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.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.