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Jennifer Rubin on Bob Zoellick: How To Stroke An Angry Hawk

The uproar among conservatives yesterday over alarmingly pro-health care statements by Mitt Romney and his chief spokeswoman was not the only split that emerged on the right. There was also quite a stir among conservative foreign policy mavens over the announcement that Bob Zoellick, recently retired from leading the World Bank, would be overseeing the transition for national security should Romney win in November. This set off giant alarm bells within the neo-conservative camp, which regards Zoellick as a weak-kneed "realist," not least for his conciliatory stance toward China. Romney's team of foreign policy advisers is as scrambled as is the state of Republican foreign policy thinking generally these days, but the neo-cons had seemed to be gaining the upper hand of late, if Romney's chest-thumping speeches in Reno (to the VFW) and Jerusalem (to Sheldon Adelson et al) were to be believed. But Zoellick's installation to oversee the transition buttresses the Washington hands who say (hope?) that Romney is all campaign bluster and will eventually allow the real adults to step out of the shadows.

That all remains to be seen. What we can say for now is that it is comical to watch how the campaign has gone about trying to allay the hawks agitated over Zoellick's emergence. From Josh Rogin's comprehensive report on all this for The Cable:

"Mitt Romney's made clear that he has conservative views on foreign policy and defense and those aren't the views of Pragmatic Bob," one campaign foreign-policy advisor who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the issue told The Cable. "I've been reassured that this is walled off from policy, but he's an aggressive guy and he has his sights on being secretary of state, so there is obviously suspicion among people who were close to Romney before he was the presumptive nominee."
The idea that Zoellick will be not be involved in setting campaign policy before the election is central to the campaign's internal argument for keeping him in his new post. Several sources close to the campaign told The Cable that Chen and other top campaign officials have been calling Republican experts and former officials to assure them that Zoellick's role will be firewalled off from the campaign's other activities and will only focus on what happens after Romney's inauguration.
"Zoellick has no influence in the campaign and his appointment really means nothing for anything that happens over the next two and a half months in terms of the campaign," Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol told The Cable. "Bob Zoellick is an extremely able guy who is willing to do this and that's great. The enemies of Zoellick are scared it means something big, but I think it's being way overblown."

So let me get this straight: the neocons are supposed to feel better because Zoellick will only have influence after the election -- that is, when actual policy and personnel decisions will be made, including on, say, the crisis with Iran? Isn't the campaign basically telling the neo-cons that they are being used now for their conveniently rah-rah rhetoric, but that they will be shunted aside when it's time to get down to business? Isn't that essentially like a guy telling his girlfriend du jour, don't worry about that other one you see me making eyes at -- I'm not going to have anything to do with her now, only when I'm ready to get serious with someone?

Well, it was good enough for Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post's conservative blogger and a loyal tribune for the neo-con contingent. She assured her readers that Zoellick's being put in charge of actually assembling a Romney administration national security team meant little.

Zoellick has no preexisting relationship with Mitt Romney, according to those who know both men. Multiple campaign sources confirmed to me that Zoellick specified to the Romney campaign that he does not want a position in the administration should Romney win the election, having recently accepted a job at Harvard University.
Sources in the campaign as well as advisers who have been providing advice on an ad hoc basis tell me that the decision to bring him on was made by the transition chief, former Utah governor Mike Leavitt. Moreover, sources tell me that policy chief Lanhee Chen and foreign policy director Alex Wong were not consulted about the move, nor were other top advisers with Washington foreign policy experience. These advisers would have tipped Leavitt to the problems with Zoellick’s selection and the deep antipathy felt toward Zoellick by scores of foreign policy hawks.
Zoellick, apparently unknown to Leavitt, couldn’t be a worse match for Romney. The former governor of Utah prizes collaboration and teamwork, while legions of those who have worked with Zoellick are candid that he “does not play well with others.” Romney’s tough stance on China and his deeply felt affection for Israel are also at odds with Zoellick’s “multilateral mush,” as one key campaign adviser described his views. 

Right. I'm sure Romney, who prides himself on his picking good leadership teams, had no say in the person his old friend Mike Leavitt was selecting to oversee national security transition. And I'm sure Bob Zoellick will insist on staying in an obviously place-holder post in academia even if offered a major administration job. Heck, if we knew the hawks this easy to mollify, we might never have needed to invade Iraq!

*Note: post was updated at 6:20 p.m. Thursday with the romantic analogy.

follow me on Twitter @AlecMacGillis