Others, who say they see no evidence that their views ever get past the political gatekeepers to the GOP presidential candidate, often find the discussions frustrating.
What is obvious to all of them is that foreign policy doesn’t matter much in a race that will rise or fall on the economy. Despite its daily criticism of President Obama’s management of America’s place in the world, the campaign has struggled to distinguish Romney from the incumbent.
After an overseas trip that left the impression among some Americans and others abroad that the former Massachusetts governor is not ready to steer the country through perilous international waters, senior campaign officials acknowledged that they need to sharpen their message and its delivery.
Beyond the Olympic slights in London and comments in Jerusalem that offended Palestinians, one official said it was a mistake to leave reporters to focus on gaffes, limiting the traveling press corps’ access to the candidate to only three questions on his first day of meetings and not a single news conference after that.
In interviews since Romney’s return, nearly a dozen campaign officials, advisers and GOP conservatives discussed his foreign policy positions and how they are decided and disseminated. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid stealing the candidate’s thunder and, in some cases, to criticize freely.
As the campaign regroups before the nominating convention and heads toward the race’s final stretch, they described specific ways in which Romney would exert American influence far more aggressively than the sitting president.
While Obama has focused on the limits of American power, they said, Romney would engage both allies and adversaries based on a belief that forceful U.S. activism is needed to shape world events.
Among other things, that could mean a more immediate hard-line approach to Iran’s nuclear program that may not appeal to the alliance Obama has formed to negotiate with Tehran.
“We don’t believe that Iran should have any enrichment capability whatsoever,” said Mitchell Reiss, a senior U.S. diplomat and close Romney adviser who also worked on Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign. “That is not what current policy is.. . . Can we change our allies’ position? I think we can.”
It could mean more direct U.S. support for Syrian rebels outside the United Nations and broad Friends of Syria framework.
“Obama has been saying for almost a year that [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad must go,” said Dan Senor, a senior Romney campaign official and foreign policy adviser. “It makes America look impotent.”
The shift would change the U.S. role in the Middle East peace process from mediator to open backer of Israel. Romney advisers say that in the past, Israel has shown a willingness to make concessions to the Palestinians when it is confident that its closest ally is behind it no matter what.