Mitt Romney: American primacy without being promiscuous
Romney, the presumptive front-runner, is the most far along of the major candidates in the development of his campaign's foreign-policy infrastructure. He already has a senior brain trust in place, and that team is well on its way toward establishing the type of foreign-policy advisory groups that major campaigns need in a general election.
The core group includes Mitchell Reiss, the former State Department policy planning director under Secretary of State Colin Powell, Massachusetts former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, former top CIA official Cofer Black, and former Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor. This group was also with Romney during his first presidential run in 2008.
A senior Romney advisor told Foreign Policy that the Romney campaign is in the process of setting up a foreign-policy structure that mimics the National Security Council. Working groups will be set up based on regional and functional specialties to develop policy positions on every conceivable issue. The working groups' ranks are to be filled in the coming weeks.
Last year, Romney was working directly with the Heritage Foundation to publicize his opposition to the New START missile reductions with Russia. But now he's broadening the tent, making sure that in these early days any GOP foreign-policy thinkers who want to contribute have a mechanism to do so.
Like the other GOP candidates, Romney links national security strength to economic strength at home -- and believes that America has been underinvesting in the military, dangerously so, and therefore would increase military spending. Among his common rhetorical tropes is that Obama has always been more invested in dealing with enemies than in investing in friendships.
But where Romney veers away from the hawkish script is in his desire to assure voters that he will not engage in wars of choice and is cognizant of the risks of overextending the military.
"The challenge for any Republican candidate is the fatigue that has set in among the American people after three wars," said the advisor. "So how do you convey to them that you're not going to retreat and pull up the drawbridge into Fortress America, which won't work? But at the same time, that you're not going to be promiscuous in your engagements overseas, and when in you engage in them, explain [them] to the American people."
There's evidence that Romney himself is having trouble threading that needle. In the first GOP debate in New Hampshire, he took criticism for saying that "It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes from our generals," and that "We've learned that our troops shouldn't go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation.… Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan's independence from the Taliban.''
But Romney's advistor said that there's no inconsistency in those remarks. All commanders want to bring troops home as soon as possible, and Romney isn't advocating leaving Afghanistan before the job is done. With the independence remark, Romney was simply pointing out that ultimately, the Afghans will have to solve their own problems.
The advisor describes Romney's foreign-policy frame as "American primacy with a heavy dose of selective engagement" and added, "I think that's where most of the party is."
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