by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The interregnum between November's election and the formal launch in January of U.S. President George W Bush's second term has a strange feel.
Perhaps it is that Colin Powell, who until now stayed as close to Washington as he could to try to prevent Vice President Dick Cheney or Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld from pushing phoney intelligence and aggressive policy advice policies on the president in his absence, has been traveling virtually all over the world, assuring appropriately skeptical foreign leaders that Bush will really -- REALLY -- be committed to multilateralism in his second term.
Now that Powell has been informed his services will no longer be required, the least-travelled secretary of state in the last generation is finally getting out to see the sights, even if his credibility as a spokesman for future U.S. foreign policy is less than it was for the past four years.
Or perhaps it is the sense of anticipation in some quarters, dread in others, of what will actually happen in the coming term.
The dread, of course, comes from Democrats, whose somewhat diminished presence in Congress will make them even more marginal in the second term than they were in the first.
And it is felt by others who consider themselves on the 'left' of the very one-sided U.S. political spectrum, and by 'realist' foreign-policy analysts who are just hoping against hope that the over-extension of the U.S. military in Iraq and the rapid depletion of the U.S. Treasury will force Bush to pursue a less ambitious international agenda, sooner rather than later.
The eager anticipation, on the other hand, comes from the now-familiar coalition of nationalist, neo-conservatives and Christian Right hawks who still believe that Afghanistan and Iraq were just the 'hors d'oeuvres' to a repast of at least five or six courses.
Like five-year-olds on Christmas Eve who just cannot wait to tear off the ribbon and wrapping paper that separates their greedy fingers from their Christmas presents under the tree, these individuals are so manic and so fidgety that they just cannot restrain themselves from blurting out or even shouting -- repeatedly -- what they think Santa Claus had better bring them, OR ELSE!
It is as if they had been told by their parents for months -- as indeed the hawks had been told by Bush's 'consiglieri,' Karl Rove -- that if they keep talking about what they really wanted for Christmas, Santa would not give it to them.
Similarly, Rove had ordered the hawks to shut up lest they scare the hell out of the electorate and Bush would lose the election. So, having bottled it up inside all this time, they are now bursting forth.
Of course, toy fire engines, Lego and Barbie dolls are not going to appease this crowd, which has rather bigger things in mind, above all regime change. Unlike the wish lists that Santa's elves at their workshops in the fast-disappearing Arctic are toiling overtime to fill, these lists feature the names of countries and institutions.
Beginning one month ago, when 'uber-hawk' Frank Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy (CSP) and long-time protege of neo-conservative impresario Richard Perle, published what he called his 'checklist of the work the world will demand of this president and his subordinates in a second term,' prominent hawks have been pushing their own favorite targets for regime change or simple confrontation -- from Caracas to North Korea -- on what sometimes seems like an hourly basis.
Add to that the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, changes that are already in the works.
These calls to action have appeared in all the usual places -- the editorial pages of the 'Wall Street Journal' and the 'New York Post,' the pages and websites of the 'Weekly Standard' and the 'National Review,' on FoxNews, and the 'Washington Times.' Somewhat ominously perhaps, they are also reprinted in the Pentagon's twice-daily 'Early Bird' editions -- compilations of must reading for senior national-security officials.
What is common to almost all of these effusions is the sense that, while Iraq might not have gone quite as well as anticipated, the 'victory' in Fallujah marked a turning point in the U.S. occupation and January's elections should permit Washington to begin drawing down its troop presence in Iraq not long afterwards.
And, while the United States should still be committed to Iraq for the long haul, it is time that it came to act on the threats posed by other 'evil' regimes -- be it by military force, covert action, 'support for the opposition,' or simple intimidation.
At the top of the list, as they have been for so long, of course, are Iran and North Korea, whose possession of nuclear weapons is simply 'unacceptable,' as the administration itself has said. But others -- Syria, Venezuela, China, even Russia, and the latest target, the United Nations itself -- are still seen as requiring policies of active containment, if not 'regime change.'
Recent news reports that quote 'intelligence' and sometimes 'military' sources saying that Syria is now the financial, logistical and planning hub of the insurgency in Iraq have prompted right-wingers to resurrect their plans for Damascus, even as President Bashar al-Assad assures Washington and Israel he is ready for peace talks without conditions, and might even be willing to go to Jerusalem and negotiate an agreement with the United States to secure his border with Iraq.
'The president's goals in Iraq, and elsewhere in the region, will not be achieved until the Syrians are forced to halt all assistance to our enemies,' write three officials associated with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), a neo-conservative group behind the recent re-creation of the Committee on the President Danger (CPD), in the 'Washington Times' this week.
Iran, of course, gets the most ink, with a constant drumbeat of columns underlining the duplicity/hypocrisy/naivete of Britain, France and Germany for negotiating a nuclear accord with Tehran and the necessity of an ultimate confrontation, if not because of its nuclear program than because of the regime's alleged infiltration and subversion of Iraq.
While the hawks concede that a full-scale invasion of Iran is not a viable option, at least for the moment, they insist not only that well-targeted air strikes (by Washington or Israel) could, at the least, significantly retard Tehran's acquisition of a nuclear weapon.
Similarly, they seize on every report of discontent, such as this week's heckling by university students of President Mohammed Khatami, as evidence that, as in pre-war Iraq, Washington is wildly popular with theologically oppressed Iranian masses who will be eager, at the very least, to accept money and rhetorical support -- already in the works, according to recent reports -- from the Bush administration to put an end to the regime, perhaps as peacefully, even, as in Ukraine.
North Korea is another top-ranking target, with, as in Iran, right-wingers seizing on even more dubious reports of widespread and growing discontent with the government to bolster their argument for regime change and at least the preparation for military strikes, despite the fact that U.S. intelligence does not have the faintest idea where key nuclear facilities can be found.
Concern about China, whose failure to 'deliver' North Korea, along with its recent multi-billion-dollar energy contract with Iran and persistent tensions with Taiwan are seen as evidence of potential enmity, is also being spurred by the hawks, who appear to have resumed their campaign against 'engagement' with Beijing after a three-year hiatus.
Particularly notable in that regard, Dan Blumenthal, until recently Rumsfeld's senior country director for China and Taiwan, moved recently to Perle's American Enterprise Institute (AEI) where he resurrected the notion of China as a 'strategic competitor' to the United States.
Venezuela's recent aircraft purchases from Russia have spurred a series of columns, particularly in the Journal and 'National Review,' reminding readers how close President Hugo Chavez is to Fidel Castro and how determined he is to curb U.S. influence in the Americas.
But the newest and easiest target, of course, is the United Nations, beginning with Annan, whose resignation over the 'oil-for-food' scandal is being sought by a growing number of Republican lawmakers in Congress and op-ed hawks whose hatred and contempt for the world body dates back decades.
To find his head in one of those nicely wrapped packages under the tree would portend a very happy new year and a terrific second term.
December 9, 2004 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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