It’s the same game we play every four years. In order to figure out what a candidate will do if he or she becomes president, we look to their list of advisers, particularly on foreign policy issues, as the Rosetta stone by which we may unlock the secret of their future actions. While such analyses are by no means perfect, they are often instructive.
For skeptics, I need only mention the name Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose name surfaced in late 2007 on a list of Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers. Obama’s handlers spent the rest of the campaign downplaying Brzezinski’s role or even disputing he was any sort of an adviser at all. But as it turns out, the presence of Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor on that list turned out to be an accurate forecast of the president’s hostility to Israel and his desire for confrontation with its government.
For those who want to play along in terms of the current crop of Republican presidential wannabes, Josh Rogin provides a good introduction to the subject in Foreign Policy as he breaks down the Romney, Pawlenty, Huntsman and Bachmann teams.
Rogin’s research shows Romney’s prospective approach to foreign and security issues to be as amorphous as many of his other policies. While Romney worked last year with the eminently sound Heritage Foundation to broadcast his opposition to the START Treaty with Russia, now he is “broadening the tent,” whatever that means. The outline of Romney’s foreign policy isn’t clear yet. While he has made strong statements opposing Obama’s pressure on Israel, he seems ambivalent about the American commitment to the war in Afghanistan. Among the names mentioned as advising Romney are Mitchell Reiss, State Department policy planning director under Colin Powell, and Dan Senor, who worked in the George W. Bush administration and co-authored an important book about technological innovation in Israel.
By contrast, Tim Pawlenty’s foreign policy approach couldn’t be clearer. In his speech to the Council on Foreign Relations last month, he outlined his belief in a strong American role in the world, a commitment to the fight against terror and support for Israel. His only problem is he is worried about being called a neoconservative. But whatever label he wants to put on himself, he has as firm a grasp of the issues and what needs to be done abroad as any Republican contender. If his campaign were as well thought out as his foreign policy statements, he’d be the frontrunner instead of Mitt Romney.
Among the names mentioned as advising Pawlenty are former Rep. Vin Weber, who headed the National Endowment for Democracy with distinction, and Brian Hook, a former aide to John Bolton, America’s most forthright diplomat of the past decade.
Jon Huntsman’s campaign is denying that former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, and Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass, are advising him. But it doesn’t really matter whether those eminent “realists” and mandarins of our foreign policy establishment are actually on board with Huntsman or not. Huntsman has already staked out his positions policy in a manner to make their official participation unnecessary. The former Obama administration ambassador to China is to the left of his former boss on Afghanistan and favors defense cuts as well as an American retreat from a forward foreign policy. In the unlikely event Huntsman is either nominated or elected, Scowcroft’s name ought to stick out like neon as a predictor of his future plans in much the same way Brzezinski’s did for Obama.
Michele Bachmann’s foreign policy future is much more of a mystery. There don’t appear to be any foreign policy veterans of any particular persuasion in her inner or outer circle of advisers. All we know is she is a passionate lifelong supporter of Israel, and her instincts are hawkish, though not uniformly so. She rightly criticized President Obama for his Afghanistan drawdown but opposes humanitarian intervention in Libya.
The only thing approaching a foreign policy adviser Rogin can come up with for Bachmann is, surprisingly enough, Senator John McCain. Apparently, she met last month with McCain to discuss national security and Afghanistan. That doesn’t make him part of Bachmann’s team, but it does show reports about her being some sort of a Tea Party isolationist are either false or exaggerated.
Rogin’s article leaves us with as many questions as it provides answers, especially with regard to Romney and Bachmann, the two leading GOP presidential contenders. But this is a good start in our effort to figuring out how they might govern.