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.
Other conservatives have voiced worries about Mr. Romney’s announced choice to run any presidential transition team that would be in charge of all key political appointments: liberal Republican and former World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick, a target of conservatives since his days as a protege to James A. Baker, former secretary of state and secretary of the Treasury.
Romney campaign spokesman Alex Wong declined to comment on the record about the liberal-conservative shift.
Obama mum on ‘flexibility’ query
President Obamaset off a firestorm of controversy earlier this year after he was overheard telling Russia’s president that he and his negotiators will be ready to more easily negotiate an agreement on missile defenses after the November election.
Rep. Michael R. Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, wrote the president May 23 asking for an explanation, and so far has received no response, a Turner aide said.
Mr. Obama told Dmitry Medvedev that “after my election, I have more flexibility” on missile defenses. The comment, picked up by news cameras and microphones, triggered concerns among Republicans that the president is planning to step up his disarmament-oriented policy agenda if re-elected.
Mr. Turner stated in his letter that, after initially contacting the White House about the troubling comments, he was told the president was referring to the difficulty of negotiating an agreement with Russia on missile defense during an election year.
“The inference is that the American people may not like the deal your administration is planning to negotiate,” Mr. Turner said. “If that is the case, why make it at all?”
“What is it that you and your administration are concerned the American people would object to in such a deal with Russia?” he asked. “Would it be limitations unilateral or bilateral, with Russia on the speed, range or geographical deployment of U.S. missile defense interceptors?”
Mr. Turner also said he is concerned with the president’s apparent belief that missile defenses hinder U.S. nuclear-arms cuts, including plans to cut nuclear forces up to 80 percent under a Pentagon Nuclear Posture Review implementation study, that was carried out in secret with no briefings to Congress.
“Many in Congress, me included, are deeply troubled that you may be willing to further trade or give away U.S. missile defenses to get closer to your goal of a world without nuclear weapons,” Mr. Turner wrote.
Many of the concerns could be put to rest if Mr. Obama would direct his administration to share draft missile-defense agreements that have been shared with the Russians, he said.
The failure to provide copies of the drafts “does nothing to resolve concerns about just what your administration is prepared to offer to Russia regarding missile defenses after your ‘last election,’” he said.
A National Security Council spokesman could not be reached for comment on the president’s failure to respond to Mr. Turner’s letter.
China missile buildup
A new report by Taiwan’s Defense Ministry says China has increased the number of cruise and ballistic missiles pointed at the island nation by more than 200 missiles. China also has added new medium-range DF-16 missiles to the more than 1,600 missiles now targeting the democratically ruled state 100 miles from the communist mainland.
The annual 2012 China Military Power Report released in Taipei this week said a small number of DF-16s were added to the hundreds of mobile, short-range DF-11 and DF-15 missiles within range of the island.
China has been building up its missile forces against Taiwan for at least the past 15 years, and the missile buildup is rarely mentioned by U.S. officials, who likely fear raising the issue will upset China’s military.
The report, first reported by the Taipei Times on Tuesday, also said China has deployed its aircraft carrier-killing DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile that can overcome the difficult technical challenge of flying ballistically in space and having enough accuracy to hit a ship at sea hundreds of miles away.
The Taiwan government report contrasts with the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on the Chinese military, which stated that as of October 2011, China had deployed between 1,000 and 1,200 short-range missiles near Taiwan. It made no mention of the new DF-16 medium-range missile deployments.
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Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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