Several conservatives who sat in on closed-door meetings at last week’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., came away worried by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s foreign and defense policies.
Of particular concern were statements by Richard Williamson, a former ambassador who was introduced as the top adviser on foreign policy, and former Sen. Jim Talent, the senior defense adviser who in several meetings asserted that Russia is the United States’ “main geopolitical foe.”
By contrast, the advisers described the strategic threat from China as a less-threatening, manageable trade, currency and intellectual-property challenge.
Both advisers spoke about Mr. Romney’s Asia policy and were critical of the Obama administration’s new, tougher China policy, called the Asia “pivot,” which seeks to bolster U.S. military forces and build up alliances in the region to counter China’s growing military power and regional aggressiveness.
The advisers said the rebalancing toward Asia is a mistake and that Mr. Romney will not agree to support it as president. Mr. Talent, in one meeting, described the Asia pivot as a “fig leaf” with no substance.
Mr. Williamson in two separate talks in Tampa revealed his admiration for Clinton administration China hand Kenneth Lieberthal, one of the most pro-China national security officials of an administration that produced a China influence-peddling scandal and the loss of nuclear-warhead secrets to Beijing through espionage. Mr. Williamson quoted his China expert “friend” Mr. Lieberthal during one briefing.
Readers of Inside the Ring will recall how Mr. Lieberthal was taken to task by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher at a congressional hearing in 2008, when the California Republican questioned Mr. Lieberthal’s credibility as a China expert because Mr. Lieberthal acknowledged working for a major Washington consultancy that had received money from China.
Another off-the-record GOP foreign aid session in Tampa hosted by the International Republican Institute included Mr. Williamson, Mr. Talent, and former State Department officials Paula Dobriansky and Mitchell Reiss, who all spoke about Mr. Romney’s strategic priorities.
“All of them said that foreign aid and the war on HIV/AIDs in Africa would be Romney’s highest priorities,” said one surprised participant. “No one listed China among the future priorities for a Romney presidency.”
The rise of liberal foreign-policy advisers comes as more hawkish advisers, including those liberals have labeled neoconservatives, appear to be on the decline within the campaign.
While Mr. Williamson said he will be traveling full time with Mr. Romney on the campaign and leaving his consulting business Salisbury Strategies, former U.N. 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.
Two other Romney advisers, former senior Pentagon officials Dov Zakheim and Eric Edelman, did not appear at the Tampa briefings, an indication their influence with the campaign and the candidate may be fading.
None of the more than 20 conservative advisers listed on the Romney campaign website was invited to speak in Tampa, although some provided briefings to the press.
One Republican who took part in the Tampa foreign and defense policy meetings said it appears there was a high-level decision by the Romney campaign staff to move left on foreign policy and leave conservatives “high and dry,” although it is not clear Mr. Romney is behind the shift.