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May 17 2012

Romney Advisers Leak to the Times

David Sanger of the New York Times published an article over the weekend that must be causing some serious strife within the Romney campaign, as more than a half dozen of the candidate’s foreign policy advisers spoke anonymously about his complete lack of coherent ideas on that subject. Speaking about Romney’s declaration that he would never negotiate with the Taliban, a position considered absurd and dangerous by all of his advisers, the article says:

It was just one example of what Mr. Romney’s advisers call a perplexing pattern: Dozens of subtle position papers flow through the candidate’s policy shop and yet seem to have little influence on Mr. Romney’s hawkish-sounding pronouncements, on everything from war to nuclear proliferation to the trade-offs in dealing with China. In the Afghanistan case, “none of us could quite figure out what he was advocating,” one of Mr. Romney’s advisers said. He insisted on anonymity — as did a half-dozen others interviewed over the past two weeks — because the Romney campaign has banned any discussion of the process by which the candidate formulates his positions.

“It begged the obvious question,” the adviser added. “Do we stay another decade? How many forces, and how long, does that take? Do we really want to go into the general election telling Americans that we should stay a few more years to eradicate the whole Taliban movement?” In phase one of a long presidential campaign, Mr. Romney could duck those questions: the spotlight moved to the wisdom of the economic stimulus and the auto-industry bailout, contraception and, now, same-sex marriage and high school bullying.

But in the long stretch before the Republican convention in August, the battle for Mr. Romney’s mind on the key foreign policy questions that have defined the past few decades will have to be joined: When is a threat to America so urgent that the United States should intervene unilaterally? Is it worth the cost and casualties to rebuild broken societies? Should America feel it must always be in the lead — as Mr. Romney seems to argue — or let other powers play that role when their interests are more directly affected?

On these questions, Mr. Romney’s own advisers, judging by their public writing and comments, possess widely differing views — often a result of the scar tissue they developed in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Bush-era experiments in the exercise of American power.

This is what happens when you flail around trying to find a position that distinguishes you from your primary rivals and your general election opponent, without having anything remotely like a coherent approach to the subject. But the fact that his advisers are now leaking their concerns to the press is a pretty big deal, as Michael Crowley points out:

Substantively, it’ll be mighty interesting to see how Romney handles this question when it comes up next: Will he backpedal or double down on his politically sulphuric view. But almost as interesting is the broader implication of Sanger’s piece, which is that Romney is surrounded by foreign policy experts frustrated enough with him to feed the Times a negative story, to the point of implying that Romney doesn’t thoroughly understand or possibly even even care much about foreign affairs. (“Romney doesn’t want to really engage these issues until he is in office,” one adviser confides to Sanger.) From my read of Sanger’s piece, Romney advisers seem to have qualms about his rhetoric on countries ranging from Iran to China to Russia. (Sanger notes pointedly–and, I assume, based on a sour whisper from the advisory circle–that Romney wrote a 2010 op-ed piece opposing Obama’s new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia “without much input from his staff.”)

So much for internal discipline. One chatty adviser confesses to Sanger that he would be “cashiered” from the campaign for speaking so freely, and understandably so. Fehrnstrom must be on the warpath. To be fair, campaigns can have dozens, even hundreds of “advisers,” and it’s not clear from Sanger’s story whether the dissidents are inner-sanctum types or outer-orbit people who submit a memo to some regional working group every now and then. Regardless, this kind of chatter is embarrassing for the campaign. It’s also chum in the water for the national media, which has been reminded of Romney’s inexperience in world affairs–something he’s been relatively unchallenged on thus far–and which is sure to start drilling deeper on that subject soon. Asking Romney to explain his plan to “defeat” the Taliban would be a fine place to start.

Time to shake the etch-a-sketch again.

24 comments

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  1. 1
    Gregory in Seattle

    This suddenly developed backbone in Romney surprises me: he has shown himself, time and again, to hold whatever position was held by the last person to speak with him.

  2. 2
    Blondin

    Time to shake the etch-a-sketch again.

    I disagree. I think it’s time to put Herman Cain back in the contest. He was much funnier.

  3. 3
    Larry

    Just declare he’s against whatever Obama is for and he’ll be good to go.

  4. 4
    Homo Straminus

    Re: Larry@3: That seems the obvious choice, a la,

    “Look at how horrible Obama has handled everything! It’s all a mess! Why, when I am president, I will work tirelessly and diligently with those qualified men and women to educate myself broadly on foreign policy in order to formulate a better plan for the future!”*

    “But, sir, what are your opinions now?”

    “I…Uh…I would not be so arrogant as to claim that I know better than the men and women in the thick of it! It would be insulting to them, and to the American people, for me to pretend I know better without reviewing all the data!”

    [loud applause]

    *This actually would be pretty amazing, if any president ever bothered to do it.

  5. 5
    eric

    Asking Romney to explain his plan to “defeat” the Taliban would be a fine place to start.

    Step 1: Remove black man from office.

    Step 2: …

    Step 3: celebrate victory over Taliban.

    [A la South Park]

  6. 6
    timberwoof

    Why is it that when Rethuglicans talk about Democratic candidates, the make a big fuss over their lack of international experience … yet idiots like Shrub and Romney have enough?

    Wait, what? This is funny:

    http://myclob.pbworks.com/w/page/21958710/Mitt%20Romney%20does%20have%20significant%20international%20experience

    CEO of an international consulting firm. Yeah, right.

  7. 7
    Reginald Selkirk

    Larry #3: Just declare he’s against whatever Obama is for and he’ll be good to go.

    that seems to have been his strategy to date. He wouldn’t be in office more than a few weeks or months before new situations developed about which Obama had not expressed any opinion, so Romney would be at a loss as to what his position should be.

