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The Zoellick Panic (II)

Gideon Rachman needs to consult his dictionary:

It is both telling and encouraging, therefore, that the paleo-conservatives in the GOP have reacted badly to news of Zoellick’s appointment.

This is needlessly confusing. Rachman just finished explaining that he was pleased that Zoellick has the “right enemies” and mentions Bolton by name, but Bolton is not a “paleo-conservative” by any normal definition of the word. Properly speaking, Bolton isn’t a neoconservative, either, which doesn’t mean that he isn’t often in agreement with neoconservatives on specific policies. This seems to be a source of frequent confusion, especially in the British media, so that anyone who isn’t described as a neoconservative inevitably becomes a paleoconservative, which would be surprising news to all involved.

The reality is that it is the neoconservatives who have freaked out over the prospect that Zoellick might have some role in a future Romney administration. Jennifer Rubin now claims that campaign sources have assured her that Zoellick doesn’t even want an administration job. So it seems that we can forget about Secretary of State Zoellick in a Romney administration. It appears that Joe Lieberman is more likely to get the job.

What I find more interesting than the Zoellick panic itself is the irrationally hopeful reaction that the panic has caused among some critics of Bolton and the neoconservatives. Rachman’s post is a lengthy reconsideration of his judgment of Romney’s foreign policy solely on the basis of this one appointment. A few weeks ago, Rachman believed Romney to be too similar to George W. Bush, but now he is unsure:

But now Romney has made a move that is more reminiscent of George H.W. Bush, which is much more encouraging.

That move is the appointment of Robert Zoellick as the head of Romney’s national-security transition team. This is taken as a strong hint that Zoellick might be Secretary of State in a Romney administration – and he will certainly have a major influence on the senior appointments.

Rachman is getting ahead of himself. While the backlash against Zoellick is part of an effort to make sure that Romney keeps in line on foreign policy, some of the sudden enthusiasm for Zoellick is based on little more than wishful thinking that this appointment means a lot more than it does. Jacob Heilbrunn is similarly encouraged to believe that this is a sign that Romney may conduct foreign policy in the fashion of George H.W. Bush:

What’s more, George H.W. Bush’s reputation keeps rising. He wound down the Iraq War before America could get enmeshed in Baghdad. He ended the cold war without firing a shot. As he mulls over his foreign policy course, Mitt Romney could do worse than to consider his example. His selection of Zoellick suggests that he is. Good for Romney.

If Romney were “considering” the example of the elder Bush, it is doubtful that his foreign policy advisers would be drawn so heavily from the people who loathe significant parts of the elder Bush’s record. One appointment with no influence over policy doesn’t suggest that Romney is paying any attention to the elder Bush’s record. On the contrary, the choice seems to have been made without any thought given to how it would be perceived. Rubin claims that it was the head of Romney’s transition team that made the decision without consulting any of the policy advisers:

Sources in the campaign as well as advisers who have been providing advice on an ad hoc basis tell me that the decision to bring him on was made by the transition chief, former Utah governor Mike Leavitt. Moreover, sources tell me that policy chief Lanhee Chen and foreign policy director Alex Wong were not consulted about the move, nor were other top advisers with Washington foreign policy experience.

So the appointment means nothing. Then again, there was never much reason to believe that it had any implications for Romney’s foreign policy.

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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