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Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Coleman, Norm

  • Former Senator (R-MN)

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Norm Coleman is a former Republican senator from Minnesota who advised Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Although Coleman’s portfolio with the campaign primarily concerned Latin America and the Middle East,[1] he attracted notoriety for predicting that a “whole-cloth” repeal of the Obama administration’s health care reform was unlikely, even under a Republican president. "With all due respect to Sen. Coleman,” the Romney campaign was compelled to retort, “he's wrong. Gov. Romney can and will repeal Obamacare and is committed to doing so."[2]

Coleman proved a willing surrogate for the Romney campaign on foreign policy issues. Appearing on CNN shortly after the May 2012 massacre of Syrian civilians by pro-regime militias at Houla, Coleman said that a Romney administration would take a more actively interventionist role in the conflict. “We should be arming those who are supporting the opposition,” Coleman said, endorsing the approach of hawkish Senate leaders like Joe Lieberman and John McCain. “We’re at a point where we’re at today because of [Obama’s] failure of leadership—whether it’s been hiding behind Kofi Annan for two months or a lack of leadership for the last year and a half.” Expressing impatience with the diplomatic process, Coleman implied his support for unilateral U.S. action on the conflict. “The bottom line is that Assad has to go,” he said. “Right now we’re playing ‘Mother, may I?’ in the UN, asking Russia and China for permission before we go forward. … President Romney would not be asking permission.”[3]

A board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition,[4] a rightwing “pro-Israel” group whose donors include Sheldon Adelson, Coleman has echoed common Republican criticisms of President Obama’s statements on Israel. “Israel’s position has been undermined," he told the Weekly Standard in September 2011. "[Obama's] statement about going back to the pre-’67 borders, his statements focused on settlement issues that the problem is coming from Israel. Obama’s approval ratings in Israel are in the single digit level for good reason, and by his acts, by his words, he has undermined a confidence that Israel has in the support of what should be its strongest ally."[5] A poll released in December 2011, however, showed Obama with a 54-percent approval rating among Israeli Jews.[6]

Coleman cultivated a generally hawkish record during his time in the Senate. “Norm Coleman was an early and unconditional supporter of the idea of war in Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein,” reported the nonpartisan MinnPost in 2008. “After four years of toeing the pro-Bush, pro-war line, he wobbled slightly in early 2007[7] by doubting the wisdom of the surge. He has since recanted those doubts, thinks the war is going well and takes basically the same position on current matters as John McCain and President Bush.”[8]

Coleman also espoused a hawkish line on Iran, cosponsoring in 2007 a “sense of the Senate” resolution urging the United States to “combat, contain, and roll back” Iran’s “violent activities and destabilizing influence inside Iraq,” including through the employment of “military instruments.”[9] The resolution also urged that the State Department classify Iran’s Revolution Guards as a foreign terrorist organization. That same year, Coleman—then the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee—told the Jerusalem Post that the United States would support an Israeli attack on Iran. “If action is going to be taken,” he said, “it's not going to be Israel alone.”[10]

A former Democratic mayor of St. Paul, Coleman became a Republican in 1996 as his relationship with the state Democratic Party soured. In 2002, at the urging of the George W. Bush administration, Coleman challenged Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, a national liberal icon and Iraq war opponent who was killed in a plane crash days before the election. Coleman went on to defeat replacement candidate Walter Mondale but narrowly lost his 2008 bid for election to comedian Al Franken. After leaving office, Coleman founded the American Action Network, a conservative advocacy organization with ties to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.[11]

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[1] Michael Warren, “Norm Coleman Advising Romney on Middle East, Latin America,” Weekly Standard, September 21, 2011, http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/norm-coleman-advising-romney-campaign-foreign-policy_594030.html.

[2] Julia Pecquet, “Romney adviser Norm Coleman predicts GOP president won't repeal health law,” The Hill, January 24, 2012, http://thehill.com/blogs/healthwatch/politics-elections/206077-romney-adviser-norm-coleman-predicts-republican-president-wont-repeal-health-law.

[3] CNN, “Coleman: Syrian situation would be different if Romney was president,” May 30, 2012, http://johnkingusa.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/30/coleman-syrian-situation-would-be-different-if-romney-was-president/.

[4] Republican Jewish Coalition, Biographies, http://www.rjchq.org/About/bioslisting.aspx.

[5] Michael Warren, “Norm Coleman Advising Romney on Middle East, Latin America,” Weekly Standard, September 21, 2011, http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/norm-coleman-advising-romney-campaign-foreign-policy_594030.html.

[6] Howard LaFranchi, “President Obama sees popularity boost in Israel,” Christian Science Monitor, December 3, 2011, http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Foreign-Policy/2011/1203/President-Obama-sees-popularity-boost-in-Israel.

[7] See CNN, “Key GOP senator opposes Bush's Iraq plan,” January 22, 2007, http://articles.cnn.com/2007-01-22/politics/iraq.congress_1_key-gop-senator-iraqi-troops-deployment?_s=PM:POLITICS.

[8] Eric Black, “Coleman and Franken on Iraq: Everything you need to know,” MinnPost, August 7, 2008, http://www.minnpost.com/eric-black-ink/2008/08/coleman-and-franken-iraq-everything-you-need-know.

[9] Library of Congress, S.AMDT.3017 Bill Summary, http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:SP3017:.

[10] Hilary Leila Krieger and Gil Hoffman, “US Senator Coleman: 'If action is going to be taken, it's not going to be Israel alone,'” Jerusalem Post, October 19, 2007, http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=78971.

[11] Jonathan Salant and Kristin Jensen, “`Shadow Parties' Share Leaders, Republican Roots In Congress Campaigns,” Bloomberg, October 15, 2010, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-10-15/-shadow-parties-share-leaders-republican-roots-to-fuel-campaign-spending.html.

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Coleman, Norm Résumé


  • Mitt Romney 2012 Presidential Campaign: Adviser

  • American Crossroads: Cofounder

  • Republican Jewish Committee: Board Member


  • Hogan Lovells: Senior government adviser


  • U.S. Senate (R-MN): 2003-2009

  • Mayor of St. Paul: 1994-2002


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