Richard Williamson, former Ambassador to the United Nations for special political affairs and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s senior foreign policy adviser, addresses questions about the differences between Romney and President Obama’s foreign policy plans.
Transcript available after the jump.
O’BRIEN: Let’s focus on some – actually what Jim Acosta just said. Let’s talk about that first. As you heard, there was a phone call with some of the foreign policy advisers and when they listed sort of the foreign policy that maybe Mitt Romney would be, I guess, fashioning his own after they listed as Jim Acosta just told me – Kennedy, Truman, Clinton, Democratic presidents.
Does that an indication of moving to the center for somebody like Governor Romney?
RICHARD WILLIAMSON, FORMER ASST. SECRETARY OF STATE: First, thanks very much for letting me be here.
Today, the governor’s going to lay out a clear contrast between his views on foreign policy and national security and those of Barack Obama. And there’s two elements that really deserve emphasis.
One, President Obama has tended to be passive. He’s led from behind. That’s contributed to the turmoil throughout the broader Middle East, where Governor Romney believes America must draw upon its exceptionalism and provide leadership and that America and the world is better off.
And second, that peace through strength is the criteria that should guide our foreign policy. The peace through strength approach began after World War II with Harry Truman, continued with Kennedy through Reagan. It’s the mainstream of the foreign policy, one that Governor Romney embraces.
O’BRIEN: Forgive me for interrupting.
WILLIAMSON: It’s really been President Obama who’s been the outlier. It’s really been President Obama who’s had a different approach.
O’BRIEN: OK. When Jim Acosta reports that foreign policy advisers are saying it’s President Kennedy, President Truman, President Clinton, that’s how Mitt Romney would sort of look to that foreign policy strategy, all Democratic presidents, he said that could be read as possibly a move toward the center. Is that unfair to say?
WILLIAMSON: Well, it’s a move to America’s traditional engagement with the world and a rejection of the weak leadership over the last four years which contributed to the turmoil throughout the broader Middle East that we have today.
O’BRIEN: OK. Let’s talk specifics. Iran – we know from some of the excerpts that have been sent out already. Mitt Romney’s going to say this as part of his speech: “I will put the leaders of Iran on notice that the United States and our friends and allies will prevent them from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions on Iran.”
As you well know, sir, there are people who’ve said the position on Iran for both the President and Mitt Romney is very, very, very similar.
WILLIAMSON: Well, Soledad, we would disagree with that. The President came to power with a hand outreached for engagement. He kept quiet during the green revolution when those seeking freedom and space with civil society in Tehran were being beaten, arbitrarily arrested and even killed. And he’s continued to reach out.
These sanctions he’s now imposing now actually were forced on him by Democratic Senator Menendez and Republican Senator Mark Kirk. The White House opposed those.
So, the message in Tehran has been one of weakness. And not resolve. You know, Bismarck, the great leader in Europe in the 19th century once said that diplomacy without the use of force is music without instruments.
And this administration doesn’t have credibility. The result is that the President of Iran comes to the United States, and he – he says that Israel should be eliminated. He says that we don’t have a right to contain his nuclear breakout. Then our president doesn’t have the time to meet with our best ally in the region, Bibi Netanyahu but goes on Whoopi Goldberg. It’s just a contrast in approach.
O’BRIEN: As you know, critics have continued to have a field day with Governor Romney when he has spoken about foreign policy. The Olympics would be an example. The headliner there was “Mitt the Twit” because some of the gaffes he made there.
When he was speaking to Wolf Blitzer back in March, he said this about Russia: “Russia is without question our number one geopolitical foe.” There’s a lot of fallout about that. Recently talking about the Spanish economy, which made Spaniards very, very unhappy.
Are these going to be things that are difficult to overcome when he is also, polls show, as we started the piece, well – decently behind President Obama on foreign policy?
WILLIAMSON: Well, the American people have big, bold choices to make a month from now on Election Day. On the domestic side they have these record deficits versus moving to a balanced budget. They have President Obama’s anemic record on job creation versus Governor Romney’s comprehensive plan.
In foreign affairs they have a contrast between passivity and listlessness versus bold leadership. They have a contrast between managing the decline of America, weaker defense versus stronger defense. And I think those are the issues that matter.
It’s very interesting to me for example with the hubbub of what happened immediately after Benghazi when the reporters for a few days were focused on what Mitt Romney said and when about the apology that came out of the Egyptian embassy, the U.S. embassy. In fact, his statements were very consistent with what the secretary of state said seven hours later.
O’BRIEN: Right. But the problem was that they pre –
WILLIAMSON: Shooting before you aim. But it was he who shot before he aimed because he was talking at the time of spontaneous demonstrations. Now, reluctantly they’ve admitted there was a preplanned terrorist attack.
O’BRIEN: Wouldn’t you argue both were wrong? I mean, one to say it was not a preplanned attack, obviously they changed that. You’re right. That was completely erroneous.
But at the same time, to put out a statement before – to criticize a statement that had been put out earlier that was also shooting from the hip? I thought both were deemed to be in error, I would say. Both of them were both in error on that, sir.
WILLIAMSON: Well, with all due respect, you’re entitled to your opinion. But what Governor Romney said was that when the U.S. Egyptian embassy issued a statement that implied this was all the result of a video and apologized for the video, apologized for American values, they were wrong.
And the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed with Mitt Romney when she made her statement the next morning. So, the substance, there’s no disagreement on. It was Chicago political talking points that a lot of reporters who engage about the timing.
O’BRIEN: No. He was criticizing – he was criticizing an apology that had been put out by the Benghazi district that had said that it came from the White House. That was what happened then. That is not exactly accurate, sir.
O’BRIEN: I am happy to continue this conversation.
WILLIAMSON: With all due respect –
O’BRIEN: You want to pull the transcripts on it. More than happy to do that. Miguel, will you grab those for us? We’ll talk about it in our next segment. You bet. That’s one of the things we could do now.
Ambassador Richard Williamson, we’re out of time, but, of course, we loved talking to you. He’s a former Assistant Secretary of State –
WILLIAMSON: Thank you.
O’BRIEN: – and Mitt Romney campaign senior foreign policy adviser, joining us this morning. We’ll pull those notes on that. Obviously, the transcripts and get that to you.