I just think it’s important to realize the dimensions of the absurdity of the Zoellick business.
The Bush campaign’s foreign policy team included:
▪ Condoleeza Rice, a protege of old-time realist Brent Scowcroft,
▪ Colin Powell, originator of the “Powell Doctrine,”
▪ Richard Armitage and Robert Blackwill
- none of whom can plausibly be described as neoconservatives, and all of whom went on to serve in important roles within the Bush Administration. I certainly remember neoconservative concern, both before and after the election, about Scowcroft and Powell and the ghost of Bush’s father, and it was a rational concern. But I don’t recall anybody issuing fatwas that these people could not be permitted to serve in a Republican administration. They just went about pursuing their goals in the normal Washington way of bureaucratic guerrilla warfare. And after all, they had plenty of their own people – Perle and Wolfowitz and Libby and so forth – in the game.
And lo: though none of Rice and Powell and Armitage and Blackwill were neoconservatives, they all signed on to the signature neocon project – the Iraq War – and, more or less, accepted the broader worldview of which that project was a part. That’s because that worldview had a coherent and, to many, plausible answer to questions that many people were asking before 9-11, and that just about everyone was asking after 9-11. They had a framework that imparted meaning to events, and the kind of meaning that was politically and psychologically comforting. That’s very valuable.
Now, though, it’s apparently unacceptable to the hawkish faction to have anyone involved in an important role in the Romney campaign who isn’t 100% “reliable” on foreign policy question. Zoellick, after all, was also part of that Bush transition team and part of the Bush Administration; was also on-board with the signature neoconservative project; is, by any measure, a perfectly mainstream figure within right-wing foreign policy circles as they have been understood not over the broad sweep of history, but over just the past decade. But he’s beyond the pale.
That is panic, and to me, it speaks of weakness. Intellectual weakness, but also institutional weakness. These are people who expect to be betrayed. They are getting louder and more vehement in response.
Romney, of course, is doing everything he can to placate them. A Rubio VP pick isn’t being laughed out of the room almost entirely because everybody knows Romney still needs to placate this faction – as he needs to placate nearly every faction in the GOP coalition apart from the Chamber of Commerce crowd. That speaks to me of his weakness.
Does that mean Romney’s foreign policy positioning is an electoral liability? I doubt it. President Obama’s foreign policy record, say what you will about it, is a strength in campaign terms, and Romney is foolish to spend any time talking about the subject for that reason. But I doubt foreign policy will function as a meaningful wedge issue in this election, and anyway, Romney’s personality (unlike McCain’s) doesn’t fit with the image of someone too eager for war. What’s a liability is this perception of weakness, of being easily bullied.