Grenell On Foreign Policy And Being Gay In The GOP

Richard Grenell recently explained that Mitt Romney chose him to serve as his foreign policy adviser based on his record and abilities. The Romney campaign, he says, also knew he was openly gay. Grenell explains why he resigned, and where Romney and President Obama differ on foreign policy.

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NEAL CONAN, HOST:

Richard Grenell explained in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece that Mitt Romney chose him to serve as his foreign policy spokesman based on his record and his abilities. The Romney campaign, he says, and every other Republican, also knew he was gay. Still, shortly after his appointment, Grenell resigned, citing criticism from some conservatives and what he described as hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues. While the campaign is expected to focus on the economy this fall, candidate Romney also attacks President Obama's foreign policy and declares that as president he would pursue unapologetic U.S. global leadership.

MITT ROMNEY: American foreign policy must be prosecuted with clarity and resolve. Our friends and allies must have no doubts about where we stand, and neither should our rivals.

CONAN: Richard Grenell will join us in a moment from a studio in Grand Rapids. If you have questions for him about gay conservatives or about Mitt Romney's foreign policy, give us a call. 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversion on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK ON THE NATION. Richard Grenell, nice to have you with us today.

RICHARD GRENELL: Thanks, Neal. Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And did the controversy that developed over your sexuality make it impossible to do your job?

GRENELL: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I was hired because of my experience in dealing with national security issues, and obviously my desire to confront President Obama's weak record when it comes to foreign policy issues. And what became increasingly clear is just that the far right and the far left, which a lot of media are not focusing on the far left's responsibility here, but the far right and the far left together really just wanted to talk about my personal life.

CONAN: And there was a story in The New York Times that said at one point you were trying to get together a conference on national security, your expertise, and you were asked by the Romney campaign to lay low for a little while.

GRENELL: Yeah. I mean, again, what became increasingly clear is that this fervor on the left and the right didn't want me to do my job. They really wanted to talk about gay marriage and, you know, a lot of my personal life. And, you know, for me, I don't have the luxury of being a one-issue voter. I wish I did. I'm much more thoughtful and complex than that. But the narrative that was developing is that, you know, gays can't be conservative. The claim that gays should be barred from conservative activism is a bipartisan bigoted view. And what I saw from the left is they didn't want a person to be - a gay person to be conservative. And the far right didn't want a conservative to be gay.

CONAN: Some of the questions, and you've gotten many more than I have, so I will bow to your greater expertise on this as well. But some of the questions said how could someone who is openly gay, has a partner, supports gay marriage, in fact would like to be married, as I understand it, support a presidential - indeed, work for a presidential candidate who says he'll work for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage everywhere?

GRENELL: Look, I'm very comfortably gay and comfortably conservative. If you're looking to agree with a politician's position on every single issue, well, then congratulations because you're the candidate. Most of us realize that you have to prioritize issues. You have a bunch of complicated issues. When you go into the voting booth, you are making a decision on who best represents your worldview. And for me, that's clearly Mitt Romney. I mean, if you look at the president's record with Russia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Mexico, our neighbor to the south, it's just overwhelming to me that this president does not want America to be the leader. He wants us to be one of many. And that's not a worldview that I want for America, and it's not a view that I want to vote for.

CONAN: So let me ask you about some of those issues, and again, you are the former Romney spokesman. You do not speak for the campaign any longer. So your views are your own. But the...

GRENELL: Correct. But they - but let me just, you know, say one thing. They are based on, you know, eight years of being the American spokesman at the U.N. for ambassadors.

CONAN: Oh, I'm not saying you're not an expert, but...

GRENELL: Sure. No, no, no. I'm not implying that. But I think it's important since we're talking about being a gay conservative and the campaign and what happened on the campaign. It's important to note that this wasn't an issue when I worked within the Bush administration and government. I draw the distinction between hyper-partisan campaigns and governing. And so, you know, for me, there's two different kind of scenarios that someone subscribes to. And I very willingly signed up for the campaign, but realized the hyperpartisan nature of it was going to prohibit me from doing my job.

