Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has often endorsed the idea of using "enhanced interrogation techniques" if he is elected and doesn't believe that waterboarding is "torture," but he chose the GOP's most fervent critique of such methods to be the co-chair for intelligence personnel in his transition team.
Philip Zelikow, the long-time diplomat and former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has been named one of two officials in charge of planning for the intelligence side of a potential Romney administration as part of the Romney campaign's "Project Readiness," multiple sources with direct knowledge of the project confirmed to The Cable. Zelikow, who was also the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, co-chairs the intelligence team with former New Jersey Governor and 9/11 Commission co-chairman Tom Kean.
Zelikow is another GOP senior foreign-policy hand from the realist camp in the top ranks of the Romney transition team. The head of the national security team is former Deputy Secretary of State and former World Bank President Bob Zoellick, a pick that roiled neoconservatives and hawks inside the Romney campaign when it was announced in August. But there are also hawks on the transition team, including former U.N. official Rich Williamson and former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman.
Zelikow ran afoul of many of his colleagues inside the George W. Bush administration in 2005 when he wrote an internal memo expressing opposition to the Office of Legal Counsel's findings that allowed the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. He wrote about how his dissenting view was received in a 2009 post on Foreign Policy's Shadow Government blog.
"My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo. I expect that one or two are still at least in the State Department's archives," Zelikow wrote.
In looking to objective standards to inform a judgment about evolving standards of decency or interrogation techniques that shock the conscience, three sources stand out:
- American government practice, by any agency, in holding or questioning enemy combatants -- including enemy combatants who do not have Geneva protection or who were regarded at the time as suspected terrorists, guerrillas, or saboteurs. We are unaware of any precedent in Wold War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or any subsequent conflict for authorized, systematic interrogation practices similar to those in question here, even where the prisoners were presumed to be unlawful combatants
- Recent practice by police and prison authorities in confining or questioning their most dangerous suspects. This practice is especially helpful since these authorities are governed by substantively similar standards to those that would apply under the [Convention Against Torture], given the Senate's reservation. We have not conducted a review of American domestic practice. From the available cases, it appears likely that some of the techniques being used would likely pass muster; several almost certainly would not.
- Recent practice by other advanced governments that face potentially catastrophic terrorist dangers. [REDACTED]...governments have abandoned several of the techniques in question here.
It therefore appears to us that several of these techniques, singly or in combination, should be considered "cruel inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" within the meaning of Article 16.
The techniques least likely to be sustained are the techniques described as "coercive,'" especially viewed cumulatively, such as the waterboard, walling, dousing, stress positions, and cramped confinement.
Zelikow's position on enhanced interrogation techniques and waterboarding stands in contrast to Romney, who has made it clear on several occasions that he is not opposed to enhanced interrogation techniques and he does not believe waterboarding constitutes torture.
President Barack Obama signed an executive order early in his presidency limiting interrogation techniques to those specifically allowed in the Army Field Manual, which effectively outlawed waterboarding.
The New York Times reported last month that Romney aides had prepared an internal memo for the candidate that advised him "rescind and replace President Obama's executive order" and permit secret "enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives."
Following that report, when asked by a reporter if he classifies waterboarding as torture, Romney said, "I don't."
Last November, Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul also said that Romney does not classify waterboarding as torture and would not specify which "enhanced interrogation techniques" he would be open to using if elected.
Last December, Romney said he supported "enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now."
In a 2007 primary debate, Romney refused to classify waterboarding as torture when asked about it directly.
"I oppose torture. I would not be in favor of torture in any way shape or form. As a presidential candidate I don't think it's wise to describe specifically which techniques we would or would not use," he said.
His primary opponent at the time, former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), shot back at Romney in that debate insisting that waterboarding is in fact torture.
"I'm astonished that you haven't found out what waterboarding is," McCain said. "Governor, let me tell you if we are going to get the high ground in this world and we're going to be the America that we've cherished and loved for more than 200 years, we're not going to torture people."
Multiple requests for comment were not returned by the Romney campaign. Zelikow did not respond to a query by deadline.
President Barack Obama and his administration did not only mislead the American people, they misled themselves on what happened the night of Sept. 11 in Benghazi, a top Romney foreign-policy advisor told The Cable ahead of Monday night's debate.
Regardless of whether or not Obama called the events in Benghazi an "act of terror" in the days following the attack, Mitt Romney does not believe the administration's insistence that the attack was related to an anti-Islam video was based solely on reports from the intelligence community, Romney advisor and former National Security Council official Eliot Cohen said in an interview.
