Carol Felsenthal
On politics

A Look at Romney’s Foreign Policy Adviser, Chicagoan Richard Williamson

At a GOP fundraiser Thursday night, former Vice President Dick Cheney said that Mitt Romney is the best to lead the country in international crises. Shaping that foreign policy in the coming months will be Chicago attorney Richard Williamson, one of Romney’s advisers charged with persuading voters that Mitt, who has zero experience in international matters, would do better than President Obama…

At a GOP fundraiser Thursday night, former Vice President Dick Cheney said that Mitt Romney is the “only” man who could make good decisions in international crises. Shaping that foreign policy in the coming months will be Chicago attorney Richard Williamson, one of Romney’s advisers charged with enumerating President Obama’s blunders abroad—and persuading voters that Mitt, who has zero experience in international matters, would do better. 

That tough task may be made harder by the Romney himself, who is prone to saying things that seem off-kilter, like in an interview with CBS News on May 31st, when he gave Obama an F “across the board” on foreign policy. An F for the man who ordered the death of Osama Bin Laden and who, with an unexpected iron will, uses drones to kill suspected terrorists—and continues even when faced with the fact that the drones sometimes hit innocents as well? And then there’s the fact that Obama has three-plus years of the sort of experience only available to the Commander-in-Chief, including relationships with many key foreign leaders, German Chancellor Angela Merkel chief among them.

Still, the 63-year-old Williamson, who has served on the foreign front for three Republican presidents, seems up to the challenge. He certainly has the experience needed to advise Romney: He was Bush’s Special Envoy to Sudan, playing a role, while living in Sudan, in resolving the crisis in Darfur. He also had a hand in delivering international aid to East Timor, as well as in bringing assistance to Ethiopian refugees and Sierra Leonean abuse victims. In 2004, Williamson led a team of United Nations members in monitoring elections in Afghanistan. He has also served as ambassador to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs, ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations, and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs. Here in Chicago, Williamson serves on the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and has been a partner at both Mayer Brown and Winston & Strawn.

In his spare time, the Evanston-born father of three has been a “visiting scholar” at Northwestern University and a senior fellow at Washington’s Brookings Institution. He is also the author of seven books and scores of articles, former Chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, and now partner in Salisbury Strategies, a consulting company offering “strategic advice for international business and administrative and regulatory issues.” The Princeton and University of Virginia Law grad has strong public opinions on President Obama’s performance as commander in chief, and he’s been offering them freely on television and in print. Here’s a sampling:

On Iran: Obama is given to “naivete and weakness.” Obama’s leadership on Iran (and Syria) is “feckless and ineffective…. Iran knows there is no credible military threat from Barack Obama.” Williamson told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that “when the Green Revolution had citizens seeking their own rights on the streets of Tehran, [Obama] was muted as they were beaten, arbitrarily arrested, raped and, in some cases, …killed. And then he continued to go to the U.N. with a ‘Mother, may I’ approach…. to allow China and Russia to decide what sanctions could go forward….. This president doesn’t have a credible military threat out there. And as Bismarck said, diplomacy without the threat of force is music without the instruments.” 

On North Korea: Asked if he would have given the order to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, Romney said, “Of course. Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.”  Echoing his boss in raising the Carter specter, Williamson wrote in Foreign Policy magazine that such actions as North Korea’s long-range missile test “may be bringing us to a juncture at which the inexperience and incompetence of a presidency crystallizes in the public mind. In short, we are approaching a Jimmy Carter moment. In a perilous world, this is not the kind of leadership our country needs.”

On Syria: He says Obama has allowed the violence to grow into a crisis with potential region-wide and horrific impact. Williamson told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Romney favors arming “the moderate elements” in the Syrian opposition and putting a stop to the Obama administration’s “Mother, may I” moves as it works with Russia and China on its Syria policy.

On Israel: While visiting the country, Williamson promised that Romney would make Israel his first trip abroad, and he told an audience that “when” Mitt Romney is elected president, “Iran will understand that there is a new sheriff in town and that his position is that the only thing worse than the U.S. using force would be for Iran to have nuclear weapons.” Referring to Vice President Joe Biden’s anger over news of settlement construction that broke during his visit to Israel in March 2010, Williamson guaranteed,  “In a Romney Administration, an American vice president won’t act like a teenager and keep the elected prime minister of Israel waiting for 45 minutes for dinner because of a personal pique.” (According to some reports, Biden kept Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waiting for 90 minutes.)

On China: Specifically on Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer and anti-forced-abortion/excessive-enforcement-of-one-child policy activist  who sought refuge in the American embassy last April and is now studying at NYU Law in Manhattan, Williamson told CNN’s Amanpour that Romney would push the Chinese on human rights issues much harder than Obama has. “….We have an obligation to… be public in our support for the dissident, and I was disappointed a few days ago when President Obama was asked, and he made generalities and didn’t address this specific case.” He added that “like Ronald Reagan, [Romney] feels our values have defined the country and should animate our foreign policy.… Always we should be willing to speak out for the values we believe in. And that’s in contrast to the backburner, the secondary role they played under President Obama.”

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