Although still united in pushing for confrontation
with Iran, the coalition of hawks that propelled U.S. troops toward Baghdad
three years ago appears to have finally run out of steam.
Demoralized by the quagmire in Iraq, as well as President George W. Bush's
still falling approval and credibility ratings, the coalition of aggressive
nationalists, neoconservatives, and the Christian Right that promoted the belligerent,
neo-imperial trajectory in U.S. foreign policy has lost both its coherence and
its power to dominate the political agenda here.
As a result – and almost by default – realists under Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice and in the uniformed military have steadily gained control over the administration's
policy. Within the increasingly fractious Republican Party, more xenophobic
forces appear to be on the rise, as evidenced by recent and ongoing controversies
surrounding immigration and foreign control of U.S. ports.
Evidence of a decisive shift is not hard to find, beginning with the latest
edition of the "The
National Security Strategy of the United States of America," released
earlier this month.
A kinder, gentler version of its fire-breathing 2002 predecessor that laid
out the doctrinal justification for the March 2003 invasion, the new version
puts a greater emphasis on diplomacy and development, tending alliances, and
other realist themes, even as it continues the administration's defense of preemptive
military action with Iran squarely in mind.
Rice's constant travel – as well as that of her two underlings, Deputy
Secretary Robert Zoellick and Undersecretary for Policy Nicholas Burns –
not only demonstrates the priority the administration has placed on cultivating
allies and even states more skeptical of U.S. benevolence. It also suggests
that the State Department – the bastion of foreign policy realism –
is considerably more confident of its own power within the administration.
Indeed, her peripatetic pace stands in striking contrast to the homebody habits
of Colin Powell, who feared that even a two- or three-day absence from Foggy
Bottom would create policy vacuums instantly filled by Vice President Dick Cheney
and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, co-leaders of the hawks' "cabal,"
as Powell's former chief of staff, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, has called them.
Similarly, senior military officers have appeared less reluctant to buck the
party line, making assertions about the lack of progress and the looming possibility
of civil war in Iraq that are far less optimistic than the two cabalists-in-chief.
In fact, the hawks' decline dates back to late 2003, when it became clear that
Cheney and Rumsfeld and their neoconservative subordinates, then-Deputy Defense
Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith, had totally
failed to anticipate, let alone prepare for, a Sunni-based insurgency that has
gone from strength to strength.
Except for a brief period from Bush's November 2004 reelection and very early
in 2005 – a period in which they had hoped that Powell's departure and
the president's soaring pro-democracy Inaugural Address signaled a resurgence
of their power – the hawks have steadily lost power to the realists led
by Rice, whose neoconservative rhetoric, like the president's, has masked the
shift back to the more cautious approach of Bush's father.
The return to realism has been helped immensely by the disappearance over the
past year of key players from the administration, among them Wolfowitz and Feith,
whose unpopularity with the military and among even Republican lawmakers made
them convenient scapegoats for the growing fiasco in Iraq.
John Bolton's move from a policy-making role in the State Department to the
United Nations also deprived the "cabal" of a key player in a strategic
post behind "enemy" lines.
The loss of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's formidable chief of
staff and national security adviser, after his indictment by a federal grand
jury for perjury and other charges in connection with the unauthorized leaking
of classified information last October was an even more decisive blow against
the hawks. A national security specialist who acted with the full authority
and confidence of the most powerful vice president in U.S. history, Libby was
the hub of the hawks' network inside the administration.
The network has also suffered serious losses in Congress, most particularly
the resignation after his indictment by a Texas grand jury last year of the
unusually powerful House Majority Leader, Rep. Tom DeLay. An outspoken champion
of Israel's settler movement, "The Hammer," as he is known, imposed
iron discipline on Republicans in the lower chamber on behalf of the 25-year
alliance between the Christian Right and pro-Likud neoconservatives
But, aside from these losses, the coalition has been set back by internal divisions
that seem only to grow deeper with time.
With a few hard-line exceptions, neoconservatives, such as Weekly Standard
editor William Kristol, have been attacking Rumsfeld for failing to deploy many
more troops to Iraq and crush all resistance virtually since U.S. forces invaded.
More recently, they have taken advantage of the growing calls for a comprehensive
shakeup in the administration to renew their demands for Rumsfeld's resignation,
demands that ironically echoed those in recent days of their realist foes in
retired military ranks, including former Central Command chief, Gen. Anthony
Zinni, and Gen. Paul Eaton, who served as senior commander in Iraq.
Neoconservatives have also suffered internal divisions that have weakened their
political potency. The most important has been their reaction to Israel's disengagement
from Gaza and the Kadima Party's plans to dismantle settlements in the West
Bank. Staunch Likudniks have opposed disengagement and the administration's
support for it; while more moderate elements, including Kristol, have taken
a more flexible position.
The coalition of hawks is also increasingly threatened by growing disillusionment
over the effects of Bush's administration's democracy crusade across the Middle
Key leaders in the Christian Right, in particular, were stunned by the capital
charges brought earlier this year by a court in Afghanistan against a Christian
convert, who after U.S. and Western protests was permitted to go into exile
in Italy last week.
"[S]ome [in] our community decided early on that we would support the
president's policies because it might provide the shock therapy to change these
dictatorships [in the Islamic world]," Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president
of the National Association of Evangelicals, told National Public Radio Sunday.
"Now, if in fact as a result of this effort … we're not going to
have that kind of freedom for people to choose [their faith], then that's a
real torpedo in the belly of the president's policies."
Indeed, the finding of two recent national surveys found that evangelical Christians,
who make up roughly 40 percent of all Republicans and have long been Bush's
strongest source of political support, have become significantly more skeptical
about Bush's interventionist policies in the Middle East since late last year.
While all of these trends have weakened the hawks and are likely to moderate
U.S. policies in the region, they do not mean that the chances of military action
against Iran have been significantly reduced.
Unlike the Iraq invasion, which was promoted almost exclusively by the three
coalition constituents, Iran's nuclear program is seen as a threat to vital
U.S. interests by a broader range of forces, including some realists and even
liberal internationalists in the Democratic Party.
(Inter Press Service)