Jewish World Review March 29, 2001 / 5 Nissan, 5761
The clear suggestion in the Times article is that, while "in an ideal world there is nothing wrong with the president's receiving clashing recommendations," in the real world, and particularly in the case of George W. Bush, "public ideological cleavages" are not a good thing. Why not? Well, the Times is too polite to put it quite this way, but the danger is that Mr. Bush is so ignorant that he might actually allow the conservative view to prevail.
To state the threat in the delicate language of Times-speak, "Mr. Bush, who is inexperienced in foreign affairs, has acknowledged that he will rely on his most senior policy advisers. So as the competition among them intensifies, Vice President Dick Cheney, who collected his own foreign policy specialists, more powerful than any gathered by previous vice presidents [more powerful than any gathered by previous vice presidents! My G-d!] is likely to be an important arbiter . . . [and] Mr. Cheney is seen as leaning more toward the Pentagon."
It is all true enough. The Bush administration is indeed divided on the fundamentals of foreign policy, with Secretary of State Colin Powell heading a faction that favors a softer, sweeter approach and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld leading those who would prefer to take a harder line in dealing with the world's hard cases. And the early indications are that the hard-liners will win. Indeed, in every test so far, the hard-liners have won.
When Powell told reporters that sanctions against Iraq should be eased so as "to relieve the burden on the Iraqi people," White House and defense officials put out the word that the secretary of state was speaking for himself, and Bush promptly and publicly brushed Powell back: "Saddam should not read into our discussions about making [Iraq] policy more effective any weakness in our position." Hard-liners such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Cheney's national security adviser, I. Lewis Libby, are openly pushing for a policy of arming the Iraqi opposition groups in a bid to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime; the president has done nothing publicly to suggest he opposes such talk.
The administration's decision to expel 50 Russian diplomats for espionage activity was, on one level, a traditional spy-game move, a punishment for the Robert Hanssen embarrassment. But, as former Russian prime minister Yevgeny Primakov has noted, it also reflected the administration's desire to demonstrate that it does not, in its dealings with Russia, intend to display the "flabbiness of the former administration." In the same vein, regarding the Palestinians, this president has made it clear he has no interest in pursuing the endless pleading that won his predecessor nothing but the humiliation of last year's Camp David fiasco.
This month, Bush told South Korean President Kim Dae Jung that he would not resume any time soon the Clinton administration's talks with North Korea aimed at persuading that nation to stop building its long-range ballistic missile program. Bush's position, which seems reasonable enough, is that he is not opposed to a deal here, but that he would like first to ensure that tough safeguards are in place to guarantee compliance with the deal. This is not the way the Clinton administration approached North Korea, but Bush does not care for the Clinton way. When Powell, again apparently speaking for himself, announced that the Bush administration would "pick up where President Clinton and his administration left off," the White House politely but quite firmly "clarified" Powell's statement out of meaningful existence.
So, it is clear enough, the hard-liners have the president's sympathies and the warm-and-fuzzy thinkers do not. What is not so clear is why anyone thinks this is so terrible. First, it is not manifest that "public ideological cleavages" are bad; second, it is not manifest that the hard-liners' triumphs in such a debate are also bad. We have had eight years of a foreign policy that frequently rested on the notion that wishing can make a thing so, or at least can make it go away -- and it can, for a while, if by "away" one simply means "off the evening news." Now is the time for dealing with the realities of what was left behind, and that is a logical time to listen to the
03/22/01: Not guilty by reason of notoriety