"This notion that this was all because the intelligence community gave them bad information is just not correct. The idea that this was all attributable to the trailer for a crackpot movie was just not true," Cohen said. "That's a big fundamental problem that the administration has to deal with, that they did mislead people for a period of time, and what's even scarier, they misled themselves."
Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have reported that the intelligence community didn't formally revise its view that there may have been a protest related to the video until Sept. 22; the intelligence community maintains, according to the Times, that militants involved in the attack were inspired by the breach of the U.S. Embassy walls in Cairo.
But the Romney campaign's critique is broader than its claims of mishandled intelligence.
Cohen said that during Monday night's debate, Romney will likely refer to the administration's reaction to the Benghazi attack to counter the administration's claim that it has dealt a devastating blow to al Qaeda and that al Qaeda is "on its heels," as Obama has said many times in the past.
"They wanted to believe the narrative that this was an understandable if excessive and unacceptable reaction to a provocative piece of video, because the alternative would be to believe that their story, which is that the extremist problem is an essentially an al Qaeda problem, that it's a narrowly defined problem that you can deal with through targeted killings, that al Qaeda was on the verge of strategic defeat, is not true," he said. "In fact you are dealing with a larger problem which has metastasized across the Middle East. That is something they did not want to believe. You get into trouble when you try to fool other people. You get in bigger trouble when you try to fool yourself."
Cohen also criticized Obama for saying the death of four Americans is "not optimal" during an appearance last week on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stewart had used the word "optimal" in his question to Obama, but Cohen said that Obama shouldn't have taken the bait.
"For the president to get on a comedy show and say that the death of four Americans is ‘not optimal,' that is a really disturbing way to react to his event. It's absolutely glib," he said. "A president is supposed to be self-aware enough to just use words like ‘tragedy.' He's not supposed to be Jon Stewart. Jon Stewart is a comic; the president is supposed to be something else."
As for the debate, Cohen said that Obama has a natural advantage because he has access to vast amounts of intelligence and hundreds of national security officials, whereas Romney has limited foreign-policy information resources.
"There is a fundamental asymmetry here... The governor and the president both have experience creating jobs. Only one of them has been president with responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy," he said. "I think what you can expect from Governor Romney -- what is reasonable to expect -- is his assessment of how he sees the world, how he sees the larger developments that are out there, a set of principles of he thinks shape foreign policy, a sense of his leadership style, and how he makes decisions, and then an examination of the record of the guy who actually has been in charge for the last four years."
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has been advertising its message about Romney's foreign-policy competence this week, including through a memo penned by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) alleging that Romney has failed the "commander-in-chief" test.
"We have that steady and strong leader today in President Obama. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, offers nothing but endless bluster and a record of dangerous blunders, failing at every turn to show he's up to the challenge. In fact, Governor Romney has outlined fewer specific policies for how he would lead on national security issues than any presidential candidate in my memory," Kerry wrote. He is an extreme and expedient candidate who lacks the judgment and vision so vital for the Oval Office, and he's at the top of the most inexperienced foreign policy ticket to run for president and vice president in decades."
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CHARLOTTE - The State Department sponsored a group of international youth leaders to visit both national conventions this year. Every single one of them interviewed by The Cable prefers President Barack Obama over GOP candidate Mitt Romney.
U.S. embassies around the world selected youth leaders for an all-expense paid trip to Florida and Charlotte to see the American political process up close. Many of the youth leaders had obvious predispositions towards the Democratic party, while others said they were convinced to be in favor of the Democrats after seeing both conventions and hearing from both teams.
Alex Buliga is a member of the political executive board of the youth organization of Moldova's Democratic Party. He told The Cable that the Moldovan Democratic Party is similar to the American Democratic Party in many ways.
"We are keeping in close touch with the [American] Democratic Party and our vice president and the chief of foreign affairs of our parliament are here [in Charlotte] and are supporting President Obama," he said. "For the last four years, the relationship between the USA and Moldova is much better in comparison to how they were in the Bush administration. Mitt Romney is a Republican like Bush, so that's why we support Obama."
The U.S. Embassy in Moldova called him personally and asked him to write an essay to apply for the trip, Buliga said. He said that after his Tampa experience, he can't trust the Republicans.
"We saw how many lies the Republicans tell. We watch Politifact and we saw how they lie and if you tell lies you don't deserve to become president," he said, referring to the independent fact-checking website Politifact.com.
Sara Ibrahim is a barrister in London and was invited by the U.S. Embassy there to attend the conventions. As a former liaison between the embassy and the Young Fabians, a group full of what she called "well-known left leaning figures," her political inclinations were not a secret.
