Daniel W. Drezner

Mitt Romney’s foreign policy campaign team seems to be broken. Is this a problem?

I’ve gone on record as saying that presidential campaign promises on foreign policy don’t count for all that much.  Over the past few weeks, however, there have been some rumblings coming from the Romney campaign that are worth considering.  First, there was the matter of Richard Grenell.  The Romney campaign hired him to be its ...

I’ve gone on record as saying that presidential campaign promises on foreign policy don’t count for all that much.  Over the past few weeks, however, there have been some rumblings coming from the Romney campaign that are worth considering. 

First, there was the matter of Richard Grenell.  The Romney campaign hired him to be its foreign policy spokesman, then asked him to stay silent on a foreign policy conference call (one that didn’t really cover its participants in glory, by the way).  Grenell then resigned, implying that he felt pressured to leave because his being gay ruffled some social conservatives (which the Romney camp denies). 

Second, there is the question of Romney’s hostility towards Russia, and the way that clashes with what his foreign policy advisers have saidon the subject:

Interviews with Republican foreign policy experts close to his campaign and his writings on the subject show that his stance toward Russia reflects a broader foreign policy view that gives great weight to economic power and control of natural resources. It also exhibits Mr. Romney’s confidence that his private-sector experience would make him a better negotiator on national security issues than President Obama has been.

Mr. Romney’s views on Russia have set off disagreements among some of his foreign policy advisers. They put him in sync with the more conservative members of his party in Congress, who have similarly criticized Mr. Obama as being too accommodating to Russia, and generally reflect the posture of some neoconservatives….

Some advisers close to Mr. Romney, who declined to be quoted or identified by name, say Russia is a good illustration of his belief that national security threats are closely tied to economic power — in this case stemming from Russia’s oil and gas reserves, which it has used to muscle European countries dependent on energy imports. 

They also cite his tendency to view foreign policy conflicts as zero-sum negotiations.  Mr. Romney, an accomplished deal-maker at Bain Capital, views his negotiating skills as an advantage he holds over Mr. Obama.

It’s juuuuust a little disturbing to hear that Romney’s foreign policy worldview sounds an awful lot like what Donald Trump was saying a year ago.  Oh, and that, by implication, Romney’s concept of "economic power" is total horses**t as well.

Just as intriguing, however, is the fact that Romney’s advisors are chatting to the press about these gaps between their views and Romney’s.  Now, in theory, "Romney foreign policy advisor" can be cast a wide net, from someone who talked to the campaign once to someone in the inner circle.  Still, if you peruse David Sanger’s Sunday NYT essay, it’s hard not to see that the foreign policy fissures in Camp Romney run deep:

“There are two very different worldviews in this campaign,” said one adviser who aligns more often with Mr. Bolton. “But as in any campaign, there are outer circles, inner circles and inner-inner circles, and I’m not sure that anyone knows if the candidate has a strong view of his own on this.” Another adviser, saying he would be “cashiered” if the campaign caught him talking to a reporter without approval, said the real answer was that “Romney doesn’t want to really engage these issues until he is in office” and for now was “just happy to leave the impression that when Obama says he’ll stop an Iranian bomb he doesn’t mean it, and Mitt does.”

As both Michael Crowley and Erik Wemple note, the fact that these guys are talking to Sanger — and stressing things like not providing any input for Romney’s idiotic 2010 anti-New START op-ed —  does not reflect well on the campaign. 

Would any of this really matter in a possible Romney presidency? 

Mostly, no. Campaign statements on foreign policy are broken pretty easily, and campaign rhetoric melts quickly in the face of foreign policy realities.  I suppose one could argue that the Romney campaign’s disorganization on these questions do not speak well about the campaign’s discipline and management.  That said, I seriously doubt that one’s ability to run an efficient campaign translates into the ability to run foreign policy.  Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign  was not exactly the most disciplined of the bunch — but she’s been a very capable Secretary of State. 

The one way in which this might be interesting is whether someone like John Bolton winds up as Secretary of State.  Based on his United Nations ambassador days, and based on the near-delusional level of megalomaniacal egotism displayed in Bolton’s memoirs, I’d argue that his appointment would make a difference in foreign policy outcomes. 

The loudest signal emerging from the noise of Romney’s foreign policy team is that Bolton’s influence might be larger than I would have suspected.  The fact that Grenell was Bolton’s spokesman at the UN, and that his Russia views sound like Bolton, are distressing signals.  The fact that one of Romney’s concrete budgetary criticisms of the Obama administration this week was that, "[i]n 2010, 17 federal government agencies gave $7.7 billion to more than 25 United Nations programs, billions of it voluntarily," sounds… Boltonish. The fact that all of Romney’s foreign policy factions are gabbing to the press and, er, people like me further suggests that the divisions run deep. 

It’s still May, and so I suspect that these kerfuffles are noise that will eventually dissipate.  Still, consider this to be a marker if, a year from now, you see post after post entitled, "Yes, I’m Afraid Secretary Bolton Did Say a Dumbass Thing Today." 

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 Twitter: @dandrezner

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