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GOP candidates build foreign policy teams

By Josh Rogin,

The major Republican presidential candidates are still forming their brain trusts and foreign policy identities, and the vast majority of the party’s foreign policy professionals have yet to pick a horse. But here’s a very early look at how the candidates are positioning themselves:

l Mitt Romney: American primacy without overreaching

Romney is the furthest along of the major candidates in the development of his campaign’s foreign policy infrastructure. He already has a senior brain trust in place, and that team is establishing the type of foreign policy advisory groups that major campaigns need in a general election.

The core group includes Mitchell Reiss, a former State Department director of policy planning; former Massachusetts lieutenant governor Kerry Healey; former Missouri senator James M. Talent; former CIA counterterrorism chief J. Cofer Black; and Dan Senor, a former Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq spokesman. This group was also with Romney during his 2008 presidential run.

A senior Romney adviser told Foreign Policy that the Romney campaign is in the process of setting up a foreign policy structure that mimics the National Security Council. Working groups will be set up based on regional and functional specialties to develop policy positions. The groups’ ranks are to be filled in the coming weeks.

l Tim Pawlenty: Don’t call me a neocon

Pawlenty has already positioned himself as the anti-isolationist candidate. Behind the scenes, Pawlenty’s foreign policy team centers on two senior aides, campaign co-chair Vin Weber and senior foreign policy adviser Brian Hook.

Hook, a former assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, also was an adviser to two U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations: Zalmay Khalilzad and John R. Bolton. Weber, a former congressman from Minnesota and former head of the National Endowment for Democracy, worked with the neoconservative group Project for the New American Century and was an early supporter of the invasion of Iraq.

On specific issues such as President Obama’s approach to Israel, U.S. policy toward Iran or U.S.-Russia relations, Pawlenty often shares the views of leading GOP hawks in the Senate such as John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.). But Pawlenty doesn’t want to be identified as a neoconservative, and he doesn’t want his views to be tied to those senators in particular.

l Michele Bachmann: The tea party’s new hawk

Bachmann is increasingly vocal in her role as the tea party’s hawk, pushing the movement back toward the policies of military-based interventionism, filling the space within the tea party left vacant by its former leading hawk, Sarah Palin.

In a June 28 interview with NPR, Bachmann criticized Obama’s announcement to draw down troops in Afghanistan, accused the president of placing political considerations ahead of national security and implored the president to follow the advice of the outgoing top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who recommended a slow pace of withdrawal.

If that sounds close to the position of the leading GOP hawk senators, such as McCain, that’s because it is. In fact, Bachmann met with McCain in late June to discuss national security issues and Afghanistan, according to two sources familiar with the meeting. That’s not to say she is taking his advice directly, but she is seeking his counsel.

l Jon Huntsman: The realist foreign policy professional

There has been some reporting that Huntsman is being advised by a group of foreign policy realists, including former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage and Council on Foreign Relations President Richard N. Haass. But none of those advisers have committed to Huntsman publicly, and they are talking to other campaigns as well.

Huntsman keeps his own counsel on foreign policy matters. After all, he has been an ambassador twice and served as a top official at the office of the U.S. trade representative. The past two years spent as Obama’s ambassador to China will be a major focus of his candidacy, but it could prove to be both an asset and a liability.

Huntsman has been criticizing the Chinese on human rights, but he must largely stand by the Obama administration’s China policy — in which he once played an integral role. That policy is sure to come under fire from the other campaigns, which plan to argue that the United States has lost influence relative to China under Obama and Huntsman’s watch.

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