February 08, 2003

Does Rummy Need to be

Does Rummy Need to be Reined In?

Don't get me wrong, much that emanates from Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon I heartily agree with. But occasionally he goes too far. Since he was already Secretary of Defense way back during the Ford Administration, it appears that Rummy wants to be Secretary of State too, whilst simultaneously running the Pentagon.

It isn't comments like referring to France and Germany as "Old Europe" that overly concern me, though poor Mr. Powell has to clean up such messes simply because Rumsfeld appears to have a fondness for punchy phrases. What gets me is his recent reference to North Korea as a "terrorist regime" during a Congressional hearing. The situation on the Korean peninsula is growing increasingly dangerous. President Bush has been, wisely, de-personalizing the tension with scant references to Kim Jong Il (in contrast to earlier comments that he "loathes" the man). Having the Secretary of Defense describe the North Korean regime as terrorist in nature ratchets up the inflammatory rhetoric (a North Korean speciality that we should not adopt). We need to focus on Richard Armitage's (Powell's deputy) increasingly direct signals to Pyongyang that direct talks are on the table and that we do not have an intention of attacking North Korea--at least at this stage as key players (U.S., South Korea, Russia, China) attempt to discover whether Kim Jong can be walked down from the nuclear precipice diplomatically. Actual initiation of renewed production of nuclear weapons to increase his stockpile of missiles would necessitate a reappraisal.

As too often with this Administration, the divide between the State Department and the Pentagon gets played out in public. The problem is that Bush, while he had an excellent grasp on the implications of 9/11 and led the country with distinction during the aftermath of the attacks, is not a foreign policy guru. Therefore, he cannot often issue strict top-down instructions on matters of foreign policy. The Rumsfeld faction (Perle, Wolfowitz, Feith) therefore battle (too often publicly) with Powell-Armitage on issues like how much pressure to apply on Sharon, whether to go through the U.N. regarding Iraq, or how conciliatory a tack to take with North Korea.

It might be noted that while the Pentagon crew gets more press and appears more influential, the reality is that Powell wins many quiet victories. While the jury is still out on how much the U.S. will pressure Israel on concessions regarding the "roadmap" (Middle East peace processing appears, unwisely, to have been delayed until the Iraq situation is resolved) Powell's approach won the day on going through the U.N. on Iraq and, at least from Bush's latest pronouncements, appearing less belligerent vis-a-vis North Korea.

Does the President ever dress-down Rumsfeld when he goes a bit too far? We know that W once, through Condi Rice, reprimanded Dick Cheney for preemptively attempting to take U.N. inspectors off the Administration's potential tool kit. W might want to enlist Condi to communicate a similar message to Rumsfeld regarding North Korea.

Posted by Gregory at February 8, 2003 02:35 PM
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