The neoconservatives won’t have Colin Powell to kick around anymore, who’s leaving along with his sidekick Richard Armitage: with them go the last vestiges of sanity in this war-maddened administration. The general purge of Republican "realists" from the Bush cabinet is a great victory for the War Party, but that’s only half the battle. The other half consists of inserting their own people in key positions, but they aren’t doing too badly so far. Let’s take the new foreign policy related appointments one by one:
Condi at State – Condoleezza Rice has always been an intellectual lightweight, still stuck in the Cold War mentality in which she was mentored over at the Hoover Institution. I almost fell out of my chair laughing when I heard John Fund hail her on MSNBC as one tough broad for standing up to the Stanford faculty as provost – yeah, but can she stand up to Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, and Danielle Pletka, the neocon Harpy up for chief of the Near East bureau over at State? She never has, and never will: instead she will continue to serve as a conduit for neocon disinformation, such as in the case of Saddam’s nonexistent nuclear program.
It was Rice, you’ll remember, who came out with her infamous remark conjuring visions of a mushroom cloud sprouting over Washington as the only alternative to war with Iraq. It was also Rice who allowed bogus "intelligence" to bypass the CIA and the normal vetting process, and made sure it was "stovepiped" (as Seymour Hersh puts it) to the White House.
Her power and influence is directly due to the evolution of our system of government from republican forms to an overtly imperial structure: in the former, officials must have the confidence of the people and their elected representatives, i.e., the Congress; in the latter, closeness to the Emperor is the decisive factor. The rise of Rice is symptomatic of a time in which the mediocre rise to the top. Condi, who spends weekends at Camp David with the president and his family, doesn’t have to be the brightest bulb in the bunch. Her usefulness to the neocons who have hijacked American foreign policy is as a cover and an enabler, who will come in handy as they start to gin us up for another war.
Stephen Hadley as National Security Advisor – Hadley is portrayed as the archetypal technocrat, whose personal loyalty to the president is the key factor in his promotion to head of the NSC. But his ideological inclinations are solidly neocon, and this was clear early on when he briefed a group of prominent Republicans, in the spring of 2000, on what the foreign policy priorities of a Bush administration would be, and, as former intelligence official Patrick Lang relates, the Bushies’ Iraq fixation predated 9/11:
"Hadley’s briefing shocked a number of the participants, according to Clifford Kiracofe, a professor at the Virginia Military Institute, who spoke to several of them shortly after the meeting. Hadley announced that the ‘number-one foreign-policy agenda’ of a Bush administration would be Iraq and the unfinished business of removing Saddam Hussein from power. Hadley also made it clear that the Israel-Palestine conflict, which had dominated the Middle East agenda of the Clinton administration, would be placed in the deep freeze."
Like Rice, Hadley is a facilitator, a conduit through which the neocons operate, allowing them to bypass all opposition – such as formerly existed in the CIA and the State Department – such as the time he "forgot" to pass on to the president the CIA’s debunking of the claim that Saddam was seeking nuke-grade uranium in the African nation of Niger.
With Powell out, his staff is waxing nostalgic even before he’s had a chance to clean out his desk:
"One female officer said she will be forever endeared to Powell’s team for a minor, but telling, change. At the State Department, historically a male bastion, the female bathrooms still had urinals. Now, two on the first floor of the department’s main building do not."
This will no doubt make Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign policy and defense studies over at the American Enterprise Institute – otherwise known as Neocon Central – feel right at home. Up for assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, Pletka is a militant neocon who defended Ahmed Chalabi even after he was outed as an Iranian spy who had betrayed U.S. secrets to Tehran, trekking in a group with her AEI confreres to Condi’s office to make the case for the disgraced INC leader, and declaring in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece that the convicted embezzler and double-dealer "is a foreigner and owes us no fealty."
Pletka, in short, is a real piece of work. As The American Prospect reported:
“Danielle Pletka, vice president of the AEI and an expert on the Iraqi opposition, angrily denounced State Department officials who disparage Chalabi. ‘The [Defense Department] is running post-Saddam Iraq,’ said Pletka, almost shouting. ‘The people at the State Department don’t know what they are talking about! Who the hell are they? Who gives a good goddamn what they think?’"
That Ms. Pletka is going to be lording it over a cadre of professionals whom she clearly despises tells you exactly what the State Department is in for. The Great Purge is on.
