Ending weeks of sometimes fevered speculation, Bush
administration officials confirmed Thursday that secretary of state-designate
Condoleezza Rice's deputy at the State Department will be a confirmed Atlanticist
and arch-realist, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert
The decision was surprising to foreign-policy analysts here not only because
Zoellick, by agreeing to take the post, will lose his cabinet position, but
also because he was considered a front-runner to replace World Bank President
James Wolfensohn when his term expires in mid-2005.
Rice's decision to ask Zoellick also undermines the notion that had increasingly
taken hold here that the former national security adviser would defer to administration
hawks led by Vice President Dick Cheney, who reportedly had pushed for the appointment
of their favorite, ultra-unilateralist Undersecretary of State for Arms Control
and International Security John Bolton.
Next to outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell, Zoellick, a protégé
of former Secretary of State James Baker, is the most internationalist-minded
of Bush's cabinet officials. Perhaps Baker's closest adviser, he played a key
intellectual role in shaping U.S. foreign policy during the administration of
George H.W. Bush, 1989-1993.
News of Zoellick's appointment offered a sudden and largely unexpected ray
of light for foreign-policy realists who had become increasingly gloomy since
it became known two weeks after the November elections that Pres. George W.
Bush had essentially told Powell that his services would no longer be required.
Powell's best friend and fellow realist, Deputy Secretary of State Richard
Armitage, quickly confirmed his intention to leave despite Rice's entreaties
to stay on, according to the insider newsletter, The Nelson Report, which
was the first to report that Zoellick had agreed to take the deputy's position.
Adding to the gloom in the foreign policy establishment was word last week,
first reported by former Washington Post reporter and ex-Bill Clinton adviser,
Sidney Blumenthal, in Slate, that Bush Sr.'s national security adviser, Brent
Scowcroft, had not been asked to stay in his volunteer post as chairman of the
President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
Scowcroft, who had publicly warned Bush Jr. against going to war in Iraq without
UN backing and more recently had complained in what he had thought was an off-the-record
interview with the Financial Times that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon "just had [the president] wrapped around his little finger"
when it came to Middle East policy, had apparently become unwelcome in a White
House that has a very limited tolerance for dissent.
Blumenthal also reported that Cheney had successfully "imposed his authority"
over Rice in order to "blackball" Arnold Kanter, who also served in a top
position under Baker and is a partner in Scowcroft's private consulting firm
– although it was never clear that Kanter would have agreed to take the position
if it had been offered.
These reports all contributed to the impression that the Cheney-led coalition
of hawks who led the march to war in Iraq – mainly aggressive nationalists
like Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, as well as the vice president himself;
pro-Likud neoconservatives, such as Rice's top Middle East aide, Elliott Abrams,
and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith; and the Christian Right
– would face virtually no opposition from the State Department in Bush's
second term, particularly given the ongoing purge since last summer of perceived
dissidents in that other stronghold of realist thinking, the Central Intelligence
In reality, the situation was a good deal more complicated, particularly given
the ongoing conflict between the neoconservatives and Rumsfeld over U.S. counter-insurgency
strategy in Iraq and what neocons have charged is Rumsfeld's desire to achieve
military "transformation" – "on the cheap."
In addition, an ongoing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation
into the activities of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, a powerful
lobby group close to the neoconservatives, appears to have injected a note of
uncharacteristic uncertainty into those forces in recent weeks. Rumors that
Feith may soon leave the administration have also gained currency in recent
In addition, the hawks have not been able to agree among themselves on how
to deal with the increasingly glaring gap between the administration's ambitious
regional agenda and its threats against a nuclearizing Iran and North Korea
on the one hand, and its manifest – and increasingly expensive – failure
to stabilize Iraq nearly two years after the invasion on the other.
The administration is expected to ask Congress in the coming weeks for $100
billion more for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing expenditures there
over the past nearly three years to well over $200 billion at a time when the
fiscal deficit is at a historic high, and the dollar's value is plunging at
a nearly unprecedented rate.
In that respect, Zoellick, who worked in senior positions in the Treasury Department
under Baker in the late 1980s and as an investment banker on Wall Street in
the 1990s, as well as at the State Department, the National Security Council,
and as USTR, is perfectly positioned to argue the realists' case that Washington
can ill afford new military adventures and unilateral actions that alienate
it yet further from its traditional allies (or oil producers and potential rivals
with huge dollar reserves).
Although Zoellick, like Cheney, Rumsfeld, and half a dozen other top hardliners,
signed the founding statement of the neoconservative Project for the New American
Century and a follow-up letter calling for "regime change" in Iraq
in the late 1990s, his general foreign policy views are considered much closer
to those of Baker and Scowcroft.
While Zoellick does not have a close relationship with Bush – indeed,
his favorite pastimes of reading and long-distance running, as well as his Europhilism,
intellectual sophistication, and reputed aloofness, would probably not be much
appreciated at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas – that is not something
he would have to worry about, since no Cabinet figure, including Cheney, is
considered personally closer to Bush than Rice.
Moreover, unlike Rice, Zoellick, who worked closely with her on Europe and
Soviet policy under Bush Sr., is considered an accomplished manager, deal-maker,
and bureaucratic in-fighter with a keen political ear.
"Bob knows how to get things done, and that is a rare commodity in Washington,"
Leslie Gelb, a former president of the elite Council on Foreign Relations in
New York, told the Wall Street Journal Thursday. "Of all the things
I've heard about what Condi might do, this is the best," he noted in what
constitutes the clearest statement of "Establishment" approval.
That said, a number of other appointments that could signal that the hawks
remain in charge have yet to be made. U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Eric Edelman,
for example, is Rice's choice to become Undersecretary of State for Political
Affairs, the Department's number three position, according to The Nelson
Report. Although a career foreign service officer, Edelman is widely regarded
as a neoconservative and served as deputy national security adviser to Cheney
until late 2003.
Similarly, Bolton, who was expected to get a promotion, is reportedly still
in the running for deputy national security adviser under Rice's former deputy,
Stephen Hadley, a hardliner who first came to prominence under Cheney when the
vice president served as Pentagon chief under Bush Sr. but is also considered
loyal to the less-ideological Rice.
Insiders told The Nelson Report that Zoellick decided to take the position
on the assumption that he would be the logical choice for secretary of state
if Rice left to return to academic life or run for the Senate next year against
the Democratic incumbent, Dianne Feinstein, or if a Republican candidate wins
the 2008 presidential election.
(Inter Press Service)