Republican Foreign Policy Establishment Slow to Embrace Romney

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

Henry A. Kissinger gave his endorsement to John McCain more than a year and a half before the last presidential election, explaining in April 2007 that Mr. McCain's "record, character, and belief that America's best days lie ahead" made him the "the right leader for these times."

But with the next election barely five months away and Mitt Romney gearing up for a tough battle with Barack Obama, Mr. Kissinger, a former Republican secretary of state, remains on the sidelines. The reason, according to several Republicans familiar with the matter: Concerns about Mr. Romney's aggressive statements on trade policy toward China, a keen issue for Mr. Kissinger, who helped reopen relations with China and later, as an international consultant, has had clients with significant interests there.

As Republican leaders finally fell in behind Mr. Romney this spring, many member of the party's foreign policy establishment have been more muted. Reluctance by this group to more quickly come forward for Mr. Romney reflects an unease over some of the positions of Mr. Romney, the presumptive nominee, including his hard line on Russia and opposition to a new missile treaty.

Mr. Romney will soon get a boost, however: Condoleezza Rice is expected to formally endorse him, perhaps as early as Wednesday night, when she headlines a fund-raiser for him near San Francisco, according to her aide. She would join Frank C. Carlucci, a defense secretary under President Reagan, and Stephen J. Hadley, a national security adviser under George W. Bush, in officially backing Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor. Other Republican foreign policy stalwarts are likely to ultimately endorse Mr. Romney once they get a chance to discuss their differences with him directly.

But some nevertheless believe that Mr. Romney has taken approaches too confrontational or too hawkish, or worry that harsh campaign-trail statements could hurt later diplomatic efforts and may signal a drift toward neoconservative passions as the party seeks to take back the White House, say Republicans familiar with the discussions.

Some longtime deans of the Republican establishment, like Brent Scowcroft, the two-time national security adviser, believe the Republican Party as a whole has drifted rightward. Mr. Scowcroft declined a request for an interview, but he has recently voiced opinions that put him at odds with Mr. Romney's pronouncements.

For example, a seeming eagerness to follow the cues of Israeli leaders has at times left Mr. Romney with what appears to be a dim view of the need to press Israelis and Palestinians toward a settlement, which many old-line Republican experts see as crucial to stability in the Middle East and cultivating strong ties with the Arab world.

"I don't think America should play the role of the leader of the peace process, instead we should stand by our ally," he told an Israeli newspaper last year, referring to Israel.

A month ago, Mr. Scowcroft criticized the Obama administration and Republicans alike as failing to push for a comprehensive Mideast settlement. In an appearance on CNN, he was then asked by Fareed Zakaria, the host, whether he was comfortable with the Republican Party. Mr. Scowcroft looked down and paused before observing that "many parts of the party" now call him a "Republican in name only."

"I don't think I've changed my views at all," he added. "I think the party has moved."

Colin Powell, who preceded Ms. Rice as Mr. Bush's secretary of state but backed Mr. Obama in 2008, has expressed concerns about neoconservative sway within the Romney camp, some foreign policy advisers for Mr. Romney, he said, "are quite far to the right." He has also taken strong issue with Mr. Romney's statement that Russia is our "No. 1 geopolitical foe."

"Come on, Mitt -- think. It isn't the case," Mr. Powell said last week on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," adding that Mr. Romney's comments had caught "a lot of heck from the more regular G.O.P. foreign affairs community."

James M. Lindsay, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says Mr. Romney's team "seems to be tilted more toward the neoconservative wing of the foreign policy establishment."

But he cautions not to extrapolate too much. "It matters much less who's giving advice to the candidate and a lot more who the candidate is actually listening to." He added: "Most people in foreign policy circles recognize that some of what is said on the campaign trail is not going to survive the transition to office."

The Romney campaign bristles at the "neoconservative" description, and says its advisers have a range of backgrounds, including some who worked for Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Mr. Powell and Mr. Scowcroft. And they say that Mr. Romney enjoys hearing strong dissenting views.

Mr. Kissinger and another Republican secretary of state who has not made an endorsement, George P. Shultz, were unavailable for interviews. They backed Mr. McCain in April 2007.

Mr. Romney will have an opportunity to make his case to Mr. Shultz at the Wednesday fund-raiser, at the Carolands mansion near Stanford University, where Mr. Shultz and Ms. Rice are at the Hoover Institution, and Ms. Rice is a professor. Both are listed as honorary co-chairs for the $2,500-a-person event. Ms. Rice, while not seen as someone who would fail to support her party's candidate, is a moderate within the current Republican foreign policy field and could help deflect Mr. Powell's criticism.

Another former Republican secretary of state, James A. Baker III, backed Mr. McCain in February 2008, and he said last year that Mr. Romney would make the strongest Republican nominee. Mr. Baker intends to endorse Mr. Romney in the general election, according to his policy assistant, John Williams, who said Mr. Baker was "120 percent behind Mitt Romney," and that "there have been conversations going back and forth" with the campaign.

Former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld was not available for comment, an aide said. But he came to Mr. Romney's aid earlier this month, saying it was not a tough decision for President Obama to attack Osama bin Laden's compound, a comment that buttressed Mr. Romney as he complained that Mr. Obama was politicizing the anniversary of the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, during which Bin Laden was killed.

Romney advisers also saw a silver lining in Mr. Powell's comments, noting that he said in a different interview that he owed the Republican Party consideration before an endorsement, and even called Mr. Romney a "good man." (Mr. Powell has not endorsed Mr. Obama for a second term; he waited until a few weeks before the election to give him his backing last time.)

But the advisers acknowledge it has been slow going soliciting some Republican foreign policy luminaries, who want to gauge whether Mr. Romney's statements are anything more than hawkish pronouncements during a nominating contest, or who want to use their prospective endorsement to influence the campaign's approach.

"They want to make sure they get an honest hearing on what they disagree with him on," said one Republican close to the campaign. "If I tell you I'm with you 110 percent, there may be a fear that you'll stop listening to me at that point."

nation

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here