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."

The Cable

Chinese media slams Romney as convention begins

TAMPA - China's state-controlled media lashed out at GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney Monday, warning that his policies would poison U.S.-China relations.

"By any standard, the U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's China policy, as outlined on his official campaign website, is an outdated manifestation of a Cold War mentality," read a commentary in Monday's China Daily. "It endorses the ‘China threat' theory and focuses on containing China's rise in the Asia-Pacific through bolstering the robust U.S. military presence in the region."

The Chinese state-owned outlet said that Romney was "provoking" China by promising to supply Taiwan with aircraft and other military platforms and called his China approach "pugnacious."

"[H]is China policy, if implemented, would cause a retrogression in bilateral ties and turn the region into a venue for open confrontation between China and the U.S.," the commentary stated.

China Daily also compared Romney'sapproach with President Barack Obama's "pivot" toward Asia. The current administration is adding "fuel to the fire" in the South China Sea by involving itself in regional disputes, the commentary argued, but Romney's China policies would sour relations even further.

"It requires political vision as well as profound knowledge of Sino-U.S. relations as a whole, to make sensible policy recommendations about what are widely recognized as the most important bilateral ties in the world," the commentary states. "Romney apparently lacks both."

The China-East Asia page of the Romney campaign website promises that a Romney administration would increase U.S. naval presence in the Pacific and increase military assistance to regional allies "to discourage any aggressive or coercive behavior by China against its neighbors."

The Romney campaign is also vowing to shine a brighter light on China's human rights abuses.

"Any serious U.S. policy toward China must confront the fact that China's regime continues to deny its people basic political freedoms and human rights. A nation that represses its own people cannot be a trusted partner in an international system based on economic and political freedom," the website reads.

But as the China Daily commentary notes, campaign rhetoric and government policy aren't always the same thing. U.S. presidential candidates of both parties have long taken a more strident tone toward China on the campaign trail, only to dial back their rhetoric while in office.

Nor is the Romney team's position on China clear, as top campaign advisors disagree on how to deal with the Middle Kingdom's rise as a world power.

The two co-chairs of Romney's Asia-Pacific policy team, former State Department official Evan Feigenbaum, a moderate realist, and Aaron Friedberg, a hawkish scholar, evince sharply different views on China.

At the top of the Romney advisory structure, generalists like former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton are much more wary of a rising China than realists such as former World Bank President Bob Zoellick, who as a top State Department official urged China to become a "responsible stakeholder" in world affairs.

As for Romney, he has promised to brand China a currency manipulator on day one of his presidency and the RNC draft platform posted by Politico calls on China to move toward democracy and condemns its South China Sea claims.

"We will welcome the emergence of a peaceful and prosperous China, and we will welcome even more the development of a democratic China," the draft platform reads. "Its rulers have discovered that economic freedom leads to national wealth. The next lesson is that political and religious freedom lead to national greatness. The exposure of the Chinese people to our way of lifecan be the greatest force for change in their country."