"I'm very much supporting President Obama," she said. "I think Obama actually understands the economy. I have been amazed how the Republicans have been saying things which are completely contrary to the economic orthodoxy... In the UK, we've got a conservative government and a lot of cuts, and let me say to the American people it's not very pretty when you've got to face austerity."
Amadu Gallow is the founding of a youth advocacy and pro-development group called This Generation in Gambia. Unlike other State Department guests, he was not supporting Obama before the trip, but he is now. Gallow said the Romney team didn't impress him on foreign policy.
"Before I came here I wasn't sure, but now I'm with Obama," he said. "I have not heard anything concrete from the Romney team on foreign policy, especially their readiness to give aid to Africa. There was nothing said on Afghanistan. At least a minute of silence should have been given to those people who are fighting and dying out there."
Romney's singling out of China and Russia as foes also turned him off to the Romney campaign, Gallow said.
The guests' experiences were colored by the fact that the State Department couldn't get them actual credentials to enter the arena in Tampa, so they had to watch the convention events on a television and get periodic briefings from GOP officials. They do have credentials here in Charlotte and are looking forward to attending Obama's speech Thursday.
Gobi Alam from Bangladesh runs an NGO and teaches youth there. He sits on the U.S. ambassador's youth council and was nominated by the embassy for the Tampa-Charlotte experience. He said he is also supporting Obama, partially because he thought the Republicans didn't treat him and the rest of the group well in Tampa.
"I think Obama didn't do great over the last four years but he did enough to secure his place," Alam said. "We tried to reach out to Republican speakers and very few of them responded. But we are here in Charlotte and we have a lot of contacts and we have tickets as well."
Qiu Chen is a journalist from Hong Kong whose magazine pushes for freedom of expression and focuses on youth issues. She was nominated for the trip by the U.S. consulate there. She said the trip has convinced her to support Obama over Romney and most of the other State Department guests feel the same way.
"All my friends in the program like Obama," said Chen.
The Cable asked the State Department contractor in charge of the program, Karen Shatin, what she thought about the fact that all the guests seem to be Obama supporters. She said there were some right-leaning guests who were just not around at the moment. She also said the GOP didn't give the international guests enough foreign-policy information to go on.
"I think they've already heard a lot more about foreign policy here in Charlotte in a few minutes than they heard the whole time in Florida," she said. "The Obama campaign seems to be talking a lot more about foreign policy."
The group is a guest of the International Visitor Leadership Program, which is part of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
"The goal of the program is to expose the group to the U.S. political process. It's really a person-to-person exchange program, building relationships between the visitors and their U.S. counterparts," Shatlin said.
One of the Republicans who did meet with the group was Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, and several of the guests said Norquist heavily criticized Romney's policies.
"It didn't seem like he was a huge fan of Mitt Romney but he is definitely not a fan of President Obama," said Shatin. "He definitely knows what he stands for, and that's about all I can say."
Mitt Romney will promise to restore American leadership in the areas of democracy promotion, trade, energy, and he will pledge to build up the military in his speech tonight accepting the GOP nomination for president.
"We will honor America's democratic ideals because a free world is a more peaceful world. This is the bipartisan foreign policy legacy of Truman and Reagan. And under my presidency we will return to it once again," the former Massachusetts governor will say tonight, according to excerpts released by the campaign.
That phrasing tracks closely with what senior foreign-policy advisor Rich Williamson said to The Cable last week, although Williamson included John F. Kennedy in the list with Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan.
"The America we all know has been a story of the many becoming one, uniting to preserve liberty, uniting to build the greatest economy in the world, uniting to save the world from unspeakable darkness," Romney will say, hitting on the campaign's theme of getting tougher with adversaries.
"That America, that united America, will preserve a military that is so strong, no nation would ever dare to test it," Romney will add, reinforcing his campaign's promise to increase funding for the military.
Romney will say he has a plan to make the United States "energy independent" by 2020. He will promise to pursue new trade agreements and impose consequences on those countries that cheat in trade. He will take a swipe at Europe and pledge to avoid a Europe-like economic crisis.
"To assure every entrepreneur and every job creator that their investments in America will not vanish as have those in Greece, we will cut the deficit and put America on track to a balanced budget," Romney will say.
He will begin the speech by talking about the hopes that President Barack Obama would be a paradigm-shifting leader -- hopes that Republicans argue have been dashed.
"Four years ago, I know that many Americans felt a fresh excitement about the possibilities of a new president. That president was not the choice of our party, but Americans always come together after elections. We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than divides us. When that hard-fought election was over -- when the yard signs came down and the television commercials finally came off the air, Americans were eager to go back to work, to live our lives the way Americans always have -- optimistic and positive and confident in the future. That very optimism is uniquely American," he will say.
