astonishingly rosy view of the ease of the Iraq War, suggesting it would only “require a long-term commitment of at least 60,000 to 75,000 soldiers.” Today, Boot can be found advocating for (one presumes simultaneously) staying in Afghanistan, intervening in Syria, and bombing Iran.
A former Cheney aide and Bush Ambassador to Turkey, Eric Edelman follows in his bosses’ hawkish footsteps, recently suggesting that a war with Iran is the only possible alternative to an unpalatable world with an Iranian bomb. Romney recently used Edelman to attack Obama on leaking classified information, an awkward choice of spokesperson given that Edelman “originally suggested the idea to [Scooter] Libby to start leaking information about Joe Wilson’s trip to Niger” when he worked for the convicted felon.