Slightly Less Crazy in DC
weeks after compromising with its traditional allies on the wording
of a key UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, U.S. foreign policy
under George W. Bush appears to be moving further toward the more
realist policies of his father in other areas as well.
pretend to know whether the move is tactical for electoral reasons
or strategic, in the sense that it would continue if Bush won reelection.
But the notion that the president is indeed trying to soften the
harder edges of his foreign policy agenda is now widely accepted.
latest solid indication of this trend came Wednesday as U.S. negotiators
in Beijing outlined for the first time the possible benefits that
North Korea would gain in exchange for its commitment to disclose
and dismantle nuclear weapons programs.
the presentation, which came during the opening of three days of
multilateral talks involving South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia,
as well as North Korea, amounted to a repackaging of the administration's
position, it was nonetheless seen as a major victory of State Department
realists over right-wing hardliners in the Pentagon and Vice President
Dick Cheney's office.
the New York Times, whose reporter, David Sanger, had been
given a private briefing about the move by none other than Bush's
national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, the day before, called
the presentation "a turning point" in the three-year struggle
over Korea policy.
the Security Council, meanwhile, U.S. envoys sheepishly withdrew
a proposed resolution to extend the immunity of U.S. troops and
officials serving in UN-authorized peacekeeping operations from
the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for one
years ago, the administration considered a similar resolution so
important that it threatened to veto all UN peacekeeping operations
if the Council did not approve it, as it subsequently, albeit resentfully,
on Wednesday, the latest version, which had already been watered
down from an earlier draft, was quietly taken off the agenda by
the deputy ambassador, James Cunningham, who explicitly declined
to reaffirm Washington's threats to retaliate if it did not get
United States has decided not to proceed further with consideration
and action on the draft at this time in order to avoid a prolonged
and divisive debate," Cunningham politely explained.
is a victory for international justice and the rule of law,"
crowed Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, in
a statement that must have caused much gnashing of teeth at the
Pentagon and Cheney's office.
fact, it was another victory for administration realists who, while
not enamored with the ICC by any means, have long argued that the
unilateralism of administration hardliners would end with the rest
of the world turning against the U.S. in ways that ultimately Washington
could ill afford.
that fear was long derided with contempt by the neoconservatives
and right-wing nationalists who dominated the administration's foreign
policy after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon,
now, with 140,000 U.S. troops bogged down in Iraq and still no clear
exit strategy (let alone "victory") in sight, it has become
the overriding reality that confronts the White House on a daily
Bush administration has gotten America into its worst foreign-policy
debacle since the Vietnam War, the kind of crisis that creates a
moment when you realize you can't continue this way," said
John Ikenberry, professor of politics and international affairs
at Princeton University.
are as close to an open rebellion against American leadership in
the world as we've seen since after World War II," he told
IPS. "The costs of a unilateral, hard-line, go-it-alone approach
are much greater than those who championed that style have anticipated."
the tilt to the realists has been driven by the convergence of Washington's
steadily growing diplomatic isolation and its patent failure to
cope by itself, or with its dwindling number of allies, with the
situation in Iraq.
order to begin to redress that situation, the administration was
forced to accept a UN resolution that substantially diluted its
ability to control Iraq's future – the kind of resolution that would
have been dismissed contemptuously by the administration just three
months ago but which has long been seen as desirable by the realists
in the State Department whose sense of the limits of U.S. power
was always far more acute.
same logic now applies elsewhere, as in the ongoing negotiations
in North Korea about which Cheney reportedly said last December
in vetoing precisely the kind of repackaging of U.S. proposals that
Kelly put forward Wednesday, "We don't negotiate with evil;
we defeat it."
the administration's game plan of isolating North Korea in the six-party
talks by insisting that all negotiations, including the discussion
of possible gains Pyongyang might expect by co-operating, be preconditioned
on its commitment to the "complete, verifiable and irreversible
dismantlement" (CVID) of its nuclear arms programs, was ultimately
rejected as both unrealistic and counterproductive by Washington's
quagmire in Iraq further weakened Washington's position by reducing
the credibility of both its military threats and its intelligence
on nuclear weapons programs. Nor did it help that the administration's
increasingly desperate need for troops from Japan and South Korea
– and for Chinese diplomatic support at the UN – gave those three
governments far more leverage in negotiations over North Korea than
when Bush was celebrating victory in Iraq on the deck of the U.S.S.
the last month, unusually frank public statements of impatience
from Beijing, Seoul and finally Tokyo with Washington's refusal
to discuss carrots as well as sticks made it clear that Washington
had succeeded only in isolating itself, precisely as the State Department
as Iraq has badly weakened Washington's military credibility, so
the global outrage over the Abu Ghraib prison abuses has weakened
its moral and political authority at the UN, making what the White
House described as a routine "technical rollover" of the
ICC immunity resolution an insurmountable hurdle, especially after
Secretary-General Kofi Annan denounced it. To the extent that the
administration now relies on him to help bail it out of Iraq, his
leverage over Bush has also increased, just as the realists predicted.
next arena is almost certain to be Iran. There, too, signs of realism
have been budding since last December as the administration has
both muted its threats to retaliate if Tehran intervenes against
U.S. interests in Iraq and moved ever-closer to its European allies
in dealing with Teheran's nuclear program.
Gen. Brent Scowcroft – Bush Senior's national security adviser and
mentor to both Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell – proposed
in the Washington Post Thursday a plan whereby the U.S.,
Britain, France, Germany and Russia offer to help Iran build and
equip nuclear reactors in exchange for verifiable commitments that
it will not attempt to enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel that
can be used in a weapons program.
who was chewed out privately by Rice for an August, 2002, Wall
Street Journal column in which he opposed the drive to war in
Iraq, has generally been careful since then to publish articles
that he has reason to believe would be well received in the White
House. One well-placed neoconservative wrote recently that Rice,
chastened by her dalliance with the hawks, is now in frequent contact
with her former patron.
proposal – the heart of which is similar to a 1994 deal negotiated
between the Clinton administration and North Korea – is certain
to be highly provocative to administration hardliners who remain
committed to "regime change" in both of the remaining
members of the "axis of evil."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 One World