  8. 8
    Reginald Selkirk

    At least he knows which continent the country of Africa is on, right?

  9. 9
    Doug Little

    “none of us could quite figure out what he was advocating,”

    Seems like par for the course with Romney, but it is funny that even people involved with his campaign don’t know what he stands for.

  10. 10
    Nick Gotts

    He wouldn’t be in office more than a few weeks or months before new situations developed about which Obama had not expressed any opinion, so Romney would be at a loss as to what his position should be. – Reginald Selkirk

    Well, he could hire Obama as an adviser, then do the opposite of whatever he advises.

  11. 11
    shouldbeworking

    Mittens would never presume to know where the country of Africa is. Since it isn’t America, its not important. And if he ever had to go there, why the pilot of Air Force 1 would know, that’s why he would be working for Mitt.

    I’m assuming Mitt doesn’t speak African so there would no one he would talk to anyway.

  12. 12
    d cwilson

    Speaking about Romney’s declaration that he would never negotiate with the Taliban,

    Isn’t that the default GOP position? Declare that negotiation with the enemy is a sign of weakness, then once in office, start negotiating with the enemy.

  13. 13
    d cwilson

    Timberwoof:

    Gotta love number one that list:

    1. He speaks French.

    When did speaking French become a good thing on Planet Wingnuttia? It was only eight years ago when they were blasting John Kerry for looking French.

  14. 14
    D. C. Sessions

    It’s also chum in the water for the national media, which has been reminded of Romney’s inexperience in world affairs

    We won’t be hearing anything about that until they can come up with a way to balance it with a comparable degree of incompetence on the part of Romney’s opponent.

  15. 15
    frog

    eric@5:

    I’m pretty sure Romney will find a way to make step 3 be “profit!” The overall War on Terror (both at home and abroad) has managed very nicely to move money from the taxpayer-filled government coffers to military/security consultants, contractors, and manufacturers.

  16. 16
    Michael Heath

    I don’t think the most relevant observation here is Romney’s etch-a-sketch strategy. Instead Romney earns a far worse indictment. Mr. Romney, exactly like George W. Bush, and contra to Ronald Reagan, has not prepared himself to govern our foreign policy endeavors.

    What Romney and Bush both share is a fierce desire to be president, where they focused on achieving that goal solely on creating an executing a sound campaign strategy. Where that strategy assumes no foreign policy understanding or aptitude is required, they don’t even need to fake it. The fact people will consider presidential candidates who are demonstrable ignoramuses on economics and foreign policy is perhaps our greatest weakness as voters.

  17. 17
    Childermass

    As a general rule the only war which you never, ever negotiate with an enemy is one which you turn tail and run assuming you can run to where they enemy is either unable to reach you or simply does not care to.

  18. 18
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @ ^ Childermass :

    I think you’re forgetting how WWII ended with the whole “unconditional surrender” thing insisted upon for the axis powers. Among other examples.

    (Don’t recall North Vietname negotiating with the South, Saddam negotating his surrender when he lost to America in 2004 or Genghis Khan being much of a diplomat either.)

  19. 19
    Winterwind

    @SteveoR #18:

    Genghis Khan and his descendants were very much into diplomacy. A number of primary sources such as charters, documents, tablets and inscriptions bear witness to this fact. It was routine for the Mongols to exchange messengers and trading caravans with cities they planned to conquer. They generally offered such cities a choice between submitting to Mongol rule and paying a tribute, or resisting and being invaded. (According to the Secret History of the Mongols, the caravans provided cover for spies and agitators, who spread rumours of how mighty and unstoppable the Khan’s forces were.)

    They often formed alliances with various (Mongol, Turkic, Chinese, Persian) clans through intermarriage as well. A young warlord was offered the hand of one of Genghis’ female relatives, but he refused, saying that she had the face of a frog. He was punished severely (I can’t remember how. I think he might have been killed in some creative and cruel way).

    Genghis Khan also advocated a form of religious freedom, in which his empire tolerated and in some cases protected and patronised various forms of shamanism, Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism and Nestorian Christianity. (There were also periods of religious persecution, for example, persecution of Buddhists.)

    The bottom line is, to say that Genghis Khan was not much of a diplomat is simply not true. It takes more than brute force to keep an empire, and the Mongols were at least as good at diplomacy as they were at invading and killing people (admittedly, having a huge army at your back makes negotiations somewhat easier).

  20. 20
    dingojack

    Stevo The North and South Vietnamese did indeed negotiate with each other in talks brokered by the Americans* (whether they were meaningful negotiations or not is a more difficult question).
    Dingo
    —–
    * For example see the ‘bombing pause’ in late 1968.

  21. 21
    Nick Gotts

    In practice, there was also negotiation between the USA and Japan at the end of WWII, in which the former agreed that the Emperor could retain his throne, in return for “unconditional” surrender.

  22. 22
    democommie

    “as more than a half dozen of the candidate’s foreign policy advisers spoke anonymously…”

    Six, anonymously? How many foreign policy advisers can they have?

    Poor Mittunswillard, he needs to have somebody with executive chops running his campaign. Then again maybe they started with a pretty good organization and pruned away all of the dead wood and sold it off.

  23. 23
    Reginald Selkirk

    Mr. Romney, … has not prepared himself to govern our foreign policy endeavors.

    He thinks he has. You see (W always said this when starting a lie), running a government is just like running a business! And Romney has plenty of experience running a business. Expect to see an early merger with Canada, followed by a hostile takeover of Iran.

  24. 24
    democommie

    “Expect to see an early merger with Canada,”

    We’re currently celebrating the 200th anniversary of the last attempt to MurKKKanify Canadastan.

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