CONAN: What would a President Romney do differently than President Obama is now doing with Iran? The sanctions that are accelerating have just about crippled the economy there.

GRENELL: Oh, I think that's foolish to say that it's crippled the economy. The sanctions clearly are not working. And let me just back up a little bit and say the Bush administration put five resolutions on Iran into place. And again, those U.N. sanctions on Iran during the Bush administration did not work. This administration, the Obama administration, has so far only been able to produce one U.N. resolution.

For an administration, for a candidate, I should say, candidate Obama, who promised to lead the world, when it comes to leading the U.N., he's a miserable failure. Susan Rice, who is our U.S. ambassador, has been unable or unwilling to really - to bring Russia and China to the table. Again, I want to point to the fact that in the Bush administration, we got five U.N. resolutions on Iran. This administration has gotten one.

So the Obama team decided that sanctions via the U.N. were not working, and I think that's a good analysis. And so they decided to go with kind of a coalition of the willing for sanctions and pushed our friends and allies to have oil sanctions on Iran. But if you look at the record of leading other countries to implement those oil sanctions on Iran, again, the Obama administration is unable or unwilling to get our friends and allies to go along.

You look at South Korea, India, China, a bunch of countries in Europe. We're just failing when it comes to implementing the oil sanctions. Yet, the White House is trying to spin that the sanctions are working, and clearly, you know, they got through to you because you are saying that the sanctions are working. If the oil sanctions were working, we would see Iran completely implode. That is their economy.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. Our guest, again, the former spokesman on foreign policy for Mitt Romney, Richard Grenell. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Ryan is on the line, Ryan calling from Nashville.

RYAN: Hi, Mr. Grenell. Thanks for taking my call. I was wondering. Mr. Romney made a statement - and I realize this was after you were no longer with the campaign - that our number one foe in the world was Russia. And that just struck me as kind of Cold War thinking from a bygone era. And I was wondering what you thought about his statement there.

GRENELL: Thanks, Ryan, for the question. You know, I think that it's clearly a top-tier issue, and that's the way I would characterize it. What I feel very uncomfortable with is President Obama snuggling up to the Russians as he has. I mean, the idea that he's being more honest with the Russian president, Medvedev, when he whispered to him, hey, I need some more flexibility. Let me get through this election before I am able to...

CONAN: Flexibility on missile defense.

GRENELL: Yeah. They were talking about missile defense where the president - let's face it, President Obama has already been extremely flexible with the Russians. I would argue that he's already put the missile defense program in jeopardy. And then, while talking to the Russian president, he was caught on tape...

CONAN: Open mic, yeah.

GRENELL: ...open mic, saying, you know, let me get through this election, and then I'll be able to be a lot more flexible with you. And I think that's outrageous. That's a moment in time that shows who President Obama is.

CONAN: The - Ryan was not the only person to criticize that. Former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell also thought this was a comment that betrayed a lack of understanding of the world.

GRENELL: Yeah. I think it's more than just a lack of understanding. I think...

CONAN: No, no, no. Not the Obama comment. The Romney comment about Russia.

GRENELL: Oh. Well, I was going back to the president of the United States talking to the Russian president, where he literally was caught...

CONAN: But that wasn't what General Powell...

GRENELL: ...being a little bit more honest. Well, you know, I think if you want to talk about Russia and a slip-up of - one of the candidates slipped up on Russia, I think you're going to have to talk about the president of the United States, the guy who's in the White House, getting caught on tape whispering to the Russians.

CONAN: Ryan, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.

RYAN: OK.

CONAN: And again, what would a President Romney do differently on North Korea?

GRENELL: Well, I think on North Korea there's a variety of things that we should have done differently, which starts with speaking very clearly about the problems there. And I think you certainly wouldn't cut a deal with the new head of state in North Korea to say we're going to give food aid when you don't have assurances that they have given up some of their questionable programs. And that's exactly what happened.

