David E. Sanger’s story in yesterday’s New York Times has the title of a foreign policy discussion: “Is There a Romney Doctrine?” As I launched into the piece, fully aware of the section in which it was rooted (Sunday Review), I was prepared for a thumb-sucker on how the Republican candidate viewed the world.
Boy, was I disappointed.
Though labeled “News Analysis,” the story went investigative on the Romney campaign and said as much about its approach to the media as its approach to Iran and China — a lot, that is. Sanger writes that Romney takes more bellicose views than those urged by his advisers:
Dozens of subtle position papers flow through the candidate’s policy shop and yet seem to have little influence on Mr. Romney’s hawkish-sounding pronouncements, on everything from war to nuclear proliferation to the trade-offs in dealing with China. In the Afghanistan case, “none of us could quite figure out what he was advocating,” one of Mr. Romney’s advisers said. He insisted on anonymity — as did a half-dozen others interviewed over the past two weeks — because the Romney campaign has banned any discussion of the process by which the candidate formulates his positions.
Bolded text added to note an unsurprising policy. However, given that Romney likes to promote himself as a managerial talent, why not allow some sunlight on the campaign’s inner workings?
Sanger ran into silence when he asked about the candidate’s position on negotiations with Iran, a step that some “advisers” support in order to prove to Russia and China “that every effort was made to come to a peaceful resolution,” according to the story. Even so, writes Sanger, “Several e-mails to the campaign asking for Mr. Romney’s position on the talks yielded no response.”
A passage on the Romney campaign’s Web site yields this nugget: “U.S. policy toward Iran must begin with an understanding on Iran’s part that a military option to deal with their nuclear program remains on the table. This message should not only be delivered through words, but through actions.”
It’s possible that the Romney campaign sees no need to expound any further on its Iran policy. The topic, after all, got a lot of rotation in the debates, and in newspaper opinion pieces under his byline, the candidate has written far and wide about his get-tough position on the country. Central features include tightening sanctions and a “military option.” Romney: “My plan includes restoring the regular presence of aircraft carrier groups in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously. It also includes increasing military assistance to Israel and improved coordination with all of our allies in the area.”
Yet it’s clear that Sanger caught the Romney campaign on a touchy subject, as evidenced in its responses to a nosy reporter. One adviser tells Sanger that he’d be “cashiered” if he were caught talking about the campaign and went on say, anomymously, that Romney doesn’t want to address these issues up front until he’s in office.
The most critical part of this piece comes from one of its anonymous sources: “But as in any campaign, there are outer circles, inner circles and inner-inner circles, and I’m not sure that anyone knows if the candidate has a strong view of his own on this.”
As Michael Crowley points out on Time’s Swampland blog, those various orbits themselves make it hard to judge Sanger’s representations about frustrations within the campaign’s foreign-policy apparatus.
When asked about the campaign’s reaction to Sanger’s reporting, spokeswoman Andrea Saul responded, “We speak with a single voice. Debate may be vigorous and broadly inclusive, but once a decision is made, we are all behind it 100 percent.”