"I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division. This isn't something we have to accept. Now is the moment when we CAN do something. With your help we will do something." (Emphasis in the original.)
Romney will conclude by promising to be the paradigm-shifting leader that he believes Obama is not.
"If I am elected president of these United States, I will work with all my energy and soul to restore that America, to lift our eyes to a better future. That future is our destiny. That future is out there. It is waiting for us. Our children deserve it, our nation depends upon it, the peace and freedom of the world require it," Romney will say. "And with your help we will deliver it. Let us begin that future together tonight."
Former World Bank President Bob Zoellick has begun work as the head of national security transition planning for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, causing an uproar inside the campaign's foreign-policy advisory team and spawning concern in parts of the greater Republican foreign-policy establishment.
Zoellick, who already moved to Boston to take up a position at Harvard University, is the new head of the team planning national-security appointments in a potential Romney administration, four advisors to the campaign told The Cable. The campaign officially declined to comment on what is known internally as the "Readiness Project," led by Mike Leavitt, former Health and Human Services Secretary under George W. Bush. But several advisors said that top campaign officials are working hard behind the scenes to assuage Republican concerns both inside and outside the campaign about what Zoellick's new and important role would mean for them, for Romney's foreign-policy identity, and for the potential next administration.
The chief complaint among critics is that Zoellick, who served as deputy secretary of state under Bush before being appointed to head the World Bank, is a foreign-policy realist who has seemed too friendly toward China and, as a disciple of former Secretary of State James Baker, not friendly enough toward Israel. Romney's vows to be tougher on China and closer to the Israeli government are key pillars of his foreign-policy platform.
"Bob Zoellick couldn't be more conservative in the branch of the GOP he represents," said Danielle Pletka, vice president at the American Enterprise Institute. "He's pro-China to the point of mania, he's an establishment guy, he's a trade-first guy. He's basically a George H.W. Bush, old-school Republican."
Zoellick declined to comment for this story, but some say he has a reputation for butting heads with others in the GOP national security community, including his former boss Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, two officials often mooted as potential cabinet picks in a Romney administration.
"There aren't too many people who can bring together Condi Rice and John Bolton, but they were united in their dislike of Bob Zoellick," one Romney foreign-policy advisor said. Both Rice and Bolton did not respond to requests for comment.
Zoellick's selection to the new job, which will ramp up after Labor Day when the Romney transition team opens up an office in Washington, caused severe blowback within the campaign's policy team. That team is filled with experts and former officials who disagree with one other and are unhappy with the process run by policy director Lanhee Chen and foreign-policy coordinator Alex Wong. But the Zoellick choice had several advisors up in arms to the point where the political leadership of the campaign went into damage-control mode.
"Mitt Romney's made clear that he has conservative views on foreign policy and defense and those aren't the views of Pragmatic Bob," one campaign foreign-policy advisor who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the issue told The Cable. "I've been reassured that this is walled off from policy, but he's an aggressive guy and he has his sights on being secretary of state, so there is obviously suspicion among people who were close to Romney before he was the presumptive nominee."
The idea that Zoellick will be not be involved in setting campaign policy before the election is central to the campaign's internal argument for keeping him in his new post. Several sources close to the campaign told The Cable that Chen and other top campaign officials have been calling Republican experts and former officials to assure them that Zoellick's role will be firewalled off from the campaign's other activities and will only focus on what happens after Romney's inauguration.
"Zoellick has no influence in the campaign and his appointment really means nothing for anything that happens over the next two and a half months in terms of the campaign," Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol told The Cable. "Bob Zoellick is an extremely able guy who is willing to do this and that's great. The enemies of Zoellick are scared it means something big, but I think it's being way overblown."
Inside the campaign, foreign-policy hands aren't so sure. They say that Zoellick is an extremely ambitious Washington insider who badly wants to run the show in Foggy Bottom. Zoellick reached out to several campaigns during the primaries, even when he was still head of the World Bank, only cozying up to Romney senior staffers once it became apparent the former Massachusetts governor would get the nomination.
"Senior advisers to the campaign are at pains to argue that his role will be ministerial," wrote the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin in a blog post Wednesday. "For foreign policy hawks, Zoellick is an anathema."
Several advisors told The Cable that Brian Hook, former foreign-policy advisor to Tim Pawlenty, will be Zoellick's deputy on the Romney national-security transition team.
Zoellick's critics are still struggling to process what his reemergence as a key player means. But many say that the Romney campaign's apparent lack of awareness and preparedness for the blowback shows that top advisors are still giving short shrift to national security issues.
