With only three months left in office, U.S. President
George W. Bush appears increasingly determined to calm the international waters
he so vigorously churned up, especially during his first term.
In just the last several days, he has effectively rehabilitated a charter
member of the "Axis of Evil" North Korea by agreeing to take
it off the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism in exchange
for Pyongyang's agreement to resume its dismantling of a key nuclear facility
and cooperate with U.S. and international inspectors.
As for the other surviving member of the Axis, Iran, leaks from the State
Department and elsewhere over the last several days suggest that Bush will
announce Washington's intention to open a U.S. interest section in Tehran shortly
after the Nov. 4 presidential elections here, effectively reestablishing diplomatic
relations that were broken off 29 years ago.
Although both moves were foreseen already last summer, neoconservatives and
other hawks in and outside the administration who have steadfastly opposed
any détente with either country are furious.
the final crash and burn of a once-inspiring global effort
to confront and reverse nuclear proliferation, thereby protecting America and
its friends," wrote former UN Ambassador John Bolton in Monday's Wall
Street Journal about the North Korea deal.
"Having bent the knee to North Korea, Secretary [of State Condoleezza]
Rice appears primed to do the same with Iran, despite that regime's egregious
and extensive involvement in terrorism and the acceleration of its nuclear
program," continued Bolton, who is often thought to express the off-the-record
views of Vice President Dick Cheney.
He predicted that Washington will actually open its interest section "within
days" after the election despite the fact that Tehran has not yet given
its approval. "Hard as it is to believe, there may be worse yet to come,"
Worse for the hawks, the two moves also tend to undercut the foundering election
campaign of Republican presidential candidate, Sen. John McCain, in precisely
those very few remaining areas national security and the "war on terror"
in which, according to public opinion polls, he is generally perceived as
stronger and more experienced than his Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama.
McCain, who has joked about bombing Iran on the campaign trail, until recently
opposed any direct diplomatic engagement with Tehran unless it complied with
UN Security Council demands that it freeze its uranium-enrichment program.
And he reacted to the latest agreement with Pyongyang by effectively withholding
"I expect the administration to explain exactly how this new verification
agreement advances American interests and those of its allies," he said
after the State Department announced that it would take Pyongyang off the terrorism
list. Obama, on the other hand, called the deal a "modest step forward."
Indeed, on a range of key foreign policy issues including the priority
to be given to Israel-Palestinian peace talks, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia
after its intervention in Georgia, and even Taiwan, to which McCain supports
several big-ticket arms systems currently opposed by both the administration
and Obama Bush now appears closer to the Democratic candidate than to his-fellow
Many of McCain's closest advisers include neoconservatives and nationalist
hawks whose views were decisive in shaping what became known as the "Bush
Doctrine" and inspiring the fateful U.S. invasion of Iraq during the president's
In that respect, Bush's latest moves reflect the culmination of a "realist
restoration" during his second term, one that has witnessed a gradual
decline in the hawks' influence and a return to a more traditional reliance
by Washington on diplomacy and multilateralism, particularly in coordination
with key Western allies, as the preferred option for solving international
That restoration has been led by Rice and senior career diplomats in her Department,
the intelligence community, and, since late 2006, by Pentagon chief Robert
Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff whose conviction that the U.S. armed forces
are badly overstretched and cannot afford to fight yet another war, be it on
the Korean peninsula, the Middle East, or, for that matter, in the Caucasus,
has clearly had an impact in the Oval Office.
The current financial crisis has no doubt enhanced the White House's appreciation
for the degree to which the United States is dependent on foreign powers
not all of them necessarily friendly and their cooperation, thus strengthening
the realists' position as the administration plays out its term.
Their efforts and now Bush's, too are directed primarily at
trying to undo the damage to Washington's global position inflicted by the
hawks not only during their period of dominance from 9/11 to the end of the
first term, but also as a result of their furious rearguard actions during
the second term against realist efforts to engage North Korea and Iran.
While North Korea's nuclear-weapons program was effectively frozen by a series
of accords between Pyongyang and the Bill Clinton administration between 1994
and 2001, Bush's refusal to continue where Clinton left off as he had
been advised by his realist secretary of state at the time, ret. Gen. Colin
Powell led to Pyongyang's withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty
(NPT) and eventually to its detonation of a nuclear device in Oct. 2006.
Bush finally yielded to Rice's appeal to engage Pyongyang directly, a mission
undertaken by her Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs, Christopher
Hill. By then, however, Washington's hand had been so badly weakened that Hill
was forced to settle for a denuclearization accord that inevitably fell short
of Bush's one-time promise of a virtually full-proof verification regime that
would permit inspectors to go virtually anywhere at any time to suspected,
as well as known, nuclear sites.
To the bitter protests of the hawks, last weekend's announcement that North
Korea had been removed from the terrorism list in exchange for its agreement
to a more limited inspection regime confirmed that Bush had once more retreated
from his maximalist demands. "This isn't diplomacy, it's lunacy,"
one unnamed former administration official told The Weekly Standard's
Stephen Hayes, who is also known to be close to Cheney.
Realists including members of the 2006 Iraq Study Group headed by former
secretary of state James Baker have long urged Bush to drop preconditions
for direct negotiations with Tehran. In June, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs,
Adm. Michael Mullen, called for a "broad dialogue" with Iran.
Less than one month later, Bush sent a senior State Department official to
participate for the first time in talks between the other permanent UN Security
Council members, Germany, and Iran, amid reports that Iran had successfully
tested advanced centrifuges that would permit it to accelerate its uranium
enrichment program. He also tentatively agreed to Rice's idea of opening an
interest section at that time, but the announcement was reportedly put off
when Cheney and others opposed to the move argued that it could harm McCain's
The well-connected Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported
Sunday, however, that the announcement will be made after the election in mid-November,
a report echoed by Bolton the following day.
(Inter Press Service)