November 20, 2004

Deconstructing Condi

Rice joined Bush after a period of apprenticeship with Brent Scowcroft, the cautious national security adviser under George Bush, Sr. In the past, she has mentioned how she was influenced by the book by Hans Morgenthau, "Politics Among Nations," one of the pillars of "realistic" thought, which maintains that relations among nations have to be based on interests rather than on ideology. The "realists" refrained from calling the Soviet Union an "empire of evil," for fear of damaging "stability."

And this is the same stability in which Colin Powell believed, when he explained his opposition to continuing the first Gulf War in 1991. He was afraid that changing the regime there would cause fragmentation in the country and would therefore "not contribute to the stability we want in the Middle East."

Because what is surprising about Powell and Rice is the degree of similarity between them in terms of the station at which they joined the Bush administration - that of narrow, cautious realism, which began with Henry Kissinger and continued with George Bush, Sr. - as compared to the considerable distance between them today.

Powell seems to have remained where he was: moderate, afraid of ambitious undertakings, adhering to the famous "Powell Doctrine," which he formulated as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and which is reluctant to use force and defines goals cautiously. Rice, on the other hand, has undergone a transformation. In the adviser who issued the revolutionary document spelling out the updated security concept of the George W. Bush administration, it is difficult to recognize the expert on Russia, whom Scowcroft liked because she was, as he put it, someone who knew how to say where we could cooperate with the Russians, rather than, God forbid, an ideologically motivated fighter against them.

The Rice of recent years presents an updated position. More hawkish, like Vice President Richard Cheney's "hardheaded" realism, and sometimes even"neo-conservative," in favor of promoting democratic values all over the world, in the style of U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Her admirers say that 9/11 changed her. Her opponents say it's all personal. Her closeness to Bush has distorted her judgment.

Whatever the case, in her new position she will face an interesting test. Further from the eyes of Bush, and closer to the cautious State Department establishment, the question is which path she will choose. In an administration that did not achieve consensus on a single foreign policy issue from the time of the decision to attack in Afghanistan, the assumption is that the new Rice will guarantee harmony and unanimity that were not achieved with the old Powell. [emphasis added]

Shmuel Rosner writing in Haaretz.

Condi will be, imho, something of a hybrid as among: a) traditional realist (particularly as her policy views become tempered by the career foreign service at Foggy Bottom) b) occasional aggressive "nationalist" (a la Cheney and Rumsfeld...see: "forgive Russia, ignore Germany, punish France"), and c) neo-con, ie. Wolfy-esque democratization emphases.

I think both her position and world events will see her tethered more towards "A" over the next four years--but with decent doses of "B" and "C" thrown in. That's not a bad mixture, all told, for the challenges facing us at this juncture. A full-blown realist in the old, musty mold doesn't fully get the ramifications of 9/11. And a hard-core neo-con (the f*&k Fukuyama and Kagan kind) doesn't get the realities we face on the ground in places like Iraq--too intoxicated by ideology and ignoring cold, hard facts. Finally, in the midst of lots of disingenuous whining from parts Old Europe--a bit of the (let's perhaps call it Jacksonian) nationalist strain (think Rummy) doesn't hurt either.

And, of course, as she's a tad closer to the Rumsfeld-Cheney (and Wolfowitz wings) than Powell (and, of course, much closer to Bush)--we may well see a more "unitary" policy emerge for Bush II. That might not be a bad thing--given all the crippling trench warfare between State and Defense the past four years. Ironic, isn't it? Condi, the very person who presided over the flawed inter-agency process, might end up helping bring the protracted policy drift (NoKo, Iran, Arab-Israeli peace process) to an end via her promotion to SecState.

The big question is, will she carve out some independent space apart from the Cheney-Rumsfeld wing? I think she very well might--particularly as she has Hadley at NSC and Bush's ear and full confidence. But none of us really know, finally. As so often, Cheney is likely the biggest wild card in all this (will Bolton get DepSec and spy for him? Will Hadley end up serving Cheney, perhaps via a Libby channel, more than Condi? etc etc). Oh, worth noting lefties, Cheney is not a raving lunatic. He's made me uncomfortable during the past four years at cetain junctures, yes. For instance, he had to be put back in the box by Bush on going to the U.N. for approval on Iraq and he exagerrated the WMD intel, taking a judicious view of the data available, in my view. But that doesn't make him maniacal and jingoistic in the extreme. Put differently, Cheney's influence in the policy-making process is not always a negative for those of us more on the center (rather than hard) right. As long as the "fever," that is, doesn't hot up in Bush II.

Posted by Gregory at November 20, 2004 12:11 AM

Cheney may not, in fact, be a raving lunatic, but Frankie Fukyama and Robert Kagan should not be lumped together these days, especially not re: Iraq. Did you miss FF's dust-up with Dr. Krauthammer in TNI? Worth a read if you subscribe.

Posted by: praktike at November 20, 2004 06:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

no i didn't miss the dust-up. i followed it with keen interest. but see kagan's review of feldman's book i blogged earlier. he seems (correct me if i'm wrong) closer to the realist/neo-con hybrid (fukuyama and, er, BD?) than to the crazies ready to rush into downtown Damascus and Teheran for another spot of nation-building. One, incidentally, that would ostensibly have to be spearheaded by our reservists from points Pasadena, Peoria, and such....

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