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Jewish World Review March 29, 2001 / 5 Nissan, 5761

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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The conflict within -- The New York Times, serving in one of its traditional roles as the voice of the foreign policy establishment, reports this week, in the words of a front-page headline, that the "Bush Team's Counsel Is Divided on Foreign Policy." Two intra-administration factions, it seems, are fighting to shape the new president's foreign policy: "an ideologically conservative Pentagon and a more moderate State Department."

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 realists.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


03/22/01: Not guilty by reason of notoriety
03/15/01: A fine foreign policy mess
03/08/01: Dubya's savvy: OOPS! I was wrong
03/01/01: Engagement's unseeing eye
02/22/01: The Pardoner's false brief
02/08/01: Oops, they almost converted
02/01/01: Exit the abusers
01/25/01: The monster and the minority
01/11/01: Master money-grubber
01/11/01: Re Bipartisanship: From: The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy To: The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy
01/04/01: Faux Commotion
12/21/00: The next Martha Stewart
12/14/00: Democracy rescued
12/06/00: Gore's next task: Face reality
11/15/00: The Great Defender
11/02/00: The Democrats' delusion
10/26/00: Phony Truce
10/19/00: The Talking Cure
10/12/00: Doves' Day of Reckoning
10/05/00: Conan the veep
09/28/00: Dumb vs. Dishonest
09/21/00: Flapping furiously
09/14/00: Down AlGore's Memory Hole
08/24/00: AlGore's Flex-O-Joe
08/17/00: The Joyful Clinton Nation
08/09/00: A Calculated Risk
08/03/00: New Hope for Nice Guys
07/27/00: But What About Dad?
07/20/00: U.S. Handiwork In Sierra Leone
07/13/00: President With a Porpoise
07/06/00: The Importance of Being Earnest
06/29/00: A Press Obsession With the Death Penalty
06/21/00: Gore and the Goodies
06/15/00: Network Snooze
06/01/00: Sunshine on My Shoulders
05/24/00: Last Chance for a Hardened Prevaricator
05/17/00: Cuomo's Thought Police
05/10/00: Hammering DeLay
05/04/00: Some Closing Thoughts
04/28/00: Endangering Elian
04/19/00: Imitation Activism
04/12/00: Why they hate Bubba
04/05/00: Census and nonesense
03/29/00: The Stiffs and Their Statuettes
03/15/00: Anarchy in Kosovo
03/08/00: Reform joke
03/01/00:The Pinhead Factor
03/01/00: The Christian Right: Past Its Prime . . .
02/24/00: McCain's Majority
02/16/00: Sharpton's Supplicants
02/09/00: The GOP Pilgrims' Sad Tale
02/02/00: Fodder For the GOP
01/26/00: Million-Dollar Mediocrity
01/19/00: Campaign Reform: Let's Pretend
01/12/00: Never Again? Oh, Never Mind
01/05/00: Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In
12/22/99: Gore's TV Gambit
12/15/99: Campaigns Do Clarify
12/08/99: Kosovo's Killers
12/01/99: Not Ready for Prime Time?
11/24/99: The Company He Keeps
11/17/99: Republican Illusion
11/10/99: The Know-Nothing Media
11/03/99: Necessary Partisanship
10/27/99: Buchanan's Gift to George W. Bush
10/21/99: Who are the real friends of the poor?
10/14/99: Gore's 'courage'!?
10/08/99: Republican Stunts
09/23/99: Buchanan's folly
09/16/99: Beatty and Buchanan: That's Entertainment!
09/09/99: Puerto Rico Surprise (Cont'd)
09/02/99: Puerto Rico Surprise
08/12/99:The Age of No Class
08/05/99: Assessing Welfare Reform
07/29/99: On the Wrong Side
07/21/99: Mass Sentimentality
07/15/99: Blame Hillary
07/08/99: Guide to the Arts: For Your Summer Reading . . .
06/30/99: A Perfectly Clintonian Doctrine
06/25/99:Smorgasbord by the Sea
06/16/99: A National Calamity
06/09/99: Stumbling Forward
06/02/99: Commencement '90s-Style
05/26/99: Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...
05/19/99: Comforting Milosevic
05/13/99: Short-Order Strategists
05/06/99: Four Revolting Spectacles

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