The Cable

Who will get top jobs in a Romney administration?

The polls show a tight race, but senior GOP foreign-policy hands are already jostling for consideration for top positions in a potential Mitt Romney administration, and the rumor mill about who might get what top post is churning along.

Romney's transition planning effort, known as the "Readiness Project," is still in its beginning stages and the Romney team only recently appointed its national security transitions chief, former World Bank President Bob Zoellick. But inside Romneyland, there's a lot of discussion, speculation, and even lobbying for certain figures to get certain roles. Although the chatter is largely speculative, top advisors and outside experts are already being talked about for several top national security positions.

The Cable spokes with several advisors to the campaign, both inside and outside the foreign policy team, and compiled the best RUMINT available. All the advisors spoke on condition of anonymity and cautioned that no decisions have been made.

Former senator Jim Talent is widely regarded as the top choice for defense secretary in a potential Romney administration. A former four-term congressman and one-term senator from Missouri, Talent is one of Romney's closest national security advisors and is intimately involved in the campaign's national security policy making and messaging. He speaks for the campaign on a regular basis and focuses on arguing for increased defense budgets and what the Romney camp sees as a more assertive foreign policy. He's certainly hawkish in his views, but respected by all sectors of the GOP foreign-policy community. Talent has both political and bureaucratic skills. The Pentagon is his if he wants it, several advisors say, but former Navy secretary John Lehman could also fill that role.

For secretary of state, most advisors interviewed for this article said that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is under serious consideration at the top levels of the campaign. An "independent Democrat," Lieberman, who hasn't endorsed any presidential candidate this cycle, was almost chosen by Sen. John McCain to run as vice president on his 2008 ticket. Lieberman will be unemployed in January when he retires after 24 years in the Senate. He has spent much of that time developing close relationships with foreign leaders all over the world, and he is a strong supporter of Israel, a major focus of Romney's critique of Obama. By choosing him, Romney could show bipartisanship while handing the reins in Foggy Bottom to someone with international stature and whose foreign-policy views are more hawkish than many Republicans.

Zoellick is also said to be lobbying hard for Foggy Bottom, and some think he could have the inside track, considering that he is the Romney campaign's new head of national security transition planning. But Romney's foreign-policy pronouncements thus far have not been in line with Zoellick's realist views and it's well understood that having a top position in a campaign doesn't assure anyone a top position in the succeeding administration.  A dark-horse candidate for state would be CIA Director David Petraeus, who can't become defense secretary until he has been out of uniform for 7 years but could be America's top diplomat.

The national security advisor (NSA) position varies in prominence from administration to administration, but the role is highly prized because whoever holds it has direct access to the president and key control over the policy-making process. Some think that Romney might go for retired general Jack Keane, who served in an unofficial but important capacity during the Bush administration and has been a strong Romney supporter. The logic of the Keane choice would be similar to the logic Obama used when picking his first NSA Jim Jones, another experienced four-star general. But Jones's inability to fit into the White House political dynamic, which ultimately led to his resignation, might serve as a warning for a Romney administration thinking about putting Keane in the same situation.

Other rumored contenders for Romney's NSA are technocratic officials who have served in top policy positions in GOP administrations before, including former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman, former NSC Middle East staffer Elliott Abrams, or former State Department Policy Planning director Mitchell Reiss. Campaign aide Dan Senor, who has been closely advising Romney on all thing Middle East, could be in line for a deputy NSA slot, the kind of role Denis McDonough plays in the current administration, some advisors say.

At the sub-cabinet level, even speculation is difficult because so much depends on who gets the cabinet level slots above. Senior advisor Rich Williamson seems like a natural choice for U.N. ambassador. But the roster of advisors jostling for other positions like deputy secretary of state, deputy defense secretary, under secretary of defense for policy, and others includes several Romney foreign-policy advisors, including former deputy NSA for Iraq and Afghanistan Meghan O'Sullivan, former under secretary of state Robert Joseph, former State Department counselor Eliot Cohen, former assistant secretary of state Stephen Rademaker, former Pentagon comptroller Dov Zakheim, and many, many more.

Insiders wonder about the ultimate fate of former under secretary of state John Bolton, one of the few foreign-policy hands Romney himself often praises in public. After failing to get Senate confirmation to be ambassador to the U.N. in the last GOP administration (he was ultimately appointed during a recess), the controversial Bolton might be most easily placed inside the White House, where no confirmation is needed.

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The Cable

Zoellick pick roils Romney campaign

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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