Romney national security transition team takes shape

Romney national security transition team takes shape

The top echelon of Mitt Romney‘s national security transition team is largely in place and it includes both hawkish and centrist GOP foreign-policy professionals, The Cable has learned.

The news comes as debate continues inside the Romney campaign over how much to focus on foreign vs. domestic policy in the home stretch. Politico reported last week that chief strategist Stuart Stevens was leading the camp pushing for a more singular focus on the economy.

But with the final presidential debate set to focus on foreign policy and events in the Middle East continuing to raise questions about President Barack Obama‘s leadership, those advocating for more foreign policy campaigning have won a victory: Romney will give what the campaign is billing as a major speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday, Oct. 8.

Behind the scenes, planning for a national security team that looks suddenly more realistic after Wednesday night’s debate is moving along at a steady pace.

The Romney campaign doesn’t talk publicly about its broader transition-planning effort — "Project Readiness," led by former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt — but the effort is moving along steadily.

The GOP foreign-policy world was caught off guard when Leavitt chose former World Bank President Bob Zoellick to lead the national security transition planning, setting off speculation that Romney’s national security team after the election would be far more moderate than the top advisors informing his foreign-policy speeches and agenda items during the campaign.

But The Cable has learned from multiple sources close to the campaign that campaign senior advisor for defense and foreign policy Rich Williamson has been named the head of the transition team for the National Security Council, giving him a prominent role should Romney win. Two other officials who are leading the national security transition effort are former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman and former New Jersey governor and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission Tom Kean.

Some inside the campaign believe Williamson’s new role as head of the NSC transition team could place him in line to be national security advisor in a Romney administration. A former assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs who served as George W. Bush‘s special envoy to Sudan, Williamson has been one of Romney’s most visible national security surrogates throughout the campaign. Said to be close to the governor personally, he has also been the voice of some of the campaign’s harshest criticisms of Obama’s handling of foreign policy. Williamson has railed against Obama for his handling of Libya, the greater Middle East, Israel, Iran, Russia, human rights, and several other topics.

Transition team leaders don’t necessarily end up leading the agencies for which they are in charge of planning. In 2008, the Obama campaign’s State Department transition team was led by Tom Donilon and Wendy Sherman. Obama chose Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state, Donilon became deputy national security advisor, and Sherman returned to the private sector, only later being appointed to be under secretary of State for political affairs.

The Obama campaign’s Pentagon transition team was led by Michèle Flournoy and former Deputy Defense Secretary John White, but Obama chose to stick with Robert Gates as defense secretary and Flournoy became the under secretary of defense for policy.

Edelman, a leading representative of the neoconservative wing of the Republican foreign-policy establishment, was under secretary of defense for policy under Donald Rumsfeld and now sits on the board of directors of the Foreign Policy Initiative, a neoconservative-leaning foreign-policy organization in Washington. Edelman has been quietly active in the campaign for some time.

Kean, like Zoellick, is seen as a moderate, and has not been a visible part of the Romney effort thus far. Zoellick, meanwhile has been meeting all over Washington with foreign-policy hands of all stripes and from both parties. Last month he was spotted in downtown DC eateries on separate occasions lunching with Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and Obama’s former top Asia aide, Jeffrey Bader.

Sources inside the campaign report that the foreign-policy process still centers around young lawyer Alex Wong, the campaign’s foreign-policy coordinator, and his boss Lanhee Chen, the campaign’s policy director. Former Iraq war spokesman Dan Senor, another board member of FPI, has taken the lead on Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan‘s foreign-policy preparations, which perhaps explains Ryan’s increasingly combative rhetoric when talking about Obama’s handling of the Middle East crises.