Who Would Be Romney's Foreign Policy Team?

While the Veepstakes speculation ensues, planning for a presidential transition and a Romney Cabinet will commence. Who might President Romney choose for his foreign policy team?
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Governor Romney's campaign team will be busy into late summer vetting Vice Presidential candidates. While the Veepstakes speculation ensues, planning for a presidential transition and a Romney Cabinet will commence. Who might President Romney choose for his foreign policy team?

Past presidential transitions offer some guideposts with which to make predictions. President-elect Obama opted for continuity at the Pentagon, retaining Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense. Though long a servant of Republican administrations, Gates cut his teeth at the CIA and was seen as above the partisan fray. The same cannot be said for current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta or for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, both of whom would likely leave their posts. Like Obama, President Clinton selected a Republican elder statesman as his Secretary of Defense in the person of retired Maine Senator William Cohen. It is reasonable to suspect that Romney would choose a similar figure with bipartisan credentials and roots in the opposition party for a major cabinet position.

Another emerging precedent has been the inclusion of women in positions of foreign policy leadership since the Clinton administration, when Madeleine Albright served as U.N. Ambassador and as Secretary of State. George W. Bush chose Condoleezza Rice to serve as his National Security Adviser and then as his Secretary of State. And today, President Obama's Secretary of State and U.N. Ambassador are both women. It thus stands to reason that a Romney transition team would look closely at female candidates for a top foreign policy position.

A final precedent is the return of party advisers and officials who have served in previous administrations and gone into exile in the private sector, media, and think tanks, awaiting the call to return to the service of the White House. George W. Bush called upon GOP stalwarts Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Donald Rumsfeld to guide foreign and defense policy in his first term. An intriguing question about a Romney administration is whether any of the neoconservatives charged with leading America astray under Bush would make a comeback.

In looking for a woman, Romney could look as Obama did to the campaign and his early rival, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. Bachmann, though, has few of the foreign policy credentials needed for the job, and also has been slow to an endorsement. Santorum, Gingrich, and Ron Paul are also doubtful to fit into the foreign policy plans of the Romney team. We take Condoleezza Rice at her word when she says she wants to stay out of politics, and we assume that David Petraeus will remain in his position at the CIA.

We join others (notably at Salon.com and The Nation) to answer the question: so who is left to fill key positions at State, Defense, Homeland Security, and the National Security Council?

Secretary of State

Romney could follow his predecessor's lead on State and choose one of his campaign rivals. Jon Hunstman dropped out of the presidential race in January and soon endorsed Romney. Huntsman, also a former Governor (Utah), is a seasoned diplomat, having served as the U.S. Ambassador to Singapore in the early 90s and to China for the first few years of the Obama administration. He is fluent in Chinese and has worked in the private sector, but would his recent service to the Obama administration and his somewhat dovish views seal his fate?

A more likely choice might be someone with foreign policy acumen, international connections, and sufficient Capitol Hill experience to survive the confirmation hearing. Former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman (2003-2009) has been active in U.S.-Israel policy and was a vocal advocate of the invasion of Iraq. He is currently Chairman of the Board of American Action Network (AAN), a conservative advocacy organization formed in 2010. AAN is closely affiliated with American Crossroads, the organization led by Karl Rove that has spearheaded efforts to support 2012 Republican candidates with nearly $240 million. If Romney wins, he will have American Crossroads to thank, and selecting Coleman as Secretary of State may be one of the ways to express that appreciation.

A dark horse candidate for the highest foreign policy office in the land may be Ambassador John Bolton. Bolton, an unapologetic hawk, served as an Undersecretary of State and as Ambassador to the United Nations under George W. Bush. Bolton has consistently and vociferously argued for tough measures in response to weapons proliferation in Iran and North Korea, and he would negotiate a very tough bargain with Russia on matters such as missile defense. Romney criticizes Obama for being weak on foreign policy and for cutting deals too easily with the likes of Russia, a country which the Governor has characterized as America's chief geopolitical threat. Assuming this is not purely campaign rhetoric, one can imagine few potential secretaries of state besides Bolton that would embody the strength and certitude Romney seeks. Bolton may play an effective bad cop to President Romney's good cop. But could Romney keep sufficient control of the reins?

