Shadow Government

Setting the foreign policy agenda for the next term

If Mitt Romney is elected president, he will immediately face several urgent foreign policy crises. (For that matter, President Obama will face the same crises if he is reelected). What's worse is that the crises are the most urgent, but arguably not the most important issues he will face. He and his team will have to decide rather quickly their basic stance on these crises, and then clear the decks so they can focus on the longer-term and more important issues.

1. Afghanistan and Pakistan. The war in Afghanistan is not the most important foreign policy issue facing the United States, but with 80,000 U.S. troops in combat, it is still the most urgent, despite the media's criminal neglect of it. Romney would do well to follow in his predecessor's footsteps and order another Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy review to reexamine the nature and extent of U.S. involvement there. The review should look closely at where we've made progress, where we are still lacking, when we can afford to transition, and what sort of stay-behind force should take shape after transition.

In my view, the review should affirm the importance of the war, recognize the slow security gains made in recent years, affirm the goal of transitioning to Afghan lead as conditions warrant (with 2014 as an aspirational, flexible deadline), pledge a larger commitment of civilian aid to bolster the Afghan government's capacity, and prepare for a stay-behind force of perhaps 30,000 to 35,000 troops to continue counter-terrorism, training, and village stability operations. It should also lay out a series of steps to increase pressure on Pakistan to compel it to stop supporting militants.

2. Iran. Do we bomb or not? This is one of the hardest questions for foreign policy wonks to answer because it is nearly impossible to know 1) how close Iran is to getting a nuclear weapon, 2) what Iran would do with it, and 3) what Iran would do if we bombed them. Bombing Iran could be a brilliant and low-cost means to stabilizing the Middle East (if we live in a Panglossian universe) or the prelude to general catastrophe.

At the very least, we need public redlines which will trigger a strike (such as enriching a certain amount of weaponized uranium, or assembling a nuclear-capable warhead, or some other step prior to a nuclear test), otherwise our vague threats are not credible. We also need a declared policy for how to respond if Iran successfully builds a nuclear weapon (a nuclear attack anywhere is an attack on the United States; the use by any actor of a weapon traceable to Iranian sources will be treated as originating from the Iranian government, etc.)

3. Syria. Do we intervene or not? Syria's descent into civil war is messy and awful. Less clear is whether the U.S. has any direct interests at stake in Syria's awfulness. The Obama administration has established a strange redline: the president threatened a U.S. military response against Syria if Assad uses chemical weapons against the rebels. Why would that make a difference? The use of chemical weapons might make Assad more awful, but it doesn't mean U.S. interests are more threatened. Are we now establishing a "no-use" taboo for all weapons of mass destruction? Is the U.S. going to enforce a global norm against any and all WMD, everywhere, forever? Because the Obama administration doesn't have a policy towards Syria, the Romney administration will essentially have to start from scratch. I may be in a minority amongst conservative foreign policy types in my hesitance to advocate an intervention in Syria.

4. The European financial crisis. I'm not going to pretend that I understand much about the financial crisis in Europe, other than that it is a Bad Thing, which also means I have little idea what to do about it, other than Something. Unfortunately, I get the sense that my level of expertise is typical for the foreign policy establishment. The United States is not in a position to bail out the EU, but it is not in our interest to stand by and watch our largest trading partner collapse, nor our strongest allies plunge into depression. The Europeans do not often welcome an American role in EU affairs, but is there room for some old-fashioned U.S. shuttle diplomacy between the Greeks and Germans (or the Germans and the Spanish, Portuguese, and Italians)? Could the U.S. play the role of a trusted outsider, an impartial third-party? Is it time for the U.S. to call an international summit to reform or replace the world's financial architecture? Doing nothing for four years has accomplished little.

With a policy in place on these three issues -- ideally in NSC meetings held in the first few weeks of the new term -- the Romney administration could then take a moment to breathe before starting more in-depth reviews of bigger challenges: China, Russia and its stance towards Europe, globalization and state failure, the global Islamist insurgency, the environment, the role of democracy in U.S. foreign policy, and lots more -- which I hope to address in a future post.

