The Cable

Romney camp doubles down on Russia as “geopolitical foe”

TAMPA - Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was right when he called Russia America's "No. 1 geopolitical foe" and a Romney administration would confront Moscow on its poor record on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, two top foreign-policy advisors  to the GOP candidate said Tuesday.

"Russia is a significant geopolitical foe. Governor Romney recognizes that," Romney advisor Rich Williamson said at a Tuesday afternoon event hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative. "That's not to say they are the same sort of direct military threat as they were."

Williamson, joined on the panel by top advisor Pierre-Richard Prosper, said that the Russian government under Vladimir Putin has made strategic opposition to the West and the United States in particular a premier plank of its agenda. A Romney administration would end the Russian "reset" and confront Russia on Syria, Georgia, Iran, and several other issues, he said.

"They are our foe. They have chosen a path of confrontation, not cooperation, and I think the governor was correct in that even though there are some voices in Washington that find that uncomfortable," he said. "So those who say, ‘Oh gosh, oh golly, Romney said they're our geopolitical foe' don't understand human history. And those who think liberal ideas of engagement will bend actions also don't understand history. We're better to be frank and honest."

Ronald Reagan called Russia an "evil empire" but was still able to negotiate nuclear reductions with the Soviet Union, Williamson said.

"They weren't so precious and sensitive not to work with us when we have mutual interests," he said. "The reset has failed. They are crowding out civil society, they are trampling human rights, and they are opposed to us in a number of interests... We have to reset the failed reset policy."

Prosper focused on the controversial elections that returned Putin to the presidency last December and the ongoing clampdown on opposition and activist groups.

"Russia is calling itself a democracy but it is not behaving like a democracy," he said. "When is the last time we have seen Russia on the side of peace? When is the last time we have seen Russia on the side of humanity?"

Also on the panel were Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of jailed Russian tycoon Mikhail Khordokovsky, and Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian journalist blacklisted for his support of the Magnitsky bill, legislation to sanction Russian human rights violators that is being linked in Congress to a bill to grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations status.

The GOP draft platform makes it the official policy of the Republican Party to support passage of the Magnitsky bill.

"Russia should be granted Permanent Normal Trade Relations, but not without sanctions on Russia officials who have used the government to violate human rights," the platform states. "We support enactment of the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act as a condition of expanded trade relations with Russia."

The Cable

Romney campaign: No to Syria no-fly zone for now

TAMPA — Mitt Romney's topforeign-policy advisors said Thursday that the presumptive Republican nominee is not ready to support growing international calls for establishing a no-fly zone inside Syria.

"The governor has not called for a no-fly zone. Close friends of his such as Sens. McCain, Lieberman, and Graham have called for a no-fly zone for weeks. That is not a step that Governor Romney has made," senior campaign advisor Rich Williamson told The Cable on the sidelines of a foreign-policy event here at the Republican National Convention.

The Washington representatives of the internal Syrian opposition and the Free Syrian Army publicly called on the Obama administration to support a no-fly zone inside Syria this week. French President François Hollande said Monday that France would recognize a rebel government if the Syrian opposition declared one, and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian signaled support for a no-fly zone last week.

Williamson and other panelists at the event, hosted by the International Republican Institute, including former Sen. Jim Talent, former Sen. NormColeman, and former Rep. Vin Weberall heavily criticized President Barack Obama's handling of the Syria crisis over the last 18 months.

But the Romney team struggled to draw clear distinctions between its policy and what the Obama administration is already doing. For now, the Romney camp is sticking to its calls for arming the rebels directly but not using U.S. military assets inside Syria.

"If we had taken Romney's advice on working with the opposition to help organize them and help the moderates and help arm the opposition, we wouldn't be in the crisis we are in now," Williams told The Cable.

Romney would have not wasted time placating Russia at the U.N. Security Council and would have assembled a "coalition of the relevant" tosupport the Syrian rebels diplomatically, politically, and with weapons to fight the regime, Williamson said.

"When the U.S. has vital interests at stake, it's now going to play Mother-May-I with the Security Council ... as we've seen with the Security Council on Syria and the intransigence of Moscow," he said.

Coleman said that the Obama administration is "leading from behind" on Syria and that strategy hurts U.S. effectiveness across the spectrum of international issues.

"The challenge we're facing is that some of those folks in the coalition of the relevant are questioning U.S. resolve ... so the lack ofleadership has consequences that in the end make it more difficult to form the kind of coalitions we need to solve problems," he said.

"President Hollande has pointed in the direction that wehave wanted to go for a long time," Weber said. "You have to give him credit for providing leadership in a situation where the U.S. has not provided leadership."

Talent compared the situation to the international intervention in Bosnia and pointed to Bill Clinton's reluctance to intervene until the situation had dramatically worsened.

"When you're leading from behind -- and let's face it, that's what the administration has been doing --  you don't have control over events," he said.

Williamson acknowledged that the Obama administration is working with the opposition to vet rebel groups and help them organize, but said that a President Romney would have been doing so a long time ago.

"We appreciate the fact that only 13 months after Governor Romney suggested [working with the opposition], President Obama took his advice, but 17,000 people have died," Williamson said. "Allowing things to drift, holding your breath, crossing your fingers, and hoping things are getting better doesn't solve the problem. Where has the U.S. been? The answer unfortunately is missing in action."