Even more worrisome than Pletka is the probable appointment of John Bolton, formerly undersecretary of state for arms control, as Rice’s chief deputy. Well before Gulf War II, Bolton was assuring Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Syria and Iran were next on America’s agenda (scroll down for the story). Of the putative deputy secretary, Jesse Helms once said:
“John Bolton is the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, if it should be my lot to be on hand for what is forecast to be the final battle between good and evil in this world.”
With the ascension of Bolton, Pletka, and their pals, we may be closer to Armageddon than anyone thinks.
The Great Purge of 2004 would not be complete, however, without the neocons taking out Donald Rumsfeld, who has long resisted their relentless mantra that more troops – and more aggressive tactics – are needed to crush the Iraqi insurgency so they can get on with their next "regime change" project. The rumored replacement: Joe Lieberman! As The Australian recently averred in an editorial:
"Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has consistently shown himself part of the problem, not part of the solution, vastly underestimating the value of boots on the ground in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s fall. Mr Rumsfeld should now be edged out – indeed, he should have been sacked after the disclosure of the appalling prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison. While there has already been speculation about National Security Adviser and Bush confidante Condoleezza Rice filling Mr Rumsfeld’s shoes, the vacancy might provide an opportunity for Mr Bush to broaden the church of his administration and incorporate genuinely new voices and new approaches on Iraq. Two candidates who spring to mind are Republican maverick John McCain and Democrat hawk Joe Lieberman."
Such are the perils of empire: foreign newspapers think nothing of calling for the replacement of this or that cabinet member, and even endorsing candidates for president. One wonders what the average Australian – as opposed to The Australian – would have to say if the New York Times demanded that John Howard sack his defense minister, in order to ratchet up an unpopular war.
With Lieberman in there, the Bush administration would begin to look like the membership of the revivified Committee on the Present Danger – and that, my friends, is what the triumph of the neocons is all about. The neocon utopia is a world where the only "debate" is over how many "boots on the ground" to commit to this or that intervention – never over the merits of intervention per se. With a thoroughly Kerry-ized Democratic party – where interventionism is a sacred dogma, and withdrawal the forbidden word – the national dialogue becomes a monologue, and that suits the neocons just fine.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I note, in passing, the monumental hypocrisy of Andrew Sullivan:
"FOR THE RECORD: An account of the untruths Colin Powell laid before the U.N. Security Council in arguing for war against Saddam. Money quote:
"’My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we are giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources.’
"It was almost all crap, as we now know. Any self-respecting public official would have resigned as soon as that became clear – or at least apologized, as Blair has done. But Powell was in the Bush administration."
Sullivan then (February 5, 2003):
"I just watched Colin Powell’s address to the Security Council. More impressive than I expected, especially on the Saddam-al Qaeda linkage. How, I wonder, can anyone now doubt that Saddam is deliberately obstructing the implementation of Resolution 1441? The evidence is overwhelming. The only question now is whether the U.N. cares about its own credibility, its own authority and its own integrity. … The main, horrifying conclusion from Powell’s presentation, however, is not about the U.N. It’s about the direct threat we are still under. If Saddam has what Powell outlines, then this war could be horrendous. It could lead to massive casualties among American troops and a possible attack on civilians in Europe and the U.S. That makes it more important that we get international cover and support for the terrible duty we now have. This seems to me to be particularly true because it was the international coalition that insisted in 1991 that the first Gulf War not extend to deposing Saddam. That coalition now has a moral responsibility to help the U.S. and the U.K. to finish the job. We can only pray now that France, Russia, Germany and the others take that responsibility seriously. Powell has done all that he could have done to make that choice stark and unavoidable. The rest is up to the U.N."
And here he berates Joe Conason, who was absolutely right.
The measure of a pundit is how right he was before the fact. But Sullivan, who has been consistently wrong about everything – from the aftermath of the war, to the load of malarkey that passed for "evidence" of Iraqi WMD – just doesn’t know when to shut up and listen. Of course, some of us weren’t taken in by Powell’s performance at the time, but one would hardly expect Sullivan to be open to any arguments from the antiwar side of the divide – which he smears as a "fifth column."
Not that he ever acknowledges any change in his position. This, after all, is the same guy who called for a nuclear attack on Iraq as "retaliation" for the anthrax incidents – which he imputed, without evidence, to "terrorists" associated with Saddam Hussein.
MORE NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I have a piece in the December issue of Chronicles, the superb magazine put out by the Rockford Institute, on the "second thoughts" of some in the War Party, who have repented their support for the invasion and conquest of Iraq – but haven’t learned the lesson of what being so very wrong entails. No, it’s not online, but if you had subscribed like I told you to, you wouldn’t be wondering what you’re missing….