During the very start of George W. Bush's first presidential run in mid-1999, Robert Zoellick -- now head of the World Bank -- was tasked with organizing a myriad of advisory committees to the Bush Campaign.
The focus of these committees ranged from trade to the domestic economy to national security questions on many tiers and across regions. At the time, it appeared that Zoellick had tied up most of the high quality policy practitioners who tilted Republican or Independent across Washington's rich think tank ecosystem, thus stealing most of the creative op-ed writing and policy punditry talent away from other Republican contenders.
Interestingly, after John McCain lost the primary battle with George W. Bush, McCain began investing much more heavily in building relationships with key think tanks -- including the New America Foundation -- and also launched a couple of think tanks himself, one on media reform and the other on campaign finance.
Mitt Romney may be taking a page out of the George W. Bush/Zoellick playbook in the announcement this past Friday of his roster of national security advisers. While I found myself disappointed in Romney's articulation of a foreign policy vision, I was much more impressed by those names who appear, and also don't appear, on Romney's advisory list.
I can't remember a time when I haven't seen Bill Kristol listed as a key national security adviser to the frontrunning GOP candidate, but his name is not there. Elliot Abrams, a top tier national security voice in the G. W. Bush White House and senior staff at the Council on Foreign Relations, also did not make the list.
Frank Gaffney, President of the Center for Security Policy, who has been an active proponent of the anti-Sharia fearmongering movement in America is also not listed. John Bolton is not there, at least not in person -- though perhaps in spirit via a couple of proxies. The American Enterprise Institute's Danielle Pletka is not listed on the female-light list, though her husband is on one of the working groups.
Interestingly, out of the top 24 advisers Romney announced, only three are women -- Paula Dobriansky, Kerry Healy, and Meghan O'Sullivan.
Among the Advisers are Cofer Black -- who used to run some of the key anti-terror black ops before becoming Vice Chairman of Blackwater (which is left off of his official bio tag on Romney's site); former UN Management Official Christopher Burnham who is known to be very close to former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton; former Department of Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff and former NSA Director General Michael Hayden -- two of the countries leading authorities on cybersecurity and broad homeland security. Both Chertoff and Hayden are the Chuck Hagels of the list -- mostly non-ideological, completely pragmatic and realistic in their views -- a real counterbalance to some of the others on the roster.
Eliot Cohen and Robert Kagan are on the list -- both the most erudite and intellectually honest of the neoconservative establishment. They are the best, with perhaps only Francis Fukuyama their equal -- but Fukuyama is for the moment ducking the political scene as he builds his new nest of work at Stanford University. David Frum, whom I respect, would be a good addition to the Romney neoconservative bench in my view -- and pretty much supports Romney, I think, over the anti-intellectual pale shades of Palin that are his GOP rivals.
John Danilovich is not a household name -- but then neither has the Millennium Challenge Corporation ever become a real headliner. Danilovich used to head the MCC during the Bush years and did an admirable job of working to keep American aid and development assistance moving to nations where it would make a measurable difference. So many want to cut all international assistance that I think it's symbolically important that Romney wanted to show he had people like Danilovich and former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky on board to show a commitment to broad international engagement and to the reform and further development of international institutions. Interestingly, the section on engagement and institutions was about the only really good part of Mitt Romney's recent foreign policy address.
Former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman, also on the list, is an interesting guy whom I have gotten to know recently -- but he was John Bolton's next to best friend in the U.S. Senate during the 21 month battle the G. W. Bush administration waged to try and get Bolton's Ambassadorial appointment to the UN confirmed. Bolton's best friend was probably Senator Jon Kyl -- but Coleman, who has been active in U.S.-China circles of late, could be a proxy of sort for some of John Bolton's more pugnacious, "pound Iran a lot, hug Israel more" posture on foreign policy.