Take some ideological bias, mix it with wishful thinking, a search for good news, and not-very-bright journalists, and what do you get? A series of reports and analyses in the U.S. media in suggesting that we're about to see a Happy End to the Bush Administration's horror movie, "The War Cabinet of Dr. Strauss." First, came the news (on February 6) that "As 'Neocons' Leave, Bush Foreign Policy Takes Softer Line" in the Wall Street Journal proposing that "Ms. Rice Changes Approach To Iran and North Korea" but that "Democracy Still Key Goal" and that perhaps these were all signs of "Cheney's Waning Influence?" or perhaps not. Here are some highlights:
In the past year, the ranks of the neoconservatives within the administration who molded the American response to 9/11 have grown thin and their influence has ebbed. At the same time, a band of "neorealists" has been gaining power. They share the neoconservatives' belief in the importance of spreading democracy, but not their conviction that Washington can go it alone on the international stage. The neorealists favor working more closely with allies and with the United Nations, particularly in responding to Iran's nuclear program.
The change coincides with the growing influence of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is putting her stamp on foreign policy in the second term much as neoconservatives did in the first term. The slow progress of the war in Iraq has made it harder for the U.S. to execute a hard-line foreign policy and has undercut the arguments of the war's chief advocates, such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose views often dovetailed with the neoconservatives, current and former government officials say.
The foreign-policy shift is occurring, in part, because Ms. Rice is a more effective bureaucratic infighter than was her predecessor, Colin Powell. Her relationship with the president dates back to the early days of the 2000 presidential campaign. She has taken to the State Department an influence over foreign policy she built when working in the White House during the first term.
Mr. Bush has chosen to allow Ms. Rice to pursue a more multilateral foreign policy than he allowed Mr. Powell. During his first term and his re-election campaign, Mr. Bush openly snubbed European allies over Iraq, and said he didn't do "nuance." In an interview with The Wall Street Journal1 last month, he said: "You can have more than one leader on an issue" in dealing with Iran, citing Britain, Germany and France. "This is a multilateral effort," he said. "My view of diplomacy is that it's in constant motion, and we're constantly strategizing and dealing with the latest nuance."
The WSJ article also suggests that the "neo-realist" team led by Rice has been pursuing a more "nuanced" and pragmatic policies on North Korea, Iran, Israel/Palestine and China. So... let's see... President Bush gets rid of the two very heavyweight realists in the State Department, Colin Powell and Richard Armitage, and replaces them with his light-weight and icmopetent foreign policy cheer-leader and with one or two pragmatic mid-level bureaucrats. And that should demonstrate to us that there has been a sea-change in the administration's approach to world affairs (and we should also forget that Rumsfeld and Cheney have remained the two most powerful players in the administration). Then we have all this stuff about a more moderate positions on North Korea and Iran and a willingness to work together with allies to resolve these issues. Sure, following Iraq and the over-stretching of the U.S. military the Buhsies concluded that invading North Korea and Iran would be suicidal (and we aren't even sure that there won't be attacks on Iran's nuclear facilities). Great! But not being suicidal and hoping that the Europeans and the Chinese would get us out of the mess isn't a reflection of profound realist foreign policy thinking. And if promoting global democracy still remains a top foreign policy goal -- resulting the the most recent foreign policy dissaster, the victory of Hamas in Palestine -- where is the news? It's like saying during the Cold War that there was a major transformation in Soviet foreign policy but that spreading communism world-wide was still the main goal.
And then there was a (very) long cover story (February 13) in the New Republic "THE FIGHT FOR REPUBLICAN FOREIGN POLICY: After the Bush Doctrine," authored by "special correspondent" Joshua Kurlantzick. The article goes something like this: First, there was the Bush Doctrine promoted by the neocons and which led to the Iraq war. It didn't work out so well, so now there have been some major modifications under Rice (much like what was said in the WSG piece) and then we have this scoop:
For four years after the Bush Doctrine's inception, the GOP had maintained impressive intraparty unity on foreign policy, uniting Christian social conservatives, neoconservatives, traditional realists, and libertarian-minded business Republicans. This was the result of many factors, including Bush's immense personal popularity, a rally-round-the-flag effect from the war on terrorism, the predominance of Iraq over all other foreign policy issues, and the fact that moderates in the Bush administration, such as Colin Powell, were marginalized within the bureaucracy.
But, now, other schools of foreign policy thought are emerging within the GOP. "The Republican consensus on foreign policy has really fallen apart," says Mark Rozell, an expert on the conservative movement at George Mason University. "With the war going so badly, it leads to more [infighting]." Pragmatic Republicans have realized that the Bush Doctrine cannot be easily applied to other foreign policy crises, such as Iran, and potential 2008 presidential candidates have begun thinking through their foreign policy positions. Even the Bush administration's iron internal discipline has rusted, and moderates have grown more powerful. Inside the administration, says one former official, there is a level of combat over foreign policy that did not exist in the last four years, as hawks like Vice President Dick Cheney find they can no longer silence dissenters.
What emerges is unlikely to be either the neoconservatism embraced by Bush administration purists or the realism that has traditionally been its counterpoint. Instead, says John Hulsman, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, there will be a struggle for a new direction