by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- After a week of high-level personnel changes, conventional wisdom appears to have concluded that the foreign policy of Bush's second term will be at least if not more radically rightist than the first.
But there is also a minority view that such a conclusion is premature.
The second interpretation is based on the theory that Bush's moves to date -- dumping Secretary of State Colin Powell, appointing National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in his place, and elevating Rice's deputy, Stephen Hadley, to her post -- have less to do with ideology than with personal loyalty to, and personal compatibility with, the president himself.
In this view, Powell never "hit it off" with Bush, who was also jealous and resentful of the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for his independent standing and popularity. This resentment was fanned by Powell's obvious discomfort with many of the administration's policies, discomfort that was made quite explicit through leaks and confessions to 'Washington Post' reporter Bob Woodward.
In this view, "loyalism," not ideology, is the deciding factor in the reshuffling to date, according to Joshua Micah Marshall, a prominent blogger (who writes an Internet blog) and columnist for 'The Hill', an insider tabloid. "Each new appointment is designed to assert more control and quiet dissident voices in the executive branch," he argues.
This theory is bolstered by Bush's picks so far on the domestic side, particularly his selection of White House Counsel and long-time friend Alberto Gonzales to become attorney general and his choice of his domestic policy adviser, Margaret Spellings, as education secretary.
In addition to their absolute loyalty to Bush, both nominees, especially Gonzales, are also considered politically more moderate than their predecessors. Indeed, both have been criticized by the Christian Right, and quite harshly at that. That did not deter Bush, however.
In this light, Rice, while definitely to the right of Powell, who generally favored continuity with former President Bill Clinton's foreign policy -- particularly with regard to the Middle East, Iraq, Iran and North Korea -- might have been chosen less for her ideology, which even at this point in her career is quite uncertain, than for her loyalty to and extraordinary personal chemistry with Bush.
That raises the question of what are her basic foreign policy views. "As a protege of (former national security adviser Brent) Scowcroft, Condi Rice in the broadest terms is more of a conservative pragmatist than she is an ideologue," notes Charles Kupchan, an expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"What happened to her during the first term, we don't know. It may be that she was outgunned or outmaneuvred by the hardliners, and it may be that she changed her mind and became more of a neo-conservative. But it's also possible that in the second term she may decide to provide some equilibrium and present more of a centrist voice," he suggested in an interview.
Whether Rice remains the "Scowcroftian realist" who entered the White House with Bush four years ago -- and, if so, whether she will fight for that position -- or whether she has become a convert to the neo-imperial and unilateralist ideology of the neo-conservatives and their main sponsor, Vice President Dick Cheney, is the 64,000 dollar question at the moment.
Substantively, it is difficult to say, in part because, unlike Powell, she has never deviated -- either through leaks or body language -- from the administration's official line.
On the one hand, her active participation in the propaganda blitz leading up to the war in Iraq, her zealous defense of it afterward, her appointment of arch-neo-conservative Elliott Abrams of Iran-contra fame to head the Middle East portfolio on the National Security Council (NSC), and her fulsome embrace of the notion of a generational commitment to implanting democracy in the region suggests conversion to a far more ideological view.
On the other hand, Rice's pivotal role in keeping ties between Russia and the United States stable and in promoting a gradual improvement in relations with China, even at Taiwan's expense, as well as her refusal to engage in the kind of Europe- and United Nations-bashing at which her Pentagon colleagues and Cheney excelled, suggest a much more cautious and pragmatic disposition.
It was also Rice who not only hired a former boss, Robert Blackwill, to take control of Iraq policy away from the neo-conservatives at the Pentagon when it became clear in 2003 that their rosy predictions were delusory, but who also at critical moments backed Powell, however tepidly, on preventing a collapse of diplomacy over North Korea and Iran.
Given such a mixed record, analysts and embassies here are now engaged in a kind of "Kremlinology," looking for any hints of Rice's current views and her possible willingness to stand up to Cheney, Rumsfeld and the neo-cons from her perch at the State Department.
The key test at the moment is the choice for the normally obscure post of deputy secretary of state, currently held by Powell's best friend and fellow-realist Richard Armitage, who announced his resignation Monday.
The fact that another insider publication, the 'Nelson Report', suggested Wednesday night that Armitage, another Scowcroft protege much scorned by the neo-cons, may be asked by Bush to serve as National Intelligence Director (NID) -- if such a position emerges from current negotiations in Congress with the power to allocate money to the various intelligence agencies -- adds to the argument that Bush is not making choices on the basis of ideology.
Three candidates have surfaced for the deputy position so far: Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton; U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Nicholas Burns; and former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Arnold Kanter.
Bolton, a former lobbyist for Taiwan and vice president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), was foisted on Powell in 2001 by extreme right-wing Senator Jesse Helms and Cheney, who reportedly is backing him for the deputy secretary post.
While not a neo-conservative, Bolton has taken the most unilateralist positions of any major official in the administration, and, working with the hawks, systematically undermined or even sabotaged every effort by Powell to promote dialogue with Iran and North Korea.
Both Burns and Kanter, on the other hand, hail from the realist school that scorns Bolton's politics.
Kanter, an Asia specialist who served as the top arms-control official and then the number three at the State Department under George Bush Sr. has acted for the past decade as Scowcroft's virtual alter ego, co-authoring columns with the former national security adviser and even testifying before Congress on his behalf.
In that role Kanter has constantly presented positions on the Middle East, Iran, Korea and China that the hard-liners consider appeasement, if not anathema. Moreover, his ties to Hadley are considered at least as close as the national security adviser-select's ties to Cheney.
"If Arnie Kanter is chosen as deputy secretary, that would be a very good sign," said Kupchan. "He's very close to Scowcroft and was a key figure in the Bush I administration."
Unlike Kanter, Burns has not been in a position to voice his private views, but he, like both Rice and Kanter, served in the NSC under Scowcroft, and, as NATO ambassador, is considered a firm "Atlanticist" dedicated to rebuilding the alliance. "He's been mortified by the gratuitous anti-European rhetoric of this administration," according to one insider. "For one thing, it's made his job a lot harder."
Attention therefore is now focused on who will get the nod. If Bolton, who is actively campaigning for the post, succeeds in his quest, the conventional wisdom of a right-wing sweep will be upheld. But if he is denied the post in favour of Kanter, in particular, conventional wisdom may shift, particularly if the decision is seen as having resulted from Rice fighting for her own choice.
Although not as important, attention will also be focused on Hadley's choice for deputy national security adviser -- which might still go to Bolton if he is denied the position at the State Department -- as another indication of the administration's direction, and to lower-level appointments, particularly in the department's regional and intelligence bureaus.
In any event, the game of musical chairs is not over. Stay tuned.
November 19, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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