Hawk-Realist Impasse Could Persist in Second Term

With the pomp and circumstance of the inaugural and the State of the Union address now out of the way, the foreign policy direction to be taken by President George W. Bush in his second term remains a subject of considerable speculation and uncertainty.

Foreign diplomats and analysts are still poring over the list of Bush’s latest appointments for clues as to whether the hawks – the coalition of neoconservatives, aggressive nationalists, and the Christian Right – who dominated policy after Sept. 11, 2001 through the invasion of Iraq, or the "realists" who have been ascendant since the late 2003 are on top.

With the departure of the chief of the realist faction, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, announced shortly after Bush’s reelection, it was widely believed that the hawks, led by Vice President Dick Cheney and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, had a clear path.

That notion received much wider currency in late December when it became known that Bush had also accepted the resignation of arch-realist Brent Scowcroft, the elder Bush’s national security adviser, as chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB).

But the appointment by incoming Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick as her deputy, as well as reports that she intended to fill the number three spot with NATO Amb. Nicholas Burns and the State Department’s regional bureau with career foreign-service officers, suggested that the State Department would continue to be a bastion of realism.

It also signaled that Rice, who was seen as a weak national security adviser during the first term, was prepared to resist Cheney, who had promoted ultra-hawk John Bolton, the current undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, as her number two.

Still, the balance of power is anything but clear, particularly after the announcement last week that the new national security adviser, Cheney protégé Stephen Hadley, had chosen J.D. Crouch, a gun and nuclear weapons enthusiast who may be even further to the right than Bolton, as his deputy.

During the first term, Crouch, currently ambassador to Romania, oversaw Washington’s withdrawal from the 1973 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty and the near sabotage of several arms-control negotiations.

In the past, he has called for preemptive military action against North Korea and Cuba. But he is perhaps most notorious for a letter to the editor of the Washington Times blaming the 1999 massacre of students at Columbine High School in Colorado on "30 years of liberal social policy that has put our children in day care, taken God out of the schools, taken Mom out of the house, and banished Dad as an authority figure from the family altogether."

Despite the coup that his appointment represents, it’s still not clear that the hawks are indeed in the driver’s seat, in part because the game of musical chairs is not yet finished.

Still to be announced, for example, is the replacement for the neoconservative undersecretary of defense for policy, Douglas Feith. Also up in the air is Bush’s pick to be the first national intelligence director, although it is known that the president’s first choice was former CIA director, Robert Gates, a consummate realist, who declined to accept.

In divining the power balance, the biggest unknown is what Rice herself will do. No one doubts that, on a personal basis, she is far closer to Bush than any other foreign policy adviser, but, during the first term, it appears that she was reluctant to press her personal views on the president.

Thus, Powell, who clearly never enjoyed good personal chemistry with Bush, found himself isolated whenever Rumsfeld and Cheney, who emerged as the single greatest influence on Bush in the first term, were in accord. So the big question now is whether Rice as secretary of state will feel empowered to weigh in against the two hawks in ways that she didn’t as national security adviser.

Unless and until a clear policy difference emerges – as it did early in the first term when Powell praised South Korea’s "sunshine policy" toward North Korea only to be publicly contradicted by Bush or, two months later, when the two sides battled over how to respond to China’s detention of a US spy plane and its crew – it will be very difficult to determine how the new team interacts and which side is stronger on what issues.

Of course, external factors that also favor the realists are the budgetary and manpower constraints – both of which are related to Iraq – on Bush’s freedom of action in his second term.

As champions of unilateralism whose contempt for allies, particularly Europeans, makes it very difficult to persuade other nations to contribute money or troops to Washington’s adventures, the hawks must battle the growing concern among Republicans and the US public that money does not grow on trees.

And despite Bush’s recent rhetorical flights extolling Washington’s mission of spreading democracy throughout the world, and particularly in the Middle East, the hawks also appear attentive to opinion polls that consistently show great public skepticism about the desirability of deploying US troops to "liberate" foreign peoples, the wildly enthusiastic media coverage of the Iraqi elections last Sunday notwithstanding.

Indeed, the generally mild tone of Bush’s State of the Union Address suggests that neither side has the upper hand at the moment. While the president sounded tough on Iran, for example, his treatment of North Korea – of whom Cheney is reported to have once said, "We don’t negotiate with evil" – verged on what for this administration would be considered warmth.

At least for now, it appears that the last year of Bush’s first term – when the two sides were in constant contention with neither able to clearly prevail – offers the best insight into the new one.

(Inter Press Service)


Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.