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Is Romney Less Hawkish Than His Own National Security Advisers?

Oct. 2, 2012 - 08:28AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks Sept. 28 at Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks Sept. 28 at Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Wayne, Pennsylvania. (Jessica Kourkounis / Getty Images)
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Republican White House hopeful Mitt Romney recently described a doctrine for using military force that seems to differ from the views of several senior advisers who were part of the hawkish administration of President George W. Bush.

However, GOP sources say the nominee is not at odds with his aides and would seek multiple viewpoints from his war council.

The GOP nominee has been criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike for being vague about his national security vision and plans. But during a recent TV interview, Romney provided new details about when he would use military force. He told “60 Minutes” he would employ “a very high hurdle” when deciding whether to send in U.S. forces if he becomes commander in chief.

“Number one, a very substantial American interest at stake. Number two, a clear definition of our mission. Number three, a clear definition of how we’ll know when our mission is complete,” Romney said. “Number four, providing the resources to make sure that we can carry out that mission effectively, overwhelming resources. And finally, a clear understanding of what will be left after we leave.”

In piecing together the puzzle of a war plan, Romney insisted, “all of those would have to be in place before I were to decide to deploy American military might in any foreign place.”

Veteran Republican and Democratic national security experts used the same word — “practical” — in describing that first glimpse of a “Romney Doctrine.”

Practical also is how many Washington insiders describe several members of the Romney campaign’s defense and national security team, such as former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff and former Navy Secretary John Lehman.

But the Romney roster also is populated by hawks such as former CIA director Michael Hayden and former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton. Also on the list is former Pentagon policy boss Eric Edelman, as well as Dan Senor and Meghan O’Sullivan, who emerged as key figures during the 2003 Iraq conflict.

Senor became a chief adviser to the George W. Bush administration’s Iraq point man, L. Paul Bremer, and has become one of Romney’s top advisers on national security issues. He also is an unapologetic believer in the use of U.S. military force to further Washington’s global ambitions. Recently, he has promised Romney would do much more in Syria.

Edelman last November co-authored a widely read op-ed titled “Why Obama should take out Iran’s nuclear program.”

O’Sullivan was George W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan from 2004 to 2007, and a senior aide to Bremer in Baghdad in 2003 and 2004.

When the Obama administration formally ended the Iraq war last November, however, O’Sullivan told reporters she felt only “ambivalent” about the controversial conflict.

O’Sullivan told reporters at that time that she felt “a lot less emotional” than she expected, pointing to the many peaks and valleys of the eight-year war.

Nearly 5,000 U.S. troops died in Iraq, and another 30,000 were wounded. The Obama White House has put the cost of that conflict at about $1 trillion, while the Congressional Research Service has calculated an $800 billion tab.

Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, sees big differences between Romney and most of his national security team — but few major differences with President Barack Obama’s foreign policies.

“I think he’s trying to appeal to neoconservatives, the hardliners in the GOP, by putting some of them on his campaign advisory group,” Korb said. “Bolton was one of his first supporters and advisers, and it seemed they thought he would appeal to a certain segment of the Republican Party. … Senor and O’Sullivan would still be in Iraq if it was up to them.”

Korb suggested Romney’s foreign policy appears more in line with his campaign foe.

“On Afghanistan [withdrawal plans], the difference between he and Obama is five weeks,” Korb said. “I’m not quite sure there is a real difference on Iran.”

But one senior Republican source told Defense News there is no substantial divide between Romney and his advisers.

“You’ve got a candidate who’s really open to different points of view,” the source said. “He’s not an ideologue. And when you’re that, you listen to different recommendations and then you make up your mind.

“He’s not going to be trigger happy,” the senior GOP source continued. “But that doesn’t mean he’s not going to be listening to people who make a very strong case for using [military] action.”

Danielle Pletka, an analyst at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, said there are “absolutely not” major differences in the Romney camp.

Former President Ronald Reagan “used to always say he wanted his advisers to have all different sorts of views so he could make a decision,” Pletka said. “That’s what a real commander in chief does. I see people in the Romney camp that say we need a no-fly zone in Syria, and I see people who say we have no interest in getting involved.”

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