Tom Rogan: Mitt Romney as secretary of state would be a win for both the US and the world
Ultimately, the main beneficiary of a Romney appointment would be Trump himself, he says
Editor’s Note: Tom Rogan is a foreign policy columnist for National Review, a domestic policy columnist for Opportunity Lives, a former panelist on “The McLaughlin Group” and a senior fellow at the Steamboat Institute. Follow him on Twitter @TomRtweets. The views expressed in this commentary are his.
Around the world, US allies await the Trump administration with bated breath.
To be sure, the majority of our foreign friends don’t like the President-elect. They fear he is unstable and unpredictable. They worry he might shred NATO, or start a trade war, or give Eastern Europe to Russia.
But in the last two weeks these allies have become a little more optimistic. That’s because Trump’s Cabinet appointees, thus far, are seen as prudent and intelligent.
Defense Secretary-designate James Mattis is a case in point. Soon, our allies hope, Mitt Romney will take his place at the Cabinet table as secretary of state.
Their confidence is well-placed.
As secretary of state, Romney would be a win for both America and the world.
First off, Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, is a known quantity. His background and character has already undergone careful scrutiny by many foreign governments. And where foreign embassies watched Trump’s campaign with a mixture of amusement and terror, they’ve always seen Romney as serious – and, to be honest, a little boring. But facing Trump’s excited personality, boring is fine.
The British and French are likely the keenest on a Romney pick.
Senior British officials met Romney during his 2012 visit to London. And while Romney ruffled some UK feathers by outing a secret meeting with Britain’s foreign intelligence service, MI6, he made a good impression overall.
The French reflexively like Romney because he speaks their language and is seen as a man of cultured tastes. While some regard Trump Tower as a tribute to decadent beauty, the French see that gold-plated palace as condemningly classless.
In France, perception of personality greatly informs foreign policy. As an extension, the French regard Romney as someone who would form a close bond with their likely next president, François Fillon. But France also likes Romney because of his tough words on foreign policy. The French government is deeply disappointed with President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. They want the next US administration to play a more decisive role in the world.
Nevertheless, Romney’s record as a well-traveled businessman means he also finds favor with executives. On this count, he is seen as the best possible interlocutor – and influencer – for Trump’s foreign policy. That influence matters to allies who fear Trump may abandon free trade in favor of protectionism. But it’s also important in regard to Trump’s oft-stated affection for Vladimir Putin.
Today, many of America’s Eastern European allies fear that Trump might sacrifice their national sovereignty to placate the Russian leader as part of a broader “deal.” Yet, avowedly skeptical of Putin (remember the Romney-Obama debate showdown over Russia in 2012), Romney would cool allied nerves. More generally, he is seen as someone who would remain insulated from manipulation by US adversaries.
Over the last few years, desperate to consolidate the Iran nuclear deal, and find compromise in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry has been repeatedly manipulated by his Russian opposite, Sergey Lavrov. The result has been an unenforced Iranian nuclear deal that empowers the hardliners, and the burying of US credibility in the rubble of Aleppo. Romney’s realism, allies hope, would offer a new approach.
Ultimately however, the main beneficiary of a Romney appointment would be Trump himself. Ironically, the insults that Trump and Romney shared earlier this year are a source for opportunity. After all, if Trump picks Romney to be his secretary of state, Romney would be grateful.
At the same time, Romney would take his nomination as a sign that Trump values his honest advice. The President would thus have not only a loyal official, but one who is implicitly (albeit privately) expected to challenge him. As Trump moves to avoid new conflicts and mitigate existing chaos, that loyalty would be crucial.
Managing US foreign policy, Trump needs good assistants. In Mattis, he has an arrow against US adversaries. In Romney, he would have an olive branch.