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Jewish World Review
Nov. 17, 2004
/ 4 Kislev, 5765
One Way finally
Lawrence F. Kaplan
With the departure of Colin Powell as Secretary of State, the Bush administration's great foreign policy rift has finally ended. The rift, which pitted Foggy Bottom against the Pentagon and the White House, made the Kissinger-Rogers and Brzezinski-Vance duels that preceded it seem trivial by comparison. The damage it wrought, too, was of much greater consequence than those earlier fights. Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Israel, China in virtually every corner of the globe, the Bush team had not one policy but two, whose contradictions intensified precisely when America's involvement did. During Bush's second term, however, the president's foreign policy counselors will all be reading from the same page. After all, one side forfeited the argument.
Personnel, as they say in Washington, is policy, and nowhere has this been truer than among members of the Bush foreign policy team, where the disagreements were always less expressions of personal distaste than of competing philosophical convictions Kissingerian realism, on the one side, and Reaganite neoconservativism on the other. But with Powell's departure, what members of the Bush team knew as soon as the first shot was fired in the Iraq war became apparent to the nation at large: The argument has been settled in the latter's favor. Not because of the Pentagon's bureaucratic weight (Rumsfeld and the neoconservatives around him will be departing soon enough replaced, in all likelihood, by a Senator, perhaps even Joe Lieberman). And not because Dick Cheney isn't going anywhere. Rather, President Bush, as evidenced by his remarks last week on democratizing the Middle East and pacifying Iraq, genuinely believes and, indeed, clings religiously to the belief that only the vigorous assertion of American power and ideals will make the world a better place. Chalk it up to his evangelical faith, his brainwashing at the hands of a sinister cabal, or his Manichean conception of the international scene: When it comes to the broad foreign policy questions of the day, Bush no longer needs advisers to tell him what to think. He needs them to translate his thinking into policy.
For that to happen, Powell had to go. Here, after all, was a Secretary of State who viewed himself as Foggy Bottom's ambassador to the White House rather than the other way around. His insistence on hearing out, and too often bending to, the objections of the State Department bureaucracy encouraged a tendency in the diplomatic corps that needed no encouragement. "If the president decides against them," then-National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger complained of the Nixon-era foreign policy bureaucracy, "they are convinced some evil influence worked on the president: If only he knew all the facts, he would have decided their way." If anything, that conviction only grew stronger in recent years, as members of the Foreign Service leaked, complained, delayed, hindered, and obstructed their way through the first term of a president who viewed the world through a lens barely comprehensible to them.
The wonder of it all is that Powell, for all of the battles he fought in the name of his "troops" at Foggy Bottom, accomplished next to nothing on their behalf. Iraq, Kyoto, ABM, direct negotiations with North Korea nearly every time Powell waded into an inter-agency conflict, he lost.
Even when he won, he lost. When, for example, Powell persuaded the president to dispatch a special envoy into the Israeli-Palestinian thicket, the result was an explosion of violence on both sides and the prompt collapse of the U.S. effort. When Powell convinced the president to return to the United Nations one last time before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the effort backfired, doing nothing to budge the Europeans and much to discredit the cause of the Americans. His signature accomplishments as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff delaying U.S. action in Bosnia, preventing gays from serving openly in the military, placing restrictions on the scope of American action during the first Gulf War may have been controversial. But at least they left their mark.
With Condoleezza Rice at the helm and, in all likelihood, with Undersecretary of State John Bolton as her deputy the State Department will now be run by a team known for its rigid loyalty to the president. They, more than any other administration officials, represent authentic expressions of Bush's foreign policy more realistic than the Bush team's neoconservatives but far more aggressive than its self-described "realists." Rice, to be sure, is neither a great thinker nor a great manager. But she is a great lieutenant that is, someone who can be relied on to convey and translate the president's inclinations into official policy. For his part, Bolton is all of these things, plus a fierce conservative. Between the two of them, they could well transform Foggy Bottom into something that looks more like the Pentagon only competently run. Even if the State Department doesn't become the center of foreign policy deliberations, it certainly won't stymie them.
As for the National Security Council, the very fact that Rice's former deputy will be running day to day operations at the NSC ensures that cooperation between Foggy Bottom and the White House will improve. If Stephen Hadley, like Rice, is essentially a technocrat, he is a loyal technocrat, known for his lawyerly-like implementation of orders from above. Moreover, with staunch realist and Powell ally Robert Blackwill out of the way as Hadley's competitor and co-deputy national security adviser philosophical objections to the direction of U.S. policy that often made their way from Foggy Bottom to the White House should effectively be silenced.
Nor will the expected departure of Rumsfeld and his lieutenants at the Defense Department dilute the president's robust foreign policy preferences. Were a Joe Lieberman or, by an outside chance, Paul Wolfowitz catapulted to the top Pentagon post, the new defense secretary may end up promoting an even more aggressive foreign policy stance than the president himself. But, even at the cabinet level, ideology's no longer the point. If a John Warner or a Dan Coats winds up in the E-ring, it won't really matter. In contrast to the president's first term, personnel won't be policy in his second. Bush knows what he believes now. And there's no one left to stand in his way.
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Lawrence F. Kaplan is a senior editor at The New Republic.. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
© 2004, The New Republic