"It's quite possible they did this without any thought to what that meant," one outside advisor to the campaign told The Cable. "I'm not sure if they had any clue what the reaction would be from everybody."
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As the crisis in Syria deepens, top senators in both parties are unable to explain presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney's policy on dealing with the country's deepening civil war.
Romney, who leaves Tuesday evening on a three-nation foreign trip, barely mentioned Syria in his foreign-policy speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in Reno, and then only as a criticism of President Barack Obama's "reset" policy with Russia.
"I don't know what it is," said Senate Armed Services Committee member John Cornyn (R-TX) when asked to comment on Romney's Syria policy. After The Cable explained it to him, Cornyn said he needed more time to study the issue. Other top senators were similarly befuddled.
On his campaign website, Romney criticizes Obama for reaching out to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the past but stops short of calling for any direct action to force Assad from power such as directly arming the opposition, as his surrogates like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) are demanding, or establishing "safe zones" for the Syrian opposition, as many of his campaign's foreign policy advisors are calling for.
"Mitt Romney believes the United States should pursue a strategy of isolating and pressuring the Assad regime to increase the likelihood of a peaceful transition to a legitimate government. We should redouble our push for the U.N. Security Council to live up to its responsibilities and impose sanctions that cut off funding sources that serve to maintain the regime's grip on power," the campaign website reads.
But the Obama administration is already pursuing a more aggressive strategy than that, announcing this week that it is abandoning the diplomacy track at the U.N. and ramping up various levels of support to the Syrian opposition. CIA teams are also reportedly vetting rebels fighters and aiding in their efforts to get weapons from countries including Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Administration officials say that increased communications and intelligence assistance is also on the way.
Romney has said repeatedly that the United States should "work with partners" to arm the Syrian opposition but has stopped short of calling for Washington to give the rebels direct, lethal aid. On July 19, after the U.N. Security Council again failed to impose punitive measures on the Assad regime following Russian and Chinese vetoes, Romney again criticized the administration's policy without saying what he would do differently.
"Russia's veto again shows the hollowness of President Obama's failed ‘reset' policy with Russia and his lack of leadership on Syria," Romney said. "While Russia and Iran have rushed to support Bashar al-Assad and thousands have been slaughtered, President Obama has abdicated leadership and subcontracted U.S. policy to Kofi Annan and the United Nations. Under this President, American influence and respect for our position around the world is at a low ebb."
On Monday, Romney told CNBC, "I think from the very beginning we misread the setting in Syria... America should've come out very aggressively from the very beginning and said Assad must go. ... The world looks for American leadership and American strength."
On Capitol Hill, senior Republicans and Democrats alike were at pains to describe Romney's policy on Syria, much less say whether they supported it or not.
"I think we need to have a robust discussion about that," Cornyn said. "There's also the concern that Syria is much more difficult than Libya was, for example. So I think the discussions need to continue about what the appropriate response is. I'm interested in learning from others what their response is."
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who admitted last week that he didn't know what Romney's Afghanistan policy was, couldn't name any specifics of Romney's Syria policy Tuesday and instead launched into a monologue about America's role in the world.
"Syria is a really complicated problem in a really complicated part of the world and anybody who says you can have a Syria policy separate and apart from the rest of your foreign policy doesn't know what foreign policy is made of," Kyl told The Cable. "I know that Governor Romney sees the complexities of the world and appreciates the need to have a strong America that has the flexibility to act in complicated and difficult and very troublesome situations like Syria."
Kyl declined to say whether he supported arming the Syrian opposition or establishing safe zones inside Syria, or whether he believed that Romney was supporting either option.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said he supported the administration's efforts to facilitate the movement of arms to the Syrian opposition and he believes the United States should work with Turkey and NATO to establish safe zones for Syrian civilians.
But Levin could not say what Romney's Syria policy was or whether it was substantively different from what the administration is doing now.
"I don't know what his position is and his positions change so frequently, it's hard to keep track," Levin said. "That doesn't mean that he doesn't have one, or that he doesn't have two or three for that matter."
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) told The Cable he has very specific criticisms of the Obama administration's Syria policy and very specific requests, namely that the administration use American military power to protect Syrian civilians and directly arm the opposition to help topple Assad.
"I'm pained every day that goes by and more and more Syrians get killed. We may be doing something through the CIA, but not a lot. Now the Syrians are using fighter plans and threatening to use gas," said Lieberman. "What I'd like to see is the Obama administration lead the coalition of the willing to go after the Assad regime directly, and I think that would end this pretty quickly."
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John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.