Baker's Return = Cheney's Heartburn
by Jim Lobe
may be that, by four or five months from now:
Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz will have heard the siren song
of academia and returned to teach in ivy-covered halls somewhere,
Undersecretary for Policy, Douglas Feith, will have decided
he can't really afford to put his young kids through school
on a government salary, and that it's time to return to a lucrative
law practice, and that
of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton
will have been advised that the sustained excitement of defending
U.S. national sovereignty against all comers from Al Qaeda,
to the French, to Amnesty International was simply too much
for his nervous system, and that it was time to take a long
vacation with lots of rest; and even that
Dick Cheney will have been sternly warned by his doctors that
his chronic heart problems make his participation in a rigorous
reelection battle simply out of the question and that he will
have to take himself off the ticket for the sake of his own
survival, if not for that of his deeply concerned family members.
Mindless speculation? Wishful thinking? Desperation?
but that doesn't change the fact that such scenarios suddenly appeared
far more real when former Secretary of State James Baker returned
in the flesh this week to take up his new office in the White House
close to the Oval Office as President George W. Bush's personal
envoy for persuading other countries to forgive tens of billions
of dollars in Iraqi debt.
returning, Baker, the longtime consiglieri to the Bush family whose
last mission on its behalf was to secure all of Florida's electoral
votes for George W. in 2000 regardless of the state's actual voting
laws or how people actually voted, made what was already a bad week
for administration hawks much, much worse.
one unnamed "senior administration official" quoted by
the New York Times Friday said in noting that Baker has a
vastly greater influence on the Bushes than Secretary of State Colin
Powell, his fellow-realist, could ever hope to be: "Baker is
Bush." Other countries know that Powell doesn't win all the
you deal with Baker, you know you're going to get what you need,"
said the source in a phrase that must have sent chills down the
backs of the neo-conservatives and their right-wing fellow-travelers,
most notably Cheney himself.
course, it is not yet known how much Baker, the master diplomatic
puppeteer of the first Gulf War who also served as White House chief
of staff and Treasury Secretary under Ronald Reagan, intends to
weigh in on policy decisions that go beyond his specific brief.
the fact that he is now in the White House and dealing directly
with all of Washington's major allies in Europe, Asia, and the Middle
East on the future of Iraq, if not the entire region, places him
in the thick of the administration's foreign policy, to put it mildly.
From now on, very little is likely to be decided on anything that
affects Iraq or US alliances without his "input."
one can only imagine what kind of input he has given Bush on Wolfowitz's
incredibly timed decision to make Baker's task far more difficult
and expensive by announcing that the allies holding most of Iraq's
debt will not be permitted to bid on some 18.6 billion dollars in
Baker chooses to interpret Wolfowitz's move as a deliberate effort
to sabotage his mission ab initio (as
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman did Friday), the
consequences for the former dean of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced
International Studies, whose hopes of becoming secretary of state
in a second Bush term were already on the wane, could be severe.
the threats posed by Baker's presence to the hawks, especially the
neo-conservatives both in and out of the administration, goes far
beyond personal score-settling in which Baker has historically shown
little interest; they are strategic. By all accounts, Baker believes
their dominance of US foreign policy since Sept. 11, 2001, and especially
the Iraq invasion, has been disastrous for the country and, perhaps
more important, for Bush Jr.'s reelection.
Iraq, Baker made no secret of his opposition to waging unilateral
war before the US invasion, although he was more discreet about
it than Bush I's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, with
whom he remains close.
like other realists, has also been deeply skeptical, not to say
incredulous, about neo-conservative ambitions to "remake the
face of the Middle East" by exporting democracy. Long associated
with Big Oil, Baker would find the radical change in the region
of the kind promoted by the neo-cons unacceptably risky and destabilizing.
he has always disdained the Likud Party in Israel; it was he who
threatened to cut off housing guarantees if then-Prime Minister
Yitzhak Shamir did not take part in the 1991 Madrid peace talks
(that led eventually to the Oslo peace process), much to the public
dismay and anger of neo-conservatives like Feith, the powerful former
chairman of the Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, and Elliott
Abrams, the current Middle East director on the National Security
he has also sided consistently with those, like Powell and Bush's
father, who have favored constructive relations with Beijing, a
position which Bush Jr. has clearly come to share, as he showed
this week during the visit of Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
as secretary of state, Baker gave top priority to close ties to
traditional European allies, including Germany and France, or what
the neo-cons and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld has referred to
disdainfully as "Old Europe." In that respect, Wolfowitz,
in issuing his directive banning German and French contractors from
bidding on reconstruction contracts now, not only made Baker's job
more difficult (and more costly for the US taxpayer), has confirmed
that the hawks have their priorities upside down.
