Romney advisor on Syria: First, antagonize Russia, China

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What to do about the bloodshed in Syria? John Bolton, the gleefully hawkish former US ambassador to the UN and a top foreign policy adviser to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, argues in a National Review oped Monday that President Obama’s current policy is feckless and weak. Few surprises there.

But Bolton’s proscription for what a President Romney should do–essentially antagonize Russia and China, pull out of the new START arms control treaty, threaten Iran with war, and find secular, liberal (Ahmad Chalabi) types in Syria Americans would prefer rule the country–“‘assuming they exist”)–seems to help partly explain why some say Iran may prefer a Republican victory this fall. After all, such a course of action would seemingly quickly explode the international consensus on diplomatically isolating and economically pressuring Iran over its nuclear program.

Brief excerpt from Bolton’s piece below the fold, but go read the whole piece:

 

First and foremost, we should cut Syria off from its major supporters. The television images from Syria will not change permanently until the underlying strategic terrain changes permanently. Russia should be told in no uncertain terms that it can forget about sustained good relations with the United States as long as it continues to back Assad. We should resume full-scale, indeed accelerated, efforts to construct the limited missile-defense system designed by George W. Bush to protect American territory not against Russia but against rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. But we should immediately make it clear to Moscow that we will begin to consider broadening our missile-defense program to deal with Russian and Chinese ballistic-missile capabilities. We should also announce our withdrawal from the New START arms-control treaty, and our utter disinterest in negotiations to prevent an “arms race” in space. Let Moscow and Beijing think about all that for a while. …

 

Finally, in Syria itself, we should do now what we could have begun to do ten years ago (and what the Obama White House at least says it is doing now): find Syrian rebel leaders who are truly secular and who oppose radical Islam; who will disavow al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups; and who will reject Russian and Iranian hegemony over their country. We will need some reason to believe that this opposition can prevail against not only the Assad regime but also the terrorists and fanatics who also oppose Assad. This must be not a faith-based judgment but a clear-eyed assessment of reality. Such is the kind of opposition that, assuming it exists, we should support, aiming for regime change in Damascus when — and only when — it becomes feasible on our terms. On this matter, too, we should tell our European allies that we want their support for something other than semiotic diplomacy.

“This must not be a faith-based judgement” presumably the nod to a “clear-eyed assessment of reality” before picking the folks to back in a Syria regime change scenario.  (It didn’t work so well with Chalabi in Iraq, but one can hope for the best.)

Little wonder perhaps that some other members of Romney’s national security advisory team have been whispering to reporters their dismay that on national security matters, Romney has been listening most closely to “the Bolton faction,” as David Sanger put it in the New York Times last month:

“But what has struck both his advisers and outside Republicans is that in his effort to secure the nomination, Mr. Romney’s public comments have usually rejected mainstream Republican orthodoxy,” Sanger wrote. “They sound more like the talking points of the neoconservatives — the ‘Bolton faction,’ as insiders call the group led by John Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations. In a stormy tenure in the Bush administration, Mr. Bolton was often arguing that international institutions, the United Nations included, should be routed around because they so often frustrate American interests.”

(Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton (L) share a laugh during an event with war veterans in Hilton Head, South Carolina January 13, 2012.REUTERS/Jason Reed.)