in the Bush Foreign Policy Team?
as Dubya is earning unexpectedly good reviews for his first couple
of weeks in office (a generally meaningless indicator of which the
media are nonetheless inordinately fond), especially for his deft
handling of domestic issues and Congress, there are rumblings about
rifts among the Bush foreign policy advisers. Or perhaps some folks
are trying to get some rifts going, or at least some rumblings,
for their own purposes.
course Lawrence Kaplan, who has dealt with potential Bushie rifts
extensively in the February 5 issue of the New Republic
has an agenda that is hardly hidden. The TNR senior editor
wants the United States to be a proper superpower, flexing muscles
and fixing messes around the world. He has been denouncing the alleged
isolationism, even pacifism of Colin Powell for months now, most
recently in a couple of TNR articles critical of the "Powell
Doctrine" of avoiding military involvement unless firm public
support, overwhelming force, a definable mission and a clear exit
strategy are in place titled "Yesterday’s Man" in the
January 1 & 8 issue.
his current piece, Kaplan casts Vice President Dick Cheney as the
aggressive keeper of the interventionist tablets, claiming that
despite denials of any friction with Secretary of State Colin Powell,
"Cheney has effectively created his own foreign policy apparatus,
installing his protégés (and, in the case of Donald
Rumsfeld, his mentor) at the Defense Department and the White House.
And, because many of Cheney’s protégés are known for
their willingness to use military force, what began as a clash of
personalities is fast becoming a war of ideas."
the one side, Kaplan says and others have reported similar bifurcations will
be Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, installed by Cheney after
a tussle between Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (reportedly Powell’s
preference) and defense intellectual Paul Wolfowitz became desultory.
So Wolfowitz, described by Kaplan as "even more hawkish than
his boss," got the number two job at Defense. Wolfowitz made
his Washington debut in the 1970s as head of the conservative "Team
B" that 1976 challenged the CIA’s essentially rosy détente-minded
assessment of Soviet capabilities and intentions. He rose quickly
during the Reagan and elder Bush administrations, and in 1992 provoked
controversy by advising that that United States exploit its supremacy
for "deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to
a larger regional or global role." Wolfowitz reportedly brings
with him, and has sprinkled through the bureaucracy, a cadre of
like-minded lieutenants. I. Lewis Libby, a former Wolfowitz aide,
is Cheney’s chief of staff. Eric Edelman, a former Wolfowitz colleague,
will be Libby’s right-hand man. William Schneider, a former Reagan
official, is working on Defense transition issues and reportedly
can have whatever top job he wants. Zalmay Khalilzad, with a long
record of trying to get the United States to support insurgencies
against rulers in Bosnia and Iraq, is also said to be in line for
a top Pentagon job.
Lawrence Kaplan counts National Security
adviser Condoleezza Rice as a generally noninterventionist thinker
who, as he puts it, "though not quite as rigid as Powell, nonetheless
tends toward a crabbed view of America’s global role." (Don’t
you just love the insistence on strictly descriptive terms rather
than emotive ones?) Condoleezza’s deputy, Stephen Hadley, who resisted
the Bosnian intervention and criticized the Clinton administration
for "being too quick to reach out to the military instrument,"
is counted on the side of those who will not be well, too
quick to reach out to the military instrument.
notes that having Powell as Secretary of State and Rumsfeld as Secretary
of defense makes for something of a role reversal. Since Vietnam,
by and large, it has been the State Department that has been for
intervention and the Pentagon that has urged caution. (As a defense
intellectual rather than someone with experience as cannon fodder,
Kaplan is on the side of the mighty interventionists and can’t seem
to understand why those military people are such wusses. Don’t you
love my own insistence on non-emotive descriptions?)
as far as Kaplan can see and he may be indulging in wishful
thinking the Cheney-Rumsfeld boys will roll over Powell and
Rice like Hitler through Czechoslovakia. On foreign affairs Dick
Cheney is likely to run the White House inasmuch as Dubya himself
has little interest in foreign policy, and that will more than trump
the fact that Bush feels personally close to and comfortable with
Condoleezza Rice and trusts her judgment. Powell has stacked the
State Department with people loyal to him and with experienced career
civil servants rather than political types. But in policy battles,
Kaplan claims, the political types win and the civil servants go
for Rice," claims Kaplan, "her stature shrinks by the
day." Talking about pulling out of the Balkans during the campaign,
he thinks, was a blunder of major proportions that simply freaked
out the Europeans. I’m not so sure it was a blunder, and it’s worth
noting that Ms. Rice was appointed after that flap, so maybe Dubya
doesn’t see it as a blunder to the extent Kaplan does.
