The Realists Rally
by Jim Lobe
two years of dominating US foreign policy, are unilateralist hawks
in the administration of President George W. Bush losing power to
the so-called realists whom they have long disdained?
internal fights within the administration on issues such as policy
towards Syria, Iran and North Korea remain fierce, there are growing
indications that the influence of the hawks, neo-conservatives in
particular, is on the wane.
attacks on the neo-cons by key foreign-policy figures, as well as
suggestions that hawks in the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's
office are losing influence in several key areas, including Iraq,
are adding to this impression.
Bush himself still deploys the soaring "we're-bringing-democracy-to-the-Arab-world"
rhetoric that has been a neo-conservative trademark for the past
15 months most recently in his trip last week to Britain the
growing consensus here is that the decision to accelerate the transfer
of sovereignty to an Iraqi government belies a sharp reduction in
the speed with which Washington is trying to recruit former soldiers
and police with only pro-forma training and vetting for past
loyalties to the Ba'ath regime of former president Saddam Hussein
marks a major departure from the thoroughgoing de-Ba'athification
program that neo-conservatives said was absolutely necessary if
democratic governance was to have a chance in Iraq.
some neo-conservatives themselves, such as Weekly Standard
Editor William Kristol, have conceded that the new plans suggest
the administration is looking for an "exit" strategy,
rather than a "victory" strategy.
the loss of neo-conservative influence is also visible beyond Iraq.
announcement during his trip to Asia late last month that he was
willing to put into writing his verbal commitment that Washington
would not attack North Korea marked a significant victory for the
realists in the State Department, leading former ambassador Donald
Gregg, a Korea expert close to Bush's father, George H.W. Bush,
to declare "the administration's pragmatists are in charge."
recent straws in the wind included the abrupt resignation late last
month of a major hawk, Assistant Defense Secretary for International
Security J.D. Crouch II, and the announcement by Deputy Secretary
of State Richard Armitage that Washington intended to resume a dialogue
with Iran in the near future, although the latter remains a source
of great contention within the administration.
Washington's quiet agreement this week to not press for a resolution
at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that would ask
the United Nations Security Council to consider sanctions against
Iran for maintaining secrecy about its nuclear program in
other words, to defer to the advice of France, Germany and Britain
marked a defeat for the hawks.
of State Colin Powell also scored another major, albeit little-noticed
win, in another conflict with the hawks, including his ultra-unilateralist
undersecretary of state for arms control and international security,
administration decided to waive sanctions against six central European
countries that have refused to sign bilateral treaties that would
have barred them from handing over US citizens to the International
Criminal Court (ICC) for investigation or prosecution for crimes
against humanity or war crimes.
who is close to both the neo-conservatives and Cheney, has been
on an 18-month global crusade to punish countries that refuse to
sign such agreements, and the administration's waiver, which was
also urged by a unanimous Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could
undermine his efforts and credibility.
detect in these moves the growing influence of several officials,
not least of whom is Karl Rove, Bush's closest political adviser,
who is reported to have warned already in September that there should
be "no wars in 2004," advice that makes a lot of sense in view
of Bush's precipitous drop in the polls, much of it due to a growing
lack of confidence about Iraq policy.
fact that only a minority of voters now believe the president's
reasons for going to war Iraq's alleged ties to al-Qaeda
terrorists and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs
were based on real evidence has clearly undermined administration
hawks, who were most insistent about the threat Baghdad supposedly
posed to the United States.
the patent and continuing failure of the hawks to anticipate the
postwar situation in Iraq has clearly weakened their hand in internal
was clearly signaled by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
in early October when she formed the Iraq Stabilization Group (ISG)
based in her National Security Council, a move that clearly displeased
Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld.
important was her hiring of former US Ambassador to India, Robert
Blackwill, who appears to have effectively taken control of Iraq
policy and a great deal more at the expense of the Pentagon hawks.
who was Rice's boss in the first Bush administration, is considered
on the right, but with a far more pragmatic temperament than the
recent announcement that the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA),
which is officially controlled by Rumsfeld, is doubling the number
of foreign-service officers to 110 most of them from the State
Department's Near East bureau marks a major defeat for the Pentagon's
neo-cons, who had vetoed virtually all of the State Department's
Arabists for top CPA positions before the occupation due to suspicions
that they were too pro-Sunni or elite-oriented.
CPA chief L. Paul Bremer appears to be working directly with Blackwill
in the White House, effectively circumventing Rumsfeld and his neo-conservative
to the Washington Post, the two men have a "close relationship"
dating back some 30 years. The newspaper quoted one unidentified
friend of both who characterized them as "basically conservative
... but focused on national interest and power not neoconservatism.
They are not ideological dreamers."
mutual loss of confidence in the hawks was suggested by Bremer's
sudden return to Washington two weeks ago with a pessimistic CIA
report, the existence of which was promptly leaked to a reporter
to ensure that the White House knew to press for the decision to
accelerate the transition process in Iraq.
according to one source, attached a personal endorsement to the
report by the CIA which is considered as much of a bÍte
noire of the neo-cons as State's Near East bureau in
what was seen as another slap at the hawks.
this context, the publication by the Post on Sunday of a comprehensive
attack on the hawks' push for unilateral war in Iraq by Powell's
former director of policy planning, Richard Haass, also suggests
growing confidence on the part of the realists, of which Haass,
now president of the ultra-establishment Council on Foreign Relations,
is an exemplar.
column argues that unilateral "wars of choice"
including Iraq can be fought successfully only on two conditions:
first, the US public must be "on board ... to the extent of
being psychologically prepared for the possible costs"; and
second, Washington must "line up international support,"
lest it be "stretched too thin or (go) deeply into debt."
who left the State Department only last summer and served the elder
Bush as a top Middle East aide, not only made clear that he felt
neither condition had been met in Iraq; but that "American democracy
... (does) not mix well with empire" and that "the United States
is not geared to sustain costly wars of choice."
depicted the recent decision to speed the transition process as
a politically realistic move that will necessarily fall short of
the neo-cons' more ambitious goals.
a midcourse correction in US policy reflects in part the political
realities of Iraq ...; even more, though, the policy shift reflects
political realities at home. Domestic tolerance for costs
disrupted and lost lives above all is not unlimited. As a
result, the president is wise to reduce the scale of what we try
that Haass' analysis about the motives for the White House's change
of course in Iraq is correct, it still begs the question of whether
it, as well as the administration's softening on North Korea, Iraq
and the ICC, represents a major shift in the balance of power in
favor of the realists or a mere tactical feint designed to ease
growing popular concerns in advance of next year's election.
who have shown uncharacteristic disarray in response to setbacks
in Iraq, still insist they have full confidence in Bush to follow
their policy advice as part of the global war on terrorism, including
even argue that stepped-up "Iraqification" is what they had recommended
for years before the invasion, and that the president and Bremer
have now come around to those views.
it is clear that the process now underway bears little relation
to their original plans, and the fact that the dreaded Near East
bureau and veterans of the Bush I administration appear to be gaining
control of Iraq policy suggests their displays of confidence may
recent speculation here that Bremer and Blackwill rather
than Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Cheney's national
security chief, I. Lewis Libby might inherit the State Department
and the national security adviser post, respectively, in a second
Bush term add further evidence to the notion that the neo-cons might
be in eclipse.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2003 Inter Press Service