Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Herman Cain are turning for national security advice to former officials in the George W. Bush administration, including some who pushed hardest for the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The former officials include Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; and Robert Joseph, a White House National Security Council aide during Bush’s first term and later a State Department official.
Feith, Bolton and Joseph were in the Bush camp that favored U.S. unilateral action and was “skeptical of engagement” with allies as well as foes such as North Korea, said James Mann, a foreign policy scholar at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.
In Bush’s second term, with the nation still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the pendulum swung back toward engagement. The return of the unilateralists to Republican inner circles “in that sense, it’s going back,” said Mann, who wrote 2004’s “Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet.”
The contenders in the Republican presidential primary field have attacked President Barack Obama’s foreign policies. They say Obama showed weakness by not leading the allied air campaign in Libya, where the U.K and France played prominent roles, and not being tough enough on Iran to stop its nuclear-weapons efforts.
Iran is Obama’s “greatest failing from a foreign policy standpoint,” former Massachusetts Governor Romney said at the Republican foreign policy debate Nov. 12 at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He called for U.S. military action if measures such as economic sanctions and covert operations aren’t successful in thwarting Iran.
Obama’s plan to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq have been criticized by most of the candidates even though the deadline was set by Bush in a 2008 agreement with the country. Obama announced the withdrawal Oct. 22 after the U.S. and Iraq failed to reach an accord to assure immunity for a residual U.S. force there.
“The idea that a commander-in-chief would stand up and signal to the enemy a date certain of which we’re going to pull our troops out I think is irresponsible,” Texas Governor Perry said Oct. 30 on “Fox News Sunday.” Perry also called for cutting off foreign aid to countries that oppose U.S. policies.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and Texas Representative Ron Paul support the Iraq withdrawal.
‘Decades’ Old Policy
Republican hopefuls advised by the Bush veterans conflate toughness with unilateral U.S. action, said Paula Newberg, director of the Institute for Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University in Washington.
On complex issues from the Arab Spring to China’s rising wealth, they don’t show “anywhere near the kind of nuance that’s required and have instead returned to a recap of foreign policy of decades earlier.”
Voters, while focused on the economy more than foreign policy, still want to know that a candidate is able to handle the hypothetical 3 a.m. crisis phone call in the White House --a prospect which candidate Hillary Clinton used in a 2008 primary ad against Obama. A stumble, like Cain’s response to a question on Libya in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper, may resonate with voters.
In October, Romney announced a slate of 23 national security advisers and another group of 17 experts on specific subjects.
Romney’s advisers include Joseph; Cofer Black, a former head of Central Intelligence Agency’s counterterrorism center and executive of the security firm Blackwater, now Xe Services; Meghan O’Sullivan, a Bloomberg View columnist and former White House official who oversaw Iraq and Afghanistan policy; Eliot Cohen, director of the Strategic Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and a former counselor at Rice’s State Department; Dov Zakheim, the former Pentagon comptroller; and John Lehman, Ronald Reagan’s Navy secretary.
While a number of Romney advisers are associated with the Bush administration’s wars, Zakheim this year wrote a critical assessment of Afghanistan reconstruction as well as of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.
Perry’s list of informal advisers includes Feith; Bolton; Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and later ambassador to Afghanistan; and Daniel Blumenthal, former Pentagon international security affairs director for China and Taiwan, according to a person familiar with the campaign who asked not to be named.
Victoria Coates, a former research associate to Rumsfeld and an art historian, is a Perry foreign policy adviser, and Emily Domenech, a former Pentagon trip planner, is a defense adviser, the campaign said Nov. 2.
Romney’s campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, did not respond to questions on advisers. Perry spokesman Mark Miner said the candidate consulted various people and declined to confirm advisers’ names.
Cain, former chief executive officer of the Godfather’s Pizza Inc. chain, has consulted retired ambassadors and defense officials including Bolton. He had a 90-minute breakfast meeting in New York with Henry Kissinger, President Richard Nixon’s national security adviser and secretary of state, the candidate’s spokesman, retired Navy Commander J.D. Gordon.
Cain’s world view is “an extension of Reagan’s philosophy of peace through strength and clarity,” and he intends to lay out his views soon in a white paper, Gordon said. A Pentagon public affairs officer from 2005 to 2009 and a spokesman on Guantanamo Bay detention operations, Gordon said he was also Cain’s main foreign policy adviser.
Perry plans to make a foreign policy speech in the near future, spokesman Miner said in an e-mail.
“I’m fairly regularly in contact with” the Perry campaign and “have met Perry more than once,” Feith said in a telephone interview. They’ve discussed Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as “things like the relationship of strategy to the defense budget,” Feith said.
Feith, Bolton, Khalilzad, and Cohen were among 10 so-called neoconservatives who were national security officials in the Bush administration, Jeffery Record, a professor at the Air Force War College, wrote in his 2010 book “Wanting War -- Why the Bush Administration Invaded Iraq.”
Overthrowing Saddam Hussein “became a neoconservative mantra during the 1990s that culminated in the U.S. invasion,” he wrote.
As the Pentagon’s policy chief Feith, set up separate cells within the department that cited links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, as well as evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that the CIA doubted. Subsequent investigations found no proof of either and concluded that Feith’s information came from the Iraqi National Congress and other exile groups seeking U.S. help to overthrow Hussein.
A February 2007 Pentagon Inspector General report criticized the actions of Feith’s cells as “inappropriate” because they didn’t “clearly show the variance with the consensus of the intelligence community.” In his book “War and Decision,” Feith called the conclusion a “misguided notion” because the briefings were meant to critique other intelligence and not to replace it, he wrote.
Joseph was a member of a “White House Information Group” that coordinated a pre-war white paper called “A Grave and Gathering Danger: Saddam Hussein’s Quest for Nuclear Weapons.”
‘Not Strong Enough’
It was never published after five drafts, in part because Joseph considered it “not strong enough,” a White House spokesman told the Washington Post in an August 2003 article. Later inquiries concluded that Hussein’s quest for nuclear weapons had been moribund.
As Bush’s undersecretary of state for arms control, Bolton was part of the “politics of persuasion” that stressed “the most sensational” intelligence scenarios, according to an Atlantic Monthly article by former CIA analyst Kenneth Pollack.
Bolton, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, has “spoken to a number of those running,” his aide Christine Samuelian said. He hasn’t endorsed any candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, she said.
Joseph and Bolton also opposed Bush’s second-term diplomacy with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program.
Public opinion polls show Obama gained on foreign policy after launching a covert mission that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and supporting the popular uprising that toppled and killed Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.
Seeking to undermine Obama’s strength, Romney’s October foreign policy white paper said the president is “threatening to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” in Iraq and faulted him for making “apologies for America in speeches delivered in France, England, Turkey and Egypt.”
In a July article in Commentary, Feith criticized the Obama doctrine because it “emerges from the conviction that in the post-George W. Bush world, the United States cannot and should not exercise the kind of boldness and independence characteristic” of post-World War II foreign policy.
The article has been “the topic of some discussion” between Perry and his advisers, said Feith, who said he doesn’t know whether Perry embraced those ideas.
Mann, of Johns Hopkins, said that Obama’s challengers, lacking enough material to criticize his foreign policy, “have fallen back on the old Republican trope” about a Democratic administration being weak and apologizing to the world.