Just one week ago, conventional wisdom both here and in European capitals was that President George W. Bush’s second term would see a modest turn toward multilateralism and a new readiness to compromise on key issues with traditional U.S. allies.
Today, however, that particular conventional wisdom is being questioned amid renewed anxiety that the unilateralist trajectory on which Bush launched the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon is back on track.
The biggest single reason for the change was Monday’s nomination of John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security during the first term, to the high-profile post of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The problem, as pointed out by a number of Democrats, is that virtually everything Bolton has ever said about the UN suggests that he thinks the world, and particularly the U.S., would be better off without it, once opining (before 9/11) that if the UN secretariat building lost 10 stories, "it wouldn’t make a bit of difference."
"This nomination is a poke in the eye to the world diplomatic community and a signal that the Bush administration is going to continue its unilateralist approach," noted Joe Volk, executive secretary of a major peace group, Friends Committee for National Legislation (FCNL), one of a growing number of groups who are gearing up for a lobbying campaign to persuade senators to oppose Bolton’s confirmation.
Former Ambassador Chas Freeman described the appointment as "the equivalent of dropping a neutron bomb on the organization."
But whatever the nomination said about Bush’s attitude toward the UN, it also demonstrated that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is supposed to serve as his superior if he is confirmed by the Senate, will likely play a much less powerful role in Bush’s second term than had been thought, particularly in the wake of her two tours one with the president of Europe last month.
Knowing how much Bolton had undermined former Secretary of State Colin Powell during the first term, Rice resisted pressure from Bolton, his Congressional backers, and Vice President Dick Cheney by refusing to appoint him as her deputy secretary of state choosing instead arch-realist Robert Zoellick in what was seen as a kind of declaration of independence from the hawks perched in Cheney’s office and around Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
That defiance, followed by her triumphal tours of Europe where she repeatedly promised closer consultation, was widely considered a sign that the "realists," previously led by Powell, had a new champion at Foggy Bottom and one who also enjoyed a much closer personal relationship with the president than her predecessor.
But the nomination of Bolton who really served as Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s cat’s paw at the State Department under Powell has profoundly challenged the notion that Rice can stand up to them.
The fact that her strongest argument in favor of Bolton when she was challenged by senators privately on the decision to send him to the UN was that his tenure there may persuade him to modify his hardline views, just as former anti-communist President Richard Nixon decided to launch a strategic relationship with Communist China in the early 1970s, confirmed to many here that Bolton was being forced down her throat.
While Bolton’s nomination was the immediate cause of the reassessment that is now taking place, there have been other signs that the balance of power within the administration has indeed shifted strongly toward the hawks.
Perhaps the most important was the little-noted appointment of J.D. Crouch as the deputy national security adviser under Rice’s former deputy, Stephen Hadley. While Hadley’s foreign policy views were seen as a mixture of realism and Cheney’s aggressive nationalism, Crouch, who served most recently as ambassador to Romania, is regarded as a right-wing extremist on both domestic and foreign policy issues.
A protégé of William Van Cleave, a Rumsfeld ally, and one of the leaders of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD) in the 1970s who claimed that the Soviet Union intended to fight and win a nuclear war with the United States (whose daughter now serves as the chief of counterintelligence under Rumsfeld), Crouch was also a favorite of then-Defense Secretary Cheney during Bush’s father’s administration, 1989-1993.
He worked in the Pentagon’s policy division under the current deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who has been Cheney’s chief of staff and national security adviser over the past four years.
After the first Gulf War in 1991-92, Wolfowitz, Libby and Crouch were all involved in the draft of a controversial Defense Planning Guidance (DPG), parts of which were leaked to the New York Times and then explicitly repudiated by the administration.
It called for global engagement by the U.S. on its own terms calling for a military posture designed to deter "potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role."
It also urged Washington to create "ad hoc assemblies" to deal with crisis situations the 1992 version of "coalitions of the willing" and a doctrine of unilateral military preemption"to prevent the development or use of weapons of mass destruction."
And it predicted that U.S. military interventions would be a "constant fixture" of the new world order. It omitted any role for the UN in preserving international peace and security.
When the draft was leaked to the Times, it caused an uproar, with Democratic Senator Joseph Biden claiming that it amounted to a prescription for a "Pax Americana" and others that it would make Washington the "world’s policeman."
On Thursday, the Boston Globe reported that Rumsfeld has set forth the main priorities for the Pentagon’s latest "Quadrennial Defense Review" (QDR), a major policy paper to guide strategic planning through the end of the decade and beyond.
Among the most prominent priorities, according to the Globe account, will be preventing the emergence of a "peer competitor," stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and dramatically expanding the size of U.S. special forces in order to operate more freely and unilaterally worldwide.
The Globe, which described the Rumsfeld memo setting out his priorities as having a "go-it-alone" tone, omitted boilerplate language that has appeared in previous QDRs about the importance of U.S. alliances or the UN
The unipolar world conceived by Wolfowitz & Co. in 1991 was expressed best by Bolton himself back in 2000.
"If I were redoing the Security Council today, I’d have one permanent member because that’s the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world," he said during an interview with National Public Radio’s Juan Williams.
"And that one member would be, John Bolton?" Williams asked.
"The United States," Bolton responded.
(Inter Press Service)