Fidel Castro’s death this past weekend provided the world with a glimpse of President-elect Trump’s foreign policy. President Obama issued an anodyne diplomatic statement, sending condolences to the Castro family and the people of Cuba, and praising Castro’s achievements. President-elect Trump issued a wonderfully moral condemnation of Castro’s atrocities and expressed sympathy with the brutal dictator’s victims.
Trump’s foreign policy will do more than invert the abysmal policies of the Obama years. It will redefine American diplomacy in starkly moral terms. The key player in effecting that change — on occasion perhaps even more central than the President himself — will be the Secretary of State. President Trump should appoint a chief diplomat who shares more than his worldview and policy instincts. He should appoint someone equally comfortable speaking the truth and dispensing with diplomatic cant.
That need becomes even clearer when looking beyond Cuba to the roiling cauldron of the Middle East. The U.S. must make clear that the Obama-Clinton-Kerry penchant for coddling terrorists and terror states while abandoning and defaming our allies is over. Several rumored candidates for that position share that bold vision, and have the temperament, guts, and loyalty to deliver what President-elect Trump (and the American voters) clearly want. Mitt Romney is not among them.
We reach this conclusion without being “anti-Romney.” Far from it. In 2012, we wrote of "the fundamental decency, the goodness and caring and humanity of Mitt Romney." In 2016, however, Romney led the establishment Republican attack on Trump. Far from recognizing the historic opportunity for positive change that Donald Trump represented, Romney — though not a candidate himself — made a gratuitous appearance to work overtime against Trump. When Romney launched the #NeverTrump movement with his impassioned speech last February, he abandoned the gracious and dignified persona he had long cultivated. He attacked Trump with fervor, creativity, and viciousness that he had never shown when the GOP’s voters had looked to him to defeat Barack Obama.
In disposition and in worldview, the coiffed, genteel, globalist, technocrat Romney is closer to John Kerry than to Trump. He would have been a logical choice had America selected a status quo Republican like Jeb Bush or John Kasich, keeping the business of State going as per usual with some fine-tuning around the edges. That’s not what the American public wants, or expects, from President Trump.
The country elected a tough negotiator, and no one makes more deals than the Secretary of State. The job description includes staring down the world’s worst megalomaniacs and tyrants — and the UN. It requires unflinchingly asserting America’s interests and values, smacking down America’s enemies, and getting the best deal possible for America. Imagine some tin-pot dictator reading back, verbatim, the demeaning and repulsive things that Secretary of State Romney had said about the president. Now imagine instead a Secretary of State like John Bolton, who led the charge to reform the UN, or Rudy Giuliani, who returned post-9/11 Saudi money that arrived with an implicit condemnation of the U.S. Which one seems closer to the blunt, morally clear dealmaker Americans elected? Who would more clearly be seen to speak for President Trump?
America also elected a man known to value loyalty — a virtue that tends to inculcate loyalty and dedication in turn. What message would it send were likeminded, highly qualified loyalists passed over for a harsh, demeaning critic — and potential rival?
Moving from the speculative to the specific, the discussions leading to the 2016 GOP platform have already exposed at least one key foreign policy difference between the Trump and Romney wings of the Republican Party that cause us particular concern. In 2016, with the blessing of Donald Trump, the active involvement of his key Israel advisors, and a standing ovation from a unanimous platform committee, the GOP adopted a revolutionary new Israel plank: it reiterated that Israel is not occupying the historic Jewish homeland, and it said nothing about the repeatedly tried-and-failed “Two-State Solution.” Similar language proposed in 2012 — and received warmly by the platform committee — failed because Romney’s inner circle have long been dedicated two-staters.
Setting aside any questions about Romney’s personal loyalty to Trump (about which there is considerable reason for skepticism) or his personal commitment to Israel (which we don’t doubt) — as strategists who contributed to the new GOP Israel policy we’ve seen no evidence that Romney’s unrepentant establishment brain trust has fallen in line behind the moral clarity of the President-elect and the GOP base, particularly on this issue. We are concerned that a Romney-led State Department will instead restore their dominance and stubbornly continue fomenting a discredited zero sum game “peace process” towards an unachievable two-state solution, simultaneously damaging Israel and emasculating Trump’s drive to Make America Great Again in foreign affairs.
We hesitate before advising Donald Trump about hiring and firing executive talent. But America recognized that the moment called for a Trump presidency. It deserves a Secretary of State who brings the bold Trump approach to the world of diplomacy. For reasons of loyalty, temperament, and substance, Mitt Romney is the wrong man for the moment.
Bruce Abramson is the President of Informationism, Inc., Vice President and Director of Policy at the Iron Dome Alliance, and a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.
Jeff Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic, Chairman of the Iron Dome Alliance, and a Senior Fellow at the American Conservative Union's Center for Statesmanship and Diplomacy.
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