Monitor archives:
Copyrighted material

Is Bush Moving Away From Hard-Right Cheney "Iron Triangle?"

by Franz Schurmann

Comparisons to Nixon era, when Agnew was the Pentagon's man in the White House
(PNS) -- At the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group (APEC) meeting in Bangkok, when President Bush got the news that the North Koreans had launched a rocket over the Sea of Japan, his reaction was surprising. Instead of taking his usual hard-line against an "axis of evil" country, he proposed a compromise to get the nuclear talks going again between North Korea, the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

That same day, news came that Iran had agreed to let international inspectors have full access to Iranian nuclear sites, which they had refused just a few days earlier.

If Bush had taken his anticipated hard-line toward North Korea, it is unlikely the Iranians would have made their turnabout. Instead, it appears the three European foreign ministers visiting Tehran pointed to a changed approach to North Korea as proof that President Bush was moving onto the peace and conciliation road.

The strongest evidence that he is doing just that came in early October, when National Security Council (NSC) director Condoleezza Rice announced that the White House had taken over Iraq crisis policy.

While the takeover seems to have taken equal chunks of power both from the Pentagon and the State Department, the American and foreign media say that the Pentagon is the bigger organizational loser. And both media also speculate that Vice-President Dick Cheney may be the big political loser, because the Pentagon's masters, the "Iron Triangle" of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz had hitherto held the upper hand over Powell's State Department. Cheney's greatest loss would come if Bush asked him to resign from his vice presidency before the next election.

Those of us who followed the Washington scene back in September-October 1973 are reminded of a similar situation. On Oct. 9, 1973, Egyptian forces cut right through Israel's Bar Lev defense line along the Suez Canal, bringing about the Yom Kippur War. On Oct. 10, Nixon suddenly demanded that Vice President Spiro Agnew resign, which he did promptly. The public reason was that Agnew, when he was governor of Maryland, was involved in financial scandals. The real reason was that Nixon knew that with Watergate there was a good chance he would be impeached. But he did not want hawk Agnew to succeed him at a moment when an international crisis was brewing, because he was already moving on the peace road. His successor Gerald Ford shared Nixon's pragmatic peace approach.

For years Agnew worked closely with the Pentagon, as has been the case with Cheney, who served twice as Secretary of Defense. Dark clouds also hang over Cheney, from his health problems to his refusal to disclose details of meeting with Enron officials.

Nixon had taken a perilous first step on the road of peace when, on July 15, 1971, he gave a five-minute speech in which he said that NSC director Kissinger had gone to then-archenemy China to pave the way for a Nixon visit in the election year 1972. He won overwhelmingly in the November 1972 presidential re-election.

Bush's first move on his new peace road was to drop ultra-right hawk John Bolton in the State Department from the first six-nation talks in Beijing about North Korea's nuclear weapons projects. Bolton was an arms control expert; his State Department successor James Kelly is not. But Kelly is an astute pragmatist.

In his recent visit to Tokyo, Bush also extended his new policy to Iran by allowing the French, German and British foreign ministers to fly to Tehran. The three foreign ministers would never have gone there if Tony Blair did not get clearance from his close friend George W. Bush.

While Bush hasn't made any public policy changes, the international community believes that deep down his stances have altered. After Condoleezza Rice announced that Bush had taken policy power away from Pentagon and State, the UN Security Council voted 19 to 0 to support the United States in Iraq. And despite anti-American feelings at the Kuala Lumpur meeting of 59 Islamic states, the members gave America another big victory by a vote that said they saw the American-created interim government in Iraq as legitimate.

If Bush is now moving on the peace road, it's because the American people want to get out of the quagmire of wars Bush and the Pentagon's Iron Triangle foisted on Americans and many other peoples. Another sign that Bush has shed his hawk wings was the unusually pessimistic missive from Rumsfeld on America's chances for success in Iraq. What that means concretely is that the Iron Triangle's threesome will sooner or later be out of a job. And, of course, Bush expects a Nixon-like second-term victory for his conversion from warrior to peacemaker.

Comments? Send a letter to the editor.

Albion Monitor October 30, 2003 (

All Rights Reserved.

Contact for permission to use in any format.