Speculation kicked into high gear that a pillar of George W. Bush's foreign policy, Condoleezza Rice, has made Mitt Romeny's vice presidential short list when the Drudge Report reported as much late Thursday. But Democratic and Republican sources tell U.S. News & World Report that picking Rice might open a Pandora's Box, allowing the Obama campaign to hammer the former secretary of state and national security adviser for her roles in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Rice has risen to "near the top of the list" of potential Republican vice presidential picks, the Drudge Report reported. The presumptive GOP nominee could announce his V.P. pick in "coming weeks," Drudge reported, citing "sources."
One senior Republican source says Rice would bolster Romney in an area where he lacks major bona fides: national security and foreign policy. What's more, "she's a terrific speaker and a great debater--both are extremely important in a presidential campaign."
"Sure, you have the woman thing and the African-American thing," says the senior GOP source. "But, more importantly, she's extremely charismatic and an extremely nice human, which she manages to convey. People like that."
For her part, Rice has said publicly that her utopia lies in the nitty-gritty of the policy realm, not in presidential politics. Yet, ironically, it is Rice's own policy prescriptions and performance as a senior official in the national security policymaking realm that could hurt Romney's chances of becoming president if he chooses her, Republican and Democratic officials and sources say in interviews and their own writings.
There are four main reasons why Rice could hurt Romney as his No. 2:
Iraq. National security experts on both sides of the political aisle agree on one thing: The 2003-launched Iraq conflict didn't exactly go as Bush and his senior-most lieutenants promised. And as Bush's national security adviser, Rice was at the forefront of every major war policy decision the administration made.
The Congressional Budget Office has put the cost of the 2003-launched campaign at over $800 billion; President Obama has said it cost $1 trillion. The Bush administration opted to finance the campaign through measures that further inflated America's debt level, critics argue. Nearly 5,000 U.S. military personnel died in the Iraq war, which was largely sold on warnings that Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons that he or terrorists might use on the United States.
"Condi Rice, by all serious accounts, is the one who put the Yellow Cake claim out there," says Gordon Adams, who oversaw national defense budgeting for the Clinton White House, referring to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 2003 presentation to the United Nations charging Iraq with possessing nuclear weapons.
Powell, during a recent Daily Show appearance, admitted mistakes were made: "I, of course, regret the U.N. speech that I gave, which became the prominent presentation of our case."
"Condi Rice is the one who let the secretary of state embarrass himself in front of the United Nations," says Adams. Asked how he would write an Obama ad criticizing Rice's role in the ill-fated Iraq war, Adams was quick to reply with more than one splash of sarcasm: "Did you like Iraq? You're going to love Iran."
Afghanistan. When the Bush administration decided in early 2003--some sources say the actual decision was made shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.--to go to war in Iraq, it shifted the primary focus of the U.S. military and intelligence community away from the Afghanistan war.
"While the Bushes were fiddling in Iraq, Kabul was burning," says Adams. "Iraq took the administration's eye off the ball in Afghanistan. It really was a double fault."
The Afghanistan conflict largely became a stalemate between U.S., NATO, and Afghan forces and their Taliban foes after Washington pivoted toward Iraq. The Afghanistan war's bills mounted despite few tactical or strategic gains there, and U.S. and coalition casualties climbed steadily from 109 in 2001-2003 to 521 from 2004 until 2008, when Bush left office.
Former officials have described the Afghanistan war from 2003 until 2008 as being on autopilot, following a set budget and featuring "fighting seasons." It essentially devolved into just another poorly-managed Pentagon program operating free of intense executive branch scrutiny or congressional oversight.
Poor Manager? As national security adviser to Bush, Rice was the head of the National Security Council. Sources say the Obama campaign team would have an easy time hammering her as a poor manager who was often steamrolled by former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"Her stewardship of the NSC was consistently an end-run by the vice president and the secretary of defense," says Adams. "They could easily say: 'Rarely has there been a NSC that had a less-central role than the one Rice ran.' Bad policy and inconsistent leadership don't make for a strong V.P. candidate."
The Obama campaign also would need only to flip through the pages of Rumsfeld's 2011 biography to find ammunition with which to pelt Rice.
In that tome, Rumsfeld took more than a few swipes at Rice, calling her a poor manager of the NSC. Rumsfeld claims she constantly sought policies that were compromises instead of fostering in-depth discussions among administration heavyweights that he says were needed on a range of issues.
Politics. Pundits of all political stripes are all over cable news reminding voters the main issues in the 2012 presidential race are the stagnant economy and creating jobs. How a self-described career national security and foreign policy wonk would help Romney on either issue is a mystery to Republican and Democratic operatives alike.
While this is out of Rice's control, her expertise could be a hindrance rather than an asset for Romney.
"This is an economic election. Right now, it's all about jobs and the economy. It's doubtful that will change much," says the senior Republican source. "It comes down to the extent to which the politicos close to Romney value foreign policy."
Additionally, Rice is a creature of California in an election that likely will be decided by a handful of swing states. Most political experts say California is all but in Obama's back pocket already.
"Sure, she'll attract some votes," says the senior Republican source. "But if the Romney political team decides they need those key states, they'll go a different route with the V.P. pick."
John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.