Is Romney Moving Left on Foreign Policy

As my story about the new Chicago Council on Global Affairs public-opinion survey notes, the neo-conservative and aggressive-nationalist coalition that dominated George W. Bush’s first term in office (and was responsible for the Iraq debacle) is pretty much rejected by a strong majority of the electorate, a fact which some of the politicos around Mitt Romney may be taking to heart. While I’ve been remiss in not writing about it, Romney’s appointment of Robert Zoellick as the head of his national security transition team marks a major defeat for the hawks who, until quite recently, appeared to dominate the foreign-policy wing of the party. As if to confirm this, now comes Bill Gertz, writing for his weekly “Inside the Ring” column in the Washington Times Sep 6:

Other conservatives have voiced worries about Mr. Romney’s announced chiose to run any presidential transition team that would be in charge of all key political appointments: liberal Republican and former World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick, a target of conservatives since his days as a protege to James A. Baker, former secretary of state and secretary of the Treasury.”

As is clear from his column, Gertz is primarily concerned about China, which he has long seen as the greatest threat to the United States. Indeed, China and the threat it supposedly poses is the prism through which he reports the world. But there must indeed be some fire in the smoke when he asserts that “[t]he rise of liberal foreign-policy advisers, including those who liberals have labeled neo-conservatives, appear to be on the decline within the campaign” and that “former UN Ambassador John R. Bolton, once called a special adviser to Mr. Romney, has more recently been described in appearances as an ‘informal adviser’ to the candidate, an apparent demotion,” or that Foreign Policy Initiative director Eric Edelman “did not appear at the Tampa briefings….” or that “[n]one of the more than 20 [mainly neo-]conservative listed on the Romney campaign website was invited to speak in Tampa…”

Obviously, none of the people whom Gertz calls liberals, including Zoellick, fall into that category, but I have to say that Zoellick is about as left on foreign policy as you can find in the Republican Party, especially now that it has expelled Richard Lugar. And, despite his brief association with the Project for the New American Century, Zoellick is indeed a James Baker realist who has never demonstrated any particular love for Israel that I am aware of. Not only did the World Bank continue to provide considerable financing for Iran (despite strong pressure from the Israel lobby in Congress) during Zoellick’s tenure there, but it also published a number of studies demonstrating how Israel was basically crushing any hopes for the viability of a Palestinian economy. (I know it’s the Bank’s executive board that ultimately makes the big decisions for the institution, but the president has a lot of discretion, and, if he feels strongly, can delay board decisions for quite some time if he’s willing to spend the political capital.

Blake Hounshell has written more about whether Romney is really a “closet moderate” on foreign policy as indicated by, inter alia, his appointment of Zoellick, noting that Romney booster Jennifer Rubin reflecting the anxiety of her fellow-neo-cons, appears increasingly concerned about where his heart truly lies.

It’s clear that his initial foreign policy team, as I wrote last October shortly after it was announced, was full of neo-cons and other hawks like Bolton. And don’t miss John Judis’s analysis today on Romney’s neo-con leanings. But, with Zoellick’s appointment and the developments that worry Gertz and Rubin, one has to wonder what assurances Romney has recently offered to Sheldon Adelson.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.