Last night I joined Rachel Maddow to talk about Mitt Romney's evolving views on Afghanistan. At various times, Romney has said we needed to get out of the Afghanistan mess, agreeing for the most part at the time of early GOP debates with House Representative and then presidential candidate Michele Bachmann until shifting to a harder-line posture on staying in Afghanistan.
Romney, who has endorsed the general time frame of closing down most of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014 has been critical of Obama's decision to drawdown the committed surge forces and bringing levels to 68,000. Obama -- acting like a commander-in-chief should have listened to the advice of 'the generals' and then made a decision based on larger strategic factors and ordered that the surge troops be drawn out. Romney has implied that Obama should not only 'listen to the generals' but should do what they tell him.
Romney might want to go back and read testimony given by former ISAF Commander General David Petraeus about Afghanistan before Congress in which Petraeus said that the recommendations he was making were based on factors inside and related to Afghanistan alone -- but were not taking into account the larger "strategic situation." Petraeus shied away from giving a strategic assessment of the value of Afghanistan in relation to other matters like America's posture with Iran, with the broader Middle East, with stability dynamics in South Asia -- particularly with Pakistan and India.
Obama and his national security team lead by Tom Donilon and Denis McDonough have committed to a strategic rebalancing of US forces and long-term commitments. They are working to downsize America's vulnerability to the instability and challenges in the Middle East and South Asia which are sapping American resources and power and deploy to where global economic growth is shifting: Asia.
If Mitt Romney re-reads his Citadel speech and checks out the Asia sections, he agrees that Asia needs more attention.
The clip of my discussion with Rachel Maddow follows below:
Rachel Maddow talks to Atlantic Editor-at-Large Steve Clemons about whether John McCain is pushing Mitt Romney into more hawkish, never leave Afghanistan position
While I have largely dismissed the foreign policy competence and coherence of Mitt Romney's strategic vision in the past, I'm seeing Romney up his game in a few hires he has made.
First of all, the Romney team has brought on board former Department of State Under Secretary for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky to play a lead role on shaping his national security and foreign policy agenda and positions. Dobriansky, who until recently was a senior executive with ThomsonReuters and once was vice president and director of the Washington operations for the Council on Foreign Relations, is a formidable and creative public intellectual. I'm not sure she wrote the piece, but one could sense a different hand -- probably Paula Dobriansky's by my guess -- behind the interesting Mitt Romney Foreign Policy magazine op-ed, "Bowing to the Kremlin," in which he challenged Obama's caught-on-mic comments to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on ballistic missile defense.
The essay was tough-minded, internally consistent and coherent, and a real contrast to other Romney foreign policy commentary.
The next big hire that I mentioned to Rachel Maddow last evening was that Ric Grenell, a long-time communications expert who served as spokesman for four U.S. Ambassadors to the United Nations, is now Romney's national security spokesman. Grenell worked for former Senator Jack Danforth at the UN; then John Negroponte; then the affable John Bolton; and finally Zalmay Khalilzad. During the long battle over John Bolton's Senate confirmation vote which he never received, Grenell was a tireless, tenacious, tough advocate for Bolton with the media. I was one of those skeptical of John Bolton's UN confirmation, but I give Grenell credit for being fair-minded and serious with me.
Foreign policy pundits and analysts are now going to have to reconsider Romney on foreign policy and national security and consider his positions more seriously.
Presidents aren't just people -- they are franchises. And with Dobriansky and Grenell, Romney has upped the stock value of his foreign policy operation.