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Shadow Government

Mitt Romney's dream team: Assembling the GOP cabinet

With two months to go before the election, it's never too early to start one of Washington's favorite post-election parlor-games: assembling a dream cabinet. Who should be the next Secretary of State? Defense? National Security Advisor?

The answer is, of course, David Petraeus. Given my earlier advocacy for Petraeus as vice president, readers will be unsurprised by my suggestion that the president simply call up the good general and ask him what job he wants. Unfortunately, reproductive human cloning is neither legal nor fast enough to grow enough Petraeus' to fill the cabinet, so we will have to find a few others to fill some of the top roles.

These views are, of course, my own (and somewhat tongue-in-cheek at that). The Cable had an interesting article on the potential Romney cabinet last month based on "interviews" with "sources." Unlike the folks at The Cable, I was trained as an analyst at the CIA. This article is based on nothing but speculation and Google. Here is just a short list of folks whom we might see in Senate confirmation hearings next spring. These are not my endorsements so much as my guesses as to whom might get the pick.

National Security Advisor Michael Hayden, a retired four-star general and former director of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, is listed as one of the Romney team's advisors. He probably knows the defense and intelligence worlds better than most people alive, and would be a strong pick for National Security Advisor. Barring that, he would also make a good Director of National Intelligence. Also, he knows lots of things that he could tell us, but then he'd have to kill us. Con: His four stars were in the air force (go Army!). Plus, he's tied closely to the alleged wiretapping program at the NSA, making him a lightning rod for partisan attack, something a new administration may want to avoid.

Secretary of State John Negroponte. With five separate stints as an ambassador (to Honduras, Mexico, the Philippines, Iraq, and the U.N.), as Deputy Secretary of State, and as first Director of National Intelligence, Negroponte has the kind of resume that you get when you've spent five decades in the federal bureaucracy. His wide experience makes him a candidate to head the State Department. Plus, he had the good sense to drop out of Harvard Law. Con: He spent five decades in the federal bureaucracy. Also, a new birther movement will spring up around the fact that he was born in London, making his loyalties suspect.

Secretary of Treasury Bob Zoellick. Another Romney advisor and former Deputy Secretary of State, Zoellick also served as U.S. Trade Representative, Undersecretary of State for Economic and Agricultural Affairs, in several positions at the Treasury Department, and most recently as President of the World Bank. His selection as Secretary of State would be a sop to those fuzzy-headed softies who think economics are a legitimate concern for international diplomacy, rather than guns, power, and honor, as all real IR scholars know. Or he might be shunted off to head the Treasury Department, where the pointy heads belong. Con: the mustache. Zoellick is obviously a highly-trained covert operative hiding behind the mustached guise of an academic. The problem: It's too obvious. He needs better cover; perhaps a full beard.

Secretary of Defense John McCain. The Chuck Norris of Senators. Member of the Armed Services Committee, Vietnam veteran and POW. McCain was prescient on Iraq, calling for a surge long before anyone else. He has been a champion of American power and democracy abroad and, more recently, a principled opponent of "enhanced interrogation." He's the original Maverick and would make a heluva Secretary of Defense. Con: He's the original Maverick. He's conservative by disposition, not ideology, and therefore is sometimes inconsistent.

Secretary of Defense John Warner (in case the first one doesn't work out). Three-time chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner is far more interesting than his Senate title suggests. He is a veteran of World War II and the Korean War, a former Marine, and former Secretary of the Navy. Warner is one of the senior statesmen of the Republican Party and was a true eminence grise on foreign policy and is well-qualified to head the Pentagon. Plus, he was Elizabeth Taylor's sixth husband, which has to be worth something. Con: Before his distinguished service in the Korean War as a Marine, he served in World War II in the Navy (go Army). More to the point, he left the Senate in 2009 and may be uninterested in returning to public life. After two wars and decades in the Senate, how much more can your country ask of you?

These are only a few of the many stellar lights of the Republican foreign policy establishment waiting to go nova the moment Romney clinches victory. Who are your picks?

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