You know, when Wendy Sherman, who is the deputy at the State Department and a Hillary Clinton confidante, was brought back into the State Department, she once again was somebody who got hoodwinked by the North Koreans. And quickly, we saw her put together a food aid program and tell us that they were back on track with wanting to give up some of their programs. And, you know, either this administration is really bad at negotiations or they're really gullible. But at this point, I think the evidence shows that it's one of the two.

CONAN: Could not the hope have been that a new leader would prove somewhat different than his predecessor and that this was an opportunity for an opening and to see if he would roll back the programs, as he said he would? Of course, he did reverse course very shortly there afterwards, and the United States withdrew the offer of food aid.

GRENELL: I think hope is a tactic. It's not a foreign policy.

CONAN: We're talking with Richard Grenell, who served as foreign policy and national security spokesman for the Romney campaign before his resignation. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And candidate Romney has been somewhat criticized for being, well, a little vague on foreign policy. He's not come out with detailed positions on any number of issues to outline, for example, what he would do differently in the current negotiations with Iran than President Obama is doing. Is that a calculated stance that, well, let's not telegraph our punches?

GRENELL: No. I think, first of all, if you want to talk about, you know, foreign policy strategy or world view, Gov. Romney has been very clear about how he views the world, and that he thinks that the United States is exceptional. And it's a term that gets thrown around a lot, but I think it does have philosophical bent to it, that when you entered negotiations that you are not embarrassed by the fact that we are the United States of America, and we may ask for something that does not appear to be equal. And let me give you an example.

When I was at the U.N., you know, I sat inside the Security Council. I sat behind the sign that says the United States, and there is a incredible sense of responsibility when you sit in that chair because at the Security Council, there are 14 other nations that are watching you and trying to figure out what you are going to offer as the first point of negotiation. And with that responsibility, I think you can do one of two things.

You can either say I'm going to lay my cards out on the table and just trust you, and let's negotiate into a position that we both are happy with, or you can proudly and boldly put forward our national security priorities. And I think there's a huge difference in how you approach the negotiation table. And this administration has decided to really trust the other sides of the table and lay our cards out fully and talk about what's our lowest common denominator or what we need to leave the room so that everyone is happy.

So you enter the negotiations trying to make everybody happy, and I think that's a dangerous start. You really need to enter diplomacy from a tough position. You know, diplomacy is supposed to be a difficult process, and it's not supposed to be clean and nice. It's not about dinner parties. And, you know, what we always believed in the Bush administration is if you wanted to avoid war, then you better have tough diplomacy. You better have diplomacy with an edge because that's the last possible hope before some sort of military action.

CONAN: Let's get one more caller in. This is Patrick, Patrick with us from Cary, North Carolina.

PATRICK: Yeah. I wanted to find out what the guest thought about Mitt Romney's age policy in the world or if he has one and whether or not he would change what George Bush started in terms of how he, you know, boosted American support for combating age abroad, or if he thought that was an inappropriate role for the United States.

GRENELL: That's a great question. I have to be honest, I have not talked to the governor about this policy, so I don't know. My suspicion is that this is the type of program that Gov. Romney would think is essential when going abroad. You know, exactly as the caller said...

PATRICK: Why would you think so?

GRENELL: Because I know that the governor is someone who believes that America has a responsibility to the world. And like George Bush, I think there are - there's proof that money and programs are directly affecting people's lives. And so if the program can be found to be administered in a positive way, then I think the Americans, more times than not, will be there to support those programs.

PATRICK: Do you think he would reinstitute the Mexico City Protocol banning contraception use or funding the programs that would...

CONAN: And we're just going to have to cut the question there and give Richard Grenell 15 seconds to answer it.

GRENELL: Yeah. You know, again, I have not talked directly to the governor on this issue, so I wouldn't know the specific position.

CONAN: Patrick, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. And, Richard Grenell, thanks very much for your time today. We thank you.

GRENELL: Sure. Anytime, Neal.

CONAN: Richard Grenell joined us from a studio in Grand Rapids. He served at the United Nations from 2001 to 2009 and then later served as foreign policy and national security spokesman for the Romney campaign prior to his resignation. Tomorrow, a conversation about who needs a union. Join us for that. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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