Secretary of Defense

If Mitt Romney wins, no appointment is likely to be examined inside the Beltway as closely as that of a new Secretary of Defense. Control of the largest departmental budget, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the charismatic authority of Donald Rumsfeld have all elevated the profile of this position in recent years. One contender is General Michael Hayden. Hayden served the Bush administration as head of the National Security Agency (1999-2005) and as CIA Director (2006-2009). Choosing an Intelligence professional to run the Pentagon would be consistent with recent practice; Robert Gates spent most of his career at CIA and Leon Panetta ran the agency before transitioning to Defense last year. Hayden, however, has expressed doubts about military action against Iran's nuclear program, sentiments that may run counter to the hawkishness of other advisors and to Romney's own recent aggressive statements on Iran.

Hayden's current boss may also come under consideration. Hayden is a principal at the Chertoff Group, founded and chaired by Michael Chertoff. Chertoff is a Romney foreign policy advisor and served in a cabinet position as Secretary of Homeland Security from 2005-2009. Chertoff, however, is a former Judge on the United States Court of Appeals and could have his sights set on Justice.

Instead, Romney might follow the lead of President Clinton, who selected Republican Senator Bill Cohen (ME), and appoint a member of the opposition to Defense. Pro-Life Democratic Senator Ben Nelson (NE) will not be seeking re-election in November, supported the war in Iraq, and has served on the Armed Services Committee. Nelson would bring a bi-partisanship to the Romney administration without sacrificing the hawkish turn that the campaign may take in order to win the election.

Retiring Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is also a possibility. Lieberman has recently joined his good friend and Romney supporter John McCain in the leadership of Senate initiatives to ratchet up sanctions on Iran, to provide aid to Syrian rebels, and to ensure that Russian accession to the WTO is made contingent on the passage of new human rights legislation. GOP starlet and Veep contender Marco Rubio gave a well-publicized foreign policy speech at the Brookings Institution in April; he was accompanied by Lieberman, who may be mentoring the young Floridian. But the former Gore running mate has not endorsed Romney (nor is it clear that he will) and remains in a sort of political limbo.

National Security Adviser

Cofer Black has the expertise and the relationship with Romney to be the chief White House advisor on National Security. He has been a longtime supporter of the Governor, first as a senior policy advisor on security issues during Romney's 2008 campaign and again in 2011. He directed the CIA Counterterrorism Center from 1999-2002 and coordinated counterterrorism at State after 9-11. Black is closely associated with Bush-era counterterrorism efforts, including rendition of suspected terrorists, and with the much maligned Blackwater Corporation, where he served as a Vice President. Fortunately for Black, this position does not require Senate confirmation, limiting the public debate of his record and barriers to his appointment.

If Romney wants to appoint a woman to a high level position and make a bold choice, he might instead turn to Meghan O'Sullivan, currently a Lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Dr. O'Sullivan was a Special Assistant to President George W. Bush and Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan (2004-2007). O'Sullivan is an expert in the key regional conflicts that will dominate world affairs for the next administration and she knows the White House. She would be only the second woman to hold the position and the youngest ever. Too young and too crimson?

A third possibility for National Security Adviser is Elliott Abrams. Abrams is a controversial figure, and his appointment would presage the return of neoconservative influence to the White House. He was an Assistant Secretary of State in the Reagan Administration and later served as Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy under George W. Bush. His portfolio on the Bush NSC included the Middle East and North Africa. Abrams has strong neoconservative and pro-Israel credentials. In January, the Romney campaign issued a press release highlighting an Abrams article criticizing Newt Gingrich for exaggerating his relationship with Ronald Reagan. Gingrich supporters fired back, showing that Abrams can be a lightning rod not only across but within party lines.

By Dr. Heath Brown and Dr. Chris Ferrero, Term Faculty, Seton Hall University, Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations

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