Known Unknowns / The Fight Club

Let’s assume this is a two-man race, as none of the second-tier candidates appear capable of competing with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.

Are we forgetting Herman Cain? And his evolving thinking on foreign policy? “When they ask me who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki stan-stan,” Cain said, “I’m going to say, ‘[Y]ou know, I don’t know.’ ”

Cain was trying to explain that as president he will draw on the experience of his White House foreign policy staff. He’s irrelevant, albeit amusing.

Who is advising the candidates who actually matter?Let’s begin with an e-mail sent on April 7, 2003:

To: Doug Feith

From: Donald Rumsfeld

Subject: Issues w/Various Countries

We need more coercive diplomacy with respect to Syria and Libya, and we need it fast. If they mess up Iraq, it will delay bringing our troops home.

We also need to solve the Pakistan problem.

And Korea doesn’t seem to be going well.

Are you coming up with proposals for me to send around?


Both the sender and the recipient of the e-mail are Rick Perry’s foreign-policy brain trust. That tells all we need to know. The casual exchange between two American exceptionalists remaking the world recalls the arrogance that led the nation into Iraq.

As a candidate, George W. Bush was home-schooled for months on foreign policy. Perry is taking the short course, coordinated by Rumsfeld and led by Feith, whom Iraq War commander General Tommy Franks described as the “dumbest fucking man on the planet.”

As Rumsfeld’s No. 3 man in Foggy Bottom, Feith persuaded the Bush administration to make Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction the rationale for going to war in Iraq. Feith also was in charge of Iraq’s prisons when the Abu Ghraib story broke.

Let’s give Perry credit for the ideas he developed before Feith was his tutor. “My faith requires me to support Israel,” Perry said in 2009. No ambiguity there. Perry has been a long-time critic of the United Nations, a meme he began to work into speeches as soon as he entered the race.

In August, he said, “We cannot concede the moral authority of our nation to multilateral debating societies.” (Like the U.N. and NATO.) In the September 22 debate: “As a matter of fact, I think it’s time for us to have a very serious discussion about defunding the United Nations.”

He would also cut funding to the Palestinian Authority, arguably boosting the influence of Hamas. The Texas governor is eager to return to the go-it-alone, muscular foreign policy that served the country so well in Iraq and Afghanistan.


The Fight Club

When Mitt Romney was running for president four years ago, he called on the Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon for foreign policy advice. O’Hanlon is a hawkish policy intellectual who focuses on Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s also a Democrat.

Romney won’t be calling on O’Hanlon again. He has turned to a team of veterans of the Bush administration, the architects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Cofer Black ran the CIA’s counterterrorism center before 2001 — which in itself might disqualify him as an advisor.

Then he moved on to the private sector as vice chairman of Blackwater USA (now Xe Services), the private security contractor whose mercenaries ran amuck in Iraq, until the killing of 14 unarmed civilians in 2007 cost the company its contract. (Last month, four former Blackwater guards charged with the massacre of civilians in Iraq in 2007 went to the Supreme Court with a procedural appeal to block their prosecution. Black is now the chairman of an intelligence-gathering firm that is a subsidiary of Blackwater Worldwide.)

Robert Kagan, along with neocon celebrity Bill Kristol, was one of the founders of the Project for the New American Century, the small foreign-policy think-tank that promoted full-scale military intervention in Iraq.

Kagan and Kristol were pushing the U.S. Army into Iraq even before George W. Bush took the country there in 2003, writing open letters to Bill Clinton, urging him to use military force to overthrow Saddam Hussein. The two neocons also claimed that Hussein had links to al Qaeda and possessed weapons of mass destruction.

A more obscure Romney advisor is Walid Phares, best known as a Fox News talking head, whose specialty is terrorism. In an earlier career, according to political scientist As’ad AbuKhalil, Phares was allied with a right-wing sectarian Christian militia that Israel supported in Lebanon’s civil war, which began in the mid-’70s and continued for 15 years.

He was also the founder of a small Christian political party in Lebanon. No blood on Phares’s hands, but the militias were responsible for a number of human-rights atrocities in Lebanon.

Romney has recruited a few advisers who are closer to the Republican Party’s mainstream, such as John Danilovich, former C.E.O. of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a visionary foreign aid funding office established by George W. Bush.

But with Dan Senor, Eliot Cohen, Paula Dobriansky — all suits on the ground in Bush’s Iraq and Afghan wars — teamed up with Cofer, Kagan, et al, Romney has reunited the foreign-policy visionaries who led the country into Iraq — just as Barack Obama is bringing the troops home.

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