does claim that whereas Powell and Rice should be allies against
the mighty bureaucratic heft of the Cheney-Rumsfeld interventionist
on-the-side-of-history types, Powell views Condoleezza Rice less
as an ally than as a competitor, having taken the job with the understanding
that she wouldn’t get in his way. Kaplan quotes an unnamed Rumsfeld
ally with obvious relish: "She’s going to be crushed. It’s
as simple as that."
those who hope for a foreign policy that is at least a little less
imperialist, a little less casual in its commitment of American
prestige and treasure to conflicts of dubious relevance to American
national interest (whatever that is), all this could be pretty grim
news. The idea that the best hope for common sense is Colin Powell,
who hasn’t exactly been a profile in courage and might even be described
as something of a careerist and an opportunist who doesn’t like
taking risks that might besmirch his precious image is not exactly
reassuring. And the notion that this experienced bureaucratic infighter
is being outmaneuvered in the bureaucratic infighting to boot is
not the best of news.
On the other hand, Dubya has so far created the impression that
he is more his own man than almost any observer believed he would
be. On domestic policy (understanding that it’s early and first
impressions are often wrong) there seems to be little question that
he is more in charge than most had expected that he would be. Perhaps
the buck will really stop with him, and the fact that he feels a
special closeness to Condie Rice will give her more influence that
Lawrence Kaplan would like her to have. And although the Pentagon
and the Treasury Department have had an increasingly influential
role in foreign affairs of late, there’s little question that Colin
Powell will run the State Department and the State Department is
still the major locus of policy decision on international matters
in the U.S. government.
talk to a lot of people, but I haven’t lived and worked in Washington
for more than 20 years, so I’m sure there are subtleties of which
I can’t be aware. I can claim no particular insight into the personalities
involved beyond having spent a couple of hours talking policy with
Condoleezza Rice, back when she was still Provost of Stanford but
had already announced that she was leaving to join the Bush campaign.
She was thoughtful, informed and eminently likable.
listened politely and apparently with respect when I laid out the
concerns I had about an expansive global role for the US government.
I remember wondering at the time having had experience with
people coming into editorial board meetings and trying to convince
you they were really almost allies whether she was shining
me on. But she has since stayed with the position she outlined at
the time that the United States is and should be a global
power, but that it should understand that its major interests lie
in Europe, the Middle East and to some extent in Asia, and that
involvement in the affairs of other countries should be based on
a cold-blooded assessment of national interest rather than an inchoate
desire to do good.
misgivings about "humanitarian" interventions and "nation-building"
commitments, about running around bragging that we are the "indispensable
nation" and imagining that we have a unique ability to solve
problems because we’re the great and powerful Oz, about confusing
the ability to lob bombs with the ability to solve problems that
she expressed when she talked to me have not disappeared. She has
continued to express them even in the face of ridicule from the
likes of Lawrence Kaplan and other world-savers. She may not be
much of a bureaucratic infighter, but she has been reasonably intellectual
consistent not that that’s likely to be much of an advantage in
may just be possible, then, that the Lawrence Kaplans of this world
are indulging in wishful thinking (or using apparent analysis to
influence the balance of forces in their intellectual favor) when
they predict that the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz axis will roll over
the ineffectual pacifist Powell-Rice wing. If Dubya turns out to
be more his own man than most observers had expected which
I have to confess I view as possible and he views Rice and
Powell with respect, his very inexperience might cause him to incline
toward caution when it comes to future interventions.
Powell hardly inspired great confidence when he said, on the eve
of the Israeli elections, that developments in that region will
be a top priority for the Bush administration. Now he might have
been simply mouthing the proper pieties even as he privately believes
that if anything the region has suffered in the last year more from
an excess of American attention than from neglect. But if he really
believes that he could have found a way to avoid mouthing the pieties
in those terms.
thinks the major policy disputes will come over the Balkans, Iraq
and China, where the Cheney-Rumsfeld side is inclined to opt for
involvement and action while the Powell-Rice side urges caution
and maybe pullback. But events almost always surprise the prognosticators.
The first real test that helps us to descry the shape of the Bush
foreign policy could come in response to a crisis elsewhere perhaps
in the Middle East if the ascent of Ariel Sharon leads to Palestinians
and Arabs escalating action to the level of their rhetoric.
it’s well to be aware of analyses by such as Kaplan of the way bureaucratic
forces are arrayed in Washington. But it’s still a bit early to
predict just how the Bush foreign policy is likely to play out in
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