- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2012

GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney has assembled a cast of conservative George W. Bush-era veterans as his key national security advisers. Some of them played important roles in the war on terror and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Missing are some of the notable neoconservatives, such as Paul Wolfowitz, who pushed for the 2003 invasion of Iraq as deputy defense secretary.

But the Romney team does include such key figures from the Donald H. Rumsfeld Pentagon as Eric S. Edelman, a senior policy adviser, and Dov Zakheim, the top budgeteer.

Mr. Romney also has tapped advisers who fought in the trenches during the Bush administration in the war against “Islamic extremists” — a phrase the Obama administration avoids but is used in the Romney security policy papers.

They include Cofer Black, an architect of the CIA’s initial thrusts into Afghanistan in October 2001, and retired Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden, who ran the National Security Agency and spearheaded ways to intercept al Qaeda’s communications and later headed the CIA.

One of the prominent faces of the Iraq War, Dan Senor, spokesman for the U.S. mission in Baghdad in the years after the ouster of Saddam Hussein, is also a special adviser to the former Massachusetts governor.

The Bush administration’s hawkish ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, signed on earlier this month. Also onboard is Robert Joseph, another former ambassador, who was a special adviser to Mr. Bush on the National Security Council staff and then the State Department’s top arms-control official.

Taken together, the advisers would be expected to sway the candidate to take a tougher line than President Obama has against regimes such as Iran, Russia, North Korea and China.

The group’s gray eminence is John Lehman, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Navy, who has stayed involved in GOP national security debates and served on the 9/11 Commission.

Mr. Lehman this year wrote a scathing article in a naval journal bashing U.S. Navy leadership for what he called a culture of political correctness that is destroying the warrior spirit.

Mr. Lehman told The Washington Times he signed on with Mr. Romney “because after extensive discussions with him, I became convinced that he really gets it with regard to the urgent need to fundamentally change the disastrous procurement mess that is unilaterally disarming us.”

Mr. Lehman said the Pentagon is spending $150 billion more than it did during the height of the Reagan Cold War buildup but achieving only half the weapons and equipment output.

” As important, [Mr. Romney] recognizes that we must have a force sufficient to maintain stability in the Pacific without abandoning Europe and the rest of the world. He is the kind of leader who gets results,” said Mr. Lehman, who, like Mr. Romney, founded his own private equity firm, J.F. Lehman & Co.

In Mr. Bolton, the Romney campaign is gaining a foreign-policy hard-liner popular with the conservative base. Mr. Bolton favors putting the military option against Iran at the forefront.

Mr. Bolton told The Times he joined the Romney stable of advisers because “I thought we ought to be looking for someone who passes the William F. Buckley Jr. test — somebody who is the most conservative candidate who can get elected.”

He added, “I think the positions he has articulated domestically and internationally are thoroughly conservative, and I think he’s somebody who can beat Obama. I looked for somebody who came as close as you could to Ronald Reagan, and I thought it was Romney.”

Asked whether the list of former Bush advisers might serve as fodder for attacks from the liberal critics and the news media over the long war in Iraq, Mr. Bolton replied, “Since he’s a Republican, they’re going to do it anyway.”

A spokesman for Mr. Rumsfeld said the former defense secretary has not signed on to any GOP campaign but is available to talk to the candidates if asked.