What We Should be Talking About: Romney’s Foreign Policy Advisers


John Kennedy used to say, “Domestic policy can hurt us; foreign policy can kill us.”

But despite the fact that lives (American, allied, and civilian) continue to be lost in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Israel is blustering about attacking Iran before the US election (in order to drag in a reluctant Obama administration), much more time will be given to domestic policy rantings then foreign policy. In the 2000 election, there was very little debate about foreign policy, though anyone who looked closely might have guessed that Bush’s foreign policy advisors (who called themselves “the vulcans,” and had complex and long-standing links to groups and think tanks pressing for war on Iraq, would undertake that project at the slightest provocation.

This year, with less excuse (given the large deficit and two ongoing military operations), we have had very little discussion in the media about Romney’s foreign policy advisors. Yet, they are a far more coherent group of militarists than the Bush team.

Most are neoconservatives associated with the Bush, and in some cases, Reagan administration. Romney’s major financial backer has little on his mind besides shoring up the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. Several have been outspoken advocates of US war on Iran. One has been accused of war crimes in Lebanon, and one academic adviser has been a strong advocate of “the El Salvador Solution” to insurgencies, whereby the U.S. supports right wing militaries and informal militias to crush insurgent movements without direct combat on the U.S. part. The Romney group are pressing for greater military spending, particularly in the Navy (Reagan’s former Naval Secretary is a prominent adviser, and Romney has endorsed his proposal for substantially higher Naval spending).

Where these inclinations, and Romney’s closeness to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will lead the country is a subject well worth airing, outside, if not inside the GOP convention.

Elizabeth Sanders is a professor of government at Cornell University. Her research interests lie in American political development and popular politics. She is currently working on a book entitled Presidents, War, and Reform. See Sanders’ full analysis, co-authored by Caroline Emberton, titled “The War Lovers (again): What the Foreign Policy Advisers of Presidential Candidates May Tell Us about Future U.S. Foreign Policy,”  on page 20 of the April 2012 issue of the Cornell International Affairs Review.