Team: Good People, No Larger Vision Yet
again, Iím mainly passing on information, offering only a smattering
of commentary or assessment. The source is an experienced retired
diplomat who knows many of and has worked with some of the members
of the Bush foreign policy team. He offered his comments last week
to members of the Orange County World Affairs Council.
Malott retired to Laguna Niguel, in Orange County, a couple of years
ago after a 31-year career in the foreign service, his last posting
having been as U.S. Ambassador to Malaysia. He was recently chosen
as Chairman of the Orange County World Affairs Council, which is
not necessarily the definition of leisurely retirement, replacing
former Tory Member of Parliament Sir Eldon Griffiths, who was recently
elected chairman of the board of trustees of the national World
Affairs Council. I have to confess that although I believe his vision
of the US is somewhat more expansive than mine though less
so than that of many professional diplomats I like John Malott
and believe that for a career diplomat heís a pretty straight shooter.
the Bush team as the best group, in terms of experience and competence
he has seen in the top positions in the last 30 years, Mr. Malott
sounded a major cautionary note (and several minor ones). The major
problem, he believes, is that the United States has not yet decided
what its position, mission and role in the world should be in the
years since the Cold War ended. Leadership was thrust upon the United
States by events and unsought threats to national survival in 1945,
he said, but with the demise of the Soviet Union the world has changed
United States is now the dominant power in the world politically,
militarily, economically, scientifically, culturally and
there is no nation our power that seriously threatens its national
existence or is likely to do so. But we havenít yet decided what
our role in the changed world out there should be. It will require
a national debate and discussion in which the people themselves
should play at least as large a role as their leaders and
ultimately convey their decisions to their leaders before the leaders
decide by default but not necessarily through consensus to
define a positive vision for the United States.
when our role is defined and understood, says Mr. Malott, can we
make intelligent decisions about how large the military should be
and how it should be configured, what our posture should be in trade
negotiations, where, how and on what basis we will intervene in
other parts of the world. Defense posture, the Middle East, the
scope if any of "humanitarian" interventions are all subsidiary
to the larger question of what our role in the world will be. If
President Bush leads the way and helps to define a role the people
agree with and understand, his presidency can be successful. If
the discussion over the larger issue of Americaís role in the world
does not take place, we can expect a certain amount of drifting
said, Mr. Malott believes Dick Cheney was a good choice as vice
president, that he is a good crisis manager able to keep other peoplesí
egos in check even as he controls his own. Mr. Malott expects that
the senior Mr. Bush will be available not running things
behind the scenes as some have speculated, but available
and that will not be a bad thing.
Rice, Mr. Malott believes, is intelligent and well-versed. He is
charmed by the fact that she is a concert-quality pianist. But he
wonders about her relative lack of experience in government (about
two years in a staff position, though an important one, at the National
Security Council). How she will referee clashes, if they come, between
Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld, both powerful figures?
Powell, at Secretary of State, is very qualified and likely to rely
on career people more than outside experts. His team could include
Richard Armitage, a military and defense expert who is not universally
admired (especially by Perotistas) and Ed Jasidjian, who worked
in the Reagan administration and with James Baker on Mideast issues.
Paul Wolfowitz is a career diplomat lately at Johns Hopkins, whom
Mr. Malott describes as brilliant and thoughtful. I call him a bit
of a hawk, but weíll see.
Malott believes it was a good idea to keep George Tenet as head
of the CIA and hopes he stays a long time, to improve continuity
and a certain independence in offering information. I think the
CIA should be abolished, but thatís a subject for another column.
Malott says that President Bush trusts and feels comfortable with
Laurence Lindsey, his chief economic adviser, and notes that Treasury
Secretary Paul OíNeill has a good background, both in government
and industry. He believes, however, that while Wall Street bankers
have not always been successful treasury secretaries, Robert Rubin
under Clinton was the exception and will be hard to top. Personally,
Iím baffled at the esteem in which Mr. Rubin is held, but it seems
to be real and widespread.
Veneman as Secretary of Agriculture will face more international
challenges than some might think. Agriculture is crucial to US foreign
commerce, and tussles over genetically engineered food, mad cow
disease and the reluctance of nearly every developed country (including
ours) to give up farm subsidies await her.
Zelleck, a former top aide to James Baker, as US Trade Representative
may have a harder time than some expect, Mr. Malott suggests. It
is easy to be for free trade when the economy is booming, but harder
in times of slowdown. There is growing opposition to the very concept
of globalization in certain quarters both at home and around the
world. Calls for reciprocal environmental and labor laws will demand
attention. Malott says the chief trade negotiator needs to be a
good schmoozer and Zelleckís "people skills" might benefit
from some polishing.
question the benefit of most trade negotiations at all. The best
approach would be for the United States to make manifest its support
for free trade by eliminating all its tariffs and other barriers
to trade and inviting the rest of the world to watch how we prosper
and go and do likewise, without requiring it. Free trade benefits
the country that adopts it most of all, by giving consumers more
choices and the ability to access lower prices. Trade negotiations
often amount to declarations that "Weíll stop punishing our
people who are foolish enough to believe restrictions amount to
protection if youíll stop punishing your people. You go first."
So they are often protracted, bitter and fruitless.
United States may have a new administration of a different party
in power, but conditions have not changed drastically in the world
out there, Mr. Malott says. The issues and problems that faced the
Clinton administration will still be there for President Bush. Changing
relations with the European allies will need attention, and Canada
and Mexico, our closest neighbors will remain important, especially
Mexico with a new government and the possibility of a new approach.
Both Russia and China have huge potential for impressive good or
pesky problems in relation to the United States not that
they should be treated as an imminent threat or a close partner,
but that they bear watching with a realistic eye and encouragement
sometimes. China believes it is destined to dominate Asia and is
likely to want to reduce US influence there, but that might not
necessarily be a bad thing.
immigration and terrorism are issues that have both a foreign policy
and domestic aspect, with great potential to affect the lives of
Americans for good or ill. Among countries the new administration
will keep an eye on are Colombia the question of what weíre
doing there hasnít been answered satisfactorily and Cuba,
at least when Fidel Castro dies. Mr. Malott believes the new administration
will pull back from the kind of frenetic focus on the Middle East
of the last year, and will pay attention to nuclear issues between
India and Pakistan without imagining that it can step in and solve
own preference would be for the Bush administration to have a much
more modest conception of the US role in the world than the Clinton
administration had. Notions like "humanitarian intervention"
and "nation-building" are uncomfortably vague and open-ended.
We know our government canít solve all the domestic problems the
United States faces far from it so how do we expect
it to apply a magic wand to intractable problems overseas? A becoming
modesty is more likely to increase the respect in which the United
States is held than the kind of amateurish arrogance and improvisation
that have characterized the last eight years.
Malott is correct, however, that no matter how it comes out
and I believe that while non-interventionists can rightfully demand
a seat at the decision-making table we canít predict what influence
we will have in the short run the national discussion over
these larger issues is overdue. With any luck, we will take advantage
of the fact that we have a degree of peace and no imminent threats
facing us and hold it beginning now, before the next crisis confronts
doubt that will happen, however. More likely the Bush administration
will be forced to improvise before it has a consensus on the role-in-the-world
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