While speculation in the political world over Mitt Romney’s vice presidential choice courses through the summer barbecue circuit, an equally juicy topic is beginning to bubble up among foreign policy analysts: Who might be secretary of state in a Romney administration?
The Romney campaign is tight-lipped, but names are beginning to fly, and the few campaign insiders willing to speak on the condition of anonymity say there is no guarantee that the former Massachusetts governor will draw from the pool of foreign policy advisers in his inner circle for his top diplomat.
“There are going to be a lot of high-profile candidates on the table to form Gov. Romney’s foreign policy Cabinet,” said one source close to the campaign. “Some will probably come from his list of advisers, and some will probably come from outside.”
Close campaign observers say an outsider is more likely.
Mr. Romney is “almost certain to reach beyond his present advisory group to other conservatives who have served in past administrations,” said Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus and board senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Few expect the fall race to turn on foreign policy issues, but Mr. Romney appears to have made some progress in convincing voters of his ability to deal with global affairs, once thought a clear source of strength for the president. A Washington Post/ABC News poll in April found President Obama favored by 53 percent to 36 percent among voters on his ability to handle foreign policy issues, but a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found the president’s advantage down to 47 percent compared with 44 percent for Mr. Romney.
Mr. Romney’s Foggy Bottom shortlist, said Mr. Gelb, probably will include recently retired World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick and Stephen J. Hadley, who served as national security adviser for four years under President George W. Bush.
Neither man is among the 24 foreign policy analysts listed as special advisers to the campaign.
Other potential contenders for Foggy Bottom not on the list of analysts are Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns and former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns, both of whom Mr. Gelb thinks will be in the running.
“These are people of great experience, and it’s typical once you get into the selection process to look for people with experience,” Mr. Gelb said.
A neocon contender
But what about John R. Bolton? The ambassador to the United Nations under Mr. Bush is on the campaign’s advisory team and is probably its most outspoken and prolific op-ed writer.
The Romney-Bolton connection firmed up in 2010 when both came out against the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) with Russia. The treaty, which has since been passed by Congress and signed by Mr. Obama, was a divisive issue among Republicans. Retiring Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, led an unsuccessful drive to block the accord.
“New START pitted the more neocon side of the party, the Jon Kyls and John Boltons against what I would call the more traditional internationalist wing of Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft and even Dick Lugar,” said Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “Romney basically ignored their arguments and came out pretty strongly against the treaty.”
But the extent to which Mr. Romney aligns himself with the rest of Mr. Bolton’s bare-knuckle foreign policy positions is not clear.