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Romney and the “Cheneyites”

The New York Timesreports on foreign policy debate inside the Romney campaign during the Chen Guangcheng episode:

His admirers say the Chen episode highlights traits that would make Mr. Romney an effective chief executive: eagerness for vigorous debate, comfort with contradictory views among advisers, a willingness to take positions different from aides’, and an embrace of nuance and detail. Some cite “the Bain way,” the culture of free-flowing, rigorous debate at the firm Mr. Romney once ran, or contrast his approach with that of President George W. Bush, who more favored consensus.

That’s all very well, but if we look at the results of the “free-flowing, rigorous debate” we find that Romney settled for the most predictable, opportunistic hard-line moral preening imaginable. As soon as he thought he saw an opening to launch an attack, Romney jumped to conclusions about the outcome of Chen’s case. He immediately chose to blame the apparently unfavorable outcome on U.S. officials. After the initial deal fell apart and a new one replaced it, Romney had to hope that no one had been paying attention to what he had said earlier. Chen’s case was resolved in a reasonably satisfactory way, and Romney’s attack simply exposed him to ridicule for no reason. Romney favored his more hard-line Asia advisers, including Aaron Friedberg, and it was a mistake:

One adviser said to favor a more calibrated approach was Evan A. Feigenbaum, a co-chairman of Mr. Romney’s Asia-Pacific working group and a former State Department official. Arguing for a relatively more aggressive response was Aaron L. Friedberg, another co-chairman who was a national security aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Friedberg is known for favoring a hard line on China, and others say it was almost certain the two men would stake out different ground.

But critics see a seat-of-the pants approach to foreign policy, focused on campaign attacks and over-reliant on neoconservatives, that reflexively condemns Mr. Obama but that on many issues fails to outline concrete, specific proposals different from current policy.

The NYT report tries to create the impression that John Bolton’s influence in the campaign isn’t that great:

“Bolton seems to be taken more seriously as a foil by the left than as a serious candidate for the top ranks of the Romney administration,” said James Mann, an expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies on how presidential candidates formulate their foreign policies.

However, that is directly contradicted by a separate report from Reuters:

One of the few other prominent Republican foreign policy figures who several campaign sources said also had frequent access to Romney is John Bolton, a Cheney ally and former State and Justice department official and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

The Reuters story supports the view that Romney is much more inclined to listen to the hard-liners inside his campaign:

A long-time Republican activist who has been in contact with some of the Romney camp’s more centrist elements said that moderates “are very concerned about the fact that if Romney needs to call anyone, his instinct is to call the Cheney-ites.”

That’s the problem. It isn’t just that Romney has taken hard-line positions on virtually every contentious policy issue for the sake of the campaign, but that he tends to favor his more hard-line advisers whenever there is an internal disagreement among his advisers. That suggests that Romney takes hard-liners’ arguments more seriously, or perhaps he feels compelled for some reason to side with them on a regular basis. Whatever the explanation, the pattern of agreeing with his most hawkish advisers has become clear.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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