The Election 2012 Weekly Report: Drop the base

The Zoellick Identity It’s been a week of trouble appeasing the Republican base for Mitt Romney‘s campaign. On the domestic front, a campaign spokesperson angered conservatives by touting the former Massachusetts governor’s record on healthcare. On the foreign policy front, the selection of former World Bank president Robert Zoellick as the campaign’s national security transition ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Zoellick Identity

It's been a week of trouble appeasing the Republican base for Mitt Romney's campaign. On the domestic front, a campaign spokesperson angered conservatives by touting the former Massachusetts governor's record on healthcare. On the foreign policy front, the selection of former World Bank president Robert Zoellick as the campaign's national security transition chief has enraged the party's neo-conservatives. "For foreign policy hawks, Zoellick is an anathema," wrote Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin.

Though Zoellick served as trade representative and deputy secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, he's seen by many as a moderate who has been fairly accommodating to China over the years. According to the Romney campaign, his role will be confined to staffing. "Zoellick does NOT advise on policy," one source on the campaign told Rubin. (FP's Daniel Drezner also highlighted some of the factual inaccuracies in her post.)  

The Zoellick Identity

It’s been a week of trouble appeasing the Republican base for Mitt Romney‘s campaign. On the domestic front, a campaign spokesperson angered conservatives by touting the former Massachusetts governor’s record on healthcare. On the foreign policy front, the selection of former World Bank president Robert Zoellick as the campaign’s national security transition chief has enraged the party’s neo-conservatives. "For foreign policy hawks, Zoellick is an anathema," wrote Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin.

Though Zoellick served as trade representative and deputy secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, he’s seen by many as a moderate who has been fairly accommodating to China over the years. According to the Romney campaign, his role will be confined to staffing. "Zoellick does NOT advise on policy," one source on the campaign told Rubin. (FP’s Daniel Drezner also highlighted some of the factual inaccuracies in her post.)  

Nonetheless, the pick is seen by some as indication that a potential Romney White House might not have a foreign policy as hawkish as his campaign stump speaches suggest. "It gives a more reliable indicator of what Romney is thinking, which is not in line with all his rhetoric," James Mann, of the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies told the Financial Times.

Send in the general?

Matt Drudge threw another curveball into the veep selection process this week with an item suggesting that Romney might pick Gen. David Petraeus as his running mate. Drudge quoted an unnamed Democratic fundraiser who allegedly told the conservative news aggregator that President Barack Obama believes Romney will pick Petraeus. 

While there are a number of reasons why the story is extremely unlikely to be true, the Petraeus rumors highlight the fact that some of the names on the VP shortlist, such as Tim Pawlenty and Paul Ryan are a bit light on national security experience. Drudge was also the source of last month’s Condoleezza Rice buzz. Perhaps he’s suggesting something?

Running on autopilot

In an Aug. 6 Washington Post article, some of the Romney campaign’s dozens of outside foreign policy advisers complained that their input is being ignored — and that the candidate’s "decisions are influenced by a small coterie of mostly political aides."

"They have this theory of the campaign and have been on auto­pilot with it and haven’t adjusted. It’s all about attacking Obama, when the bigger job is to introduce himself," said one unnamed foreign policy expert, who also complained that the heavy emphasis on Russia makes the campaign "look like Rip Van Winkle and they think it’s 1989."

Should there be more foreign policy in the election?

Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson argued in a column this week that the Obama administration’s decision to continue many of the Bush initiatives "has largely taken defense and foreign policy off the table in the current election." But he warns that while "criticizing the slayer of Osama bin Laden requires a more sophisticated critique than the presidential campaign — currently at the level of ‘Romney Hood’ vs. ‘Obamaloney’ — will bear," Romney can’t afford to ignore the risks posed by Obama’s "doctrine of deferred decisions" on issues including Syria, Iran, and Afghanistan.

If he’s lost Kristof…

Formerly a staunch Obama supporter, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof appears to be losing faith the president. In June, he wrote that seeing the devastation wrought by Omar al-Bashir‘s government bombing in Sudan’s Nuba mountains had left him "not only embarrassed by my government’s passivity but outraged by it." And in a column this week, he declared Obama "AWOL" on Syria, writing, "I’m generally a fan of Obama’s foreign policy, but on Syria there’s a growing puzzlement around the world that he seems stuck behind the curve."  

No foreign policy in the ad war

This week saw a controversy over attack ads from both sides, with Romney’s campaign demanding Obama denounce a super-PAC ad linking Romney to a woman’s death from cancer and the Obama team pushing back against an ad suggesting the president would end work requirements for welfare. So far, however, there’s been relatively little on the airwaves about foreign-policy issues. The Obama campaign has produced an ad touting the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the Republican Jewish Coalition has run one attacking Obama’s Israel policy, but there’s been relatively little compared with the slug-fest over the economy and social issues.

The latest from FP:

In an interview with FP, former Secretary of State James Baker pushes back against the neoconservatives who have criticized the Zoellick pick and defends his work on the Mideast peace process.

Joshua E. Keating noted some odd remarks from Romney on Israel’s Kibbutzim and Japan. Josh Rogin got reaction from Japan scholars.

The Cable also looked at some of the GOP foreign-policy hands jockeying for positions in a potential Romney administration.

Michael A. Cohen looks at the candidates’ "budget-waving contest" about defense spending and American power.

George Lakoff says liberal pundits misunderstand "low information voters."

Sean Kay refutes the analysts that claim that Obama’s forgotten about Europe.

Stephen Walt says the similarities between Obama and Romney on foreign policy outweigh the differences.

Former governor Haley Barbour invites overtaxed French millionaires to come and laissez les bon temps rouler in Mississippi.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

More from Foreign Policy

A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
A Panzerhaubitze 2000 tank howitzer fires during a mission in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Lessons for the Next War

Twelve experts weigh in on how to prevent, deter, and—if necessary—fight the next conflict.

An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
An illustration showing a torn Russian flag and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It’s High Time to Prepare for Russia’s Collapse

Not planning for the possibility of disintegration betrays a dangerous lack of imagination.

An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.
An unexploded tail section of a cluster bomb is seen in Ukraine.

Turkey Is Sending Cold War-Era Cluster Bombs to Ukraine

The artillery-fired cluster munitions could be lethal to Russian troops—and Ukrainian civilians.

A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol  January 8, 2009 in Washington.
A joint session of Congress meets to count the Electoral College vote from the 2008 presidential election the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol January 8, 2009 in Washington.

Congrats, You’re a Member of Congress. Now Listen Up.

Some brief foreign-policy advice for the newest members of the U.S. legislature.