David Petraeus. The Drudge Report is reporting that Romney met secretly with Petraeus in New Hampshire, and that Obama thinks Romney wants the retired four-star general and current CIA director as his vice president. “I can say with absolute confidence that such an assertion has never been uttered by the president," White House press secretary Jay Carney said on Tuesday.
Still, the Drudge item renewed speculation about Petraeus’s possible political ambitions, a favorite parlor game in Washington for years. When Petraeus was offered the CIA job rather than chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as most experts expected, there was even scuttlebutt that the White House was worried that the hero of the Iraq and Afghanistan “surges” would prove too popular and powerful to manage during a period of planned defense cutbacks.
The “August surprise” of Petraeus on the ticket would certainly energize Republicans. It would also represent the highest-profile foray into politics by a retired general since Wesley Clark ran for president as a Democrat in 2004, and arguably showcase the most attractive soldier-statesman candidate since Republican Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. Petraeus is widely considered a brilliant strategist and one of the most gifted leaders of his generation of officers, and no one better understands the crucial intersection between the military, intelligence, and diplomatic worlds. He is also expert in dealing with the press, and fits nicely into Romney’s narrative of reclaiming an era of “peace through [military] strength.”
Petraeus — whose wife, Holly, also has a job in the Obama administration — has long insisted that he has no interest in politics, however, and few even know whether he has Republican or Democratic leanings. At the top levels, the U.S. military tends to produce cautious pragmatists, and that may be a difficult fit for these hyper-partisan times.
Chuck Hagel. Despite attacking Obama consistently from the neoconservative right on foreign policy, Romney has a résumé that suggests a natural affinity for the more moderate “realist” or “pragmatic internationalist” wing of the Republican Party — moderate governor of a Northeastern state, successful in international business. His campaign is also being advised by some of the leading Republican realists and liberal internationalists, including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, and James Baker.
Any search for a vice presidential candidate with that worldview along with extensive military and foreign-policy experience would have former Secretary of State Colin Powell at the top, but he has been critical of Romney’s hard-line position on Russia and choice of some foreign-policy advisers who are “quite far to the right.” Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates also qualifies for this group, but he is disqualified by his service in the Obama administration.
Another prospect near the top of that short list of moderate Republican realists is Hagel, the former senator from Nebraska. A decorated hero of the Vietnam War as an infantryman (two Purple Hearts, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry), Hagel voted for the Iraq war before becoming a vociferous critic of the Bush administration’s handling of it. He thus has avoided some of the Iraq war tarnish that some Republicans carry. An attractive campaigner, Hagel’s defense and international-affairs credentials are also impeccable: Since retiring from the Senate in 2009, Hagel has served as chairman of the Atlantic Council, cochairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, and a member of the secretary of Defense’s Policy Board. Hagel was also rumored to be a possible Obama pick for vice president in 2008 — a rumor he did little to dispel, suggesting he is not averse to taking up residency at the Naval Observatory.
John Bolton. If, on the other hand, Romney truly believes that Russia is our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” really plans to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office, and is serious about confronting Iran militarily over its suspected nuclear-weapons program sooner rather than later, then he might consider uber-hawk and close campaign adviser Bolton for vice president. Such a pick would certainly prove popular with a tea party base that finds Bolton’s “don’t tread on me” unilateralism and nationalism bracing, and backs the “finger-in-the-eye” approach to diplomacy that Bolton personified as George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations.
In recent commentary in National Review Online, Bolton left little question of the advice he would offer if Romney is inaugurated on Jan. 20: The U.S. should withdraw from the New START arms-control treaty with Russia; accelerate a missile-defense system and launch an arms race in space seeking to neutralize the strategic arsenals of both Russia and China; tell Iran that U.S. patience with them has ended, presenting a “stark choice” that leaves “to their imagination” the military devastation to follow; and arm the Syrian rebels fighting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. “The magnitude of such a shift as a response to the conflict in Syria may seem startling, but each of these proposals is meritorious on its own terms,” wrote Bolton, who has acted as a Romney foreign-policy surrogate on the campaign trail. “It’s time for a wake-up call to the Kremlin and [China].”