Baker, Scowcroft, Powell and their fellow-realists had already reached
that conclusion 12 years ago when some of the neo-cons, like Wolfowitz
and Perle, were furious that the Gulf War ended without the US army
it was Wolfowitz and his boss, then-Secretary of Defense Cheney,
who kept up a stream of strident warnings that Soviet President
Mikhail Gorbachev remained a committed Communist whose designs for
global conquest were no different from his predecessors right up
until...well, right up until the Soviet Union collapsed. Even then,
they thought it might be a trick.
it was, of course, Wolfowitz and his top deputy, I. Lewis Libby
who is now Cheney's powerful chief of staff who prepared
the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) draft in which they called
for the US to pursue a strategy of global domination and preemption,
nuclear if necessary, against rogue states and possibly emerging
Scowcroft, and then-Armed Forces Chief of Staff Powell, not to mention
Bush Sr., were so alarmed as were senior lawmakers and US
allies in Europe after parts of it were leaked to the New York
Times that it was only Cheney's promises to overhaul
the text that saved the jobs of the two main authors, whose radical
proposals would guide US policy after the 9/11 attacks a decade
many ways, therefore, the hawks themselves already see Baker as
their nemesis, but they have been steadily losing power over the
last several months in any case.
harsh words for Taiwan's leader this week, and the readiness with
which neo-cons, like Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol,
accuse him of appeasement testify to the very serious strains between
the White House and the neo-con network which until now has assiduously
avoided attacking the president himself for any disagreements it
has had with the administration.
addition, intra-administration fights over Iran, Syria, and North
Korea in which the hawks appeared to have the upper hand after the
Iraq war have been tilting back towards the realists. This week's
decision by the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), for example, to disarm
and deport the Iranian Mojahadin e Khalq marked a signal defeat
for Cheney and the neo-conservatives, who have wanted to use them
against the Islamic Republic. Similarly, the acceleration of "Iraqification"
in neighboring Iraq without a thoroughgoing "de-Ba'athification"
marks a triumph of the realists.
Baker's arrival in some ways may crown the successful development
of an effective "counter-network" within the administration
that has gradually eroded the hawks' authority since September.
Aside from Powell and senior officers in the uniformed military
and the intelligence community who were always dubious of the hawks,
key members of this group include the National Security Council's
(NSC) Coordinator for Strategic Planning, Amb. Robert Blackwill,
who came on board in September, and the Coalition Provisional Authority
(CPA) chief, Amb. L. Paul Bremer, in Baghdad.
are former foreign service officers who are conservative but not
ideologues. Bremer and Blackwill have known each other since they
both worked for arch-realist Henry Kissinger in the early 1970s.
Blackwill is particularly interesting, both because he was Rice's
boss as NSC director for European and Soviet Affairs under Scowcroft
in the first Bush administration who, in that capacity, clashed
with Wolfowitz and Cheney over Gorbachev. He reportedly met Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a political officer in the US embassy
in Tel Aviv and has remained on good terms, although he disdains
hired by Rice, Blackwill's job was to assert firm White House control
over Iraq policy, which had been seen increasingly between August
and October as having been botched by the Pentagon, especially Feith's
office. By most accounts, he has made so much progress in that regard
that he also has begun weighing in on overall Middle East policy,
possibly at Abrams' and the neo-conservatives' expense.
course, the situation in Iraq is the most important single factor
in the changing the balance of power within the administration.
But Blackwill was also brought in to ensure that the NSC enforces
discipline something which Rice on her own was unwilling or unable
to do over all the policy agencies, particularly the Pentagon
which, under Cheney's protection, has often appeared to act on its
own. The fact that Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, who
warned several months ago that there should be "no more wars"
before the November election, also supported these changes has also
had its impact.
the larger, foreign-policy impact of the resurgence of the realists
capped by Baker's return may already be tangible.
Sharon clearly is under growing domestic pressure to take steps
to reinvigorate peace negotiations with the Palestinians, his recent
moves as well as Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's unexpectedly
far-reaching proposals for territorial compromise may suggest
that the Israelis themselves perceive a shift in the administration's
internal balance of power that needs to be accommodated.
Baker's European interlocutors next week suggest that real pressure
by Washington on Israel perhaps of the kind Baker wielded
back in 1991 could make them more amenable to reducing Iraq's
official debt, the larger implications of Baker's appointment become
more tangible. In any event, Wolfowitz's timing has clearly given
Mssrs. Chirac, Schroeder, Putin, and other European leaders more
leverage to raise issues of this kind.
for the hawks, even the recognition that the Europeans enjoy significant
leverage over US foreign policy is very bad news, indeed.
It's just the kind of news that makes Dick Cheney's heart go ''Thumpa-Thumpa-Thumpa."
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2003 Inter Press Service