WASHINGTON— Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is known for his abilities in the corporate world, but he has been criticized for lacking foreign policy experience. Dov Zakheim, who served at the Department of Defense during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, is among Romney's foreign policy advisers.
Romney has said his first foreign trip as president would be to Israel. During his visit there in July, he lashed out against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"The dictator in Damascus, no friend to Israel and no friend to America, slaughters his own people as he desperately clings to power," Romney told an audience in Jerusalem.
Syrian security forces and rebels have been battling for more than a year. The United Nations estimates that at least 20,000 people have been killed in the bloodshed.
Adviser Dov Zakheim says the Republican nominee would aid the rebels.
"Romney has made it very clear that he would do all that it takes to get arms to the rebels -- that means money, that means equipment," said Zakheim. He added that to achieve this goal, the U.S. likely would work more closely with other countries that support the rebels.
Iran's Nuclear Ambitions
During his visit to Israel, Romney also had strong words for Iran's leaders.
"We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so," said the nominee.
Iran is pursuing a nuclear enrichment program, despite United Nations sanctions. Tehran says the program is peaceful, but it has not given U.N. nuclear inspectors access to disputed sites.
Zakheim says Romney would make sure Iran does not have even the capability to make a nuclear weapon.
"Mr. Romney, as a fresh face, as a new start, would come in and say 'no enrichment, no exemptions' and, of course, back that up with a serious promise of the use of force, which frankly we hope we won't have to use," Zakheim said.
At the Democratic Party presidential convention, President Barack Obama criticized his challenger's foreign policy credentials.
"After all, you don't call Russia our number one enemy -- not al-Qaida, Russia -- unless you're still stuck in a Cold War mind warp," said Mr. Obama, prompting cheers from the crowd.
Romney has referred to Russia as America's "number one geopolitical foe." Zakheim says it is because Russia's behavior is "not conducive to improving the world situation."
At the U.N. Security Council, Russia has blocked U.S.-supported resolutions on Syria aimed at stopping the fighting there, and Russia also has opposed stronger actions to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"Our concern with Russia again is not that we see them as an enemy because we don't," explained Zakheim. "Our concern with Russia is that they seem to be backsliding in terms of human rights, in terms of aggressiveness toward their neighbors."
As the political campaign season in the United States ramps up ahead of the November election, the war in Afghanistan is winding down. The United States plans to withdraw its combat forces in 2014.
If elected, Romney is not bound to adhere to that 2014 withdrawal timetable.
"As of now, 2014 is on the schedule and Mr. Romney is prepared to abide by it, if the military is comfortable," said Zakheim.
To get supplies into Afghanistan, the U.S. relies on routes through neighboring Pakistan, but tensions remain heightened between Washington and Islamabad.
The U.S. has long been frustrated with insurgent havens in Pakistan. The U.S. has used drones to strike suspected terrorist targets there, which Islamabad says violates its sovereignty. Last year, U.S. Navy Seals raided a compound in the Pakistani garrison city of Abbottabad and killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Pakistan remains a major recipient of U.S. foreign aid.
The U.S.-Pakistani relationship calls for "a much more sophisticated approach," Zakheim says.
"That means not cutting off aid entirely but maybe directing it in more effective and efficient ways," the policy adviser explained. "It means still maintaining a relationship with the military, but what that relationship is like, how we give them money, in what sense and to what purpose and to what end and to whom -- those are very important questions that need to be answered."
Romney has repeatedly said he would designate China a currency manipulator, a label that could lead to sanctions. The Republican nominee also pledged to counter what he says are abusive Chinese practices in the areas of trade and intellectual property. Zakheim says Romney does "not see China as a natural enemy."
In Africa, foreign policy adviser Zakheim says Romney would continue to support programs that battle terrorism and those that promote development and health. Zakheim highlighted the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR, which began under President George W. Bush and continued under President Obama.
Zakheim noted that bipartisan foreign policy is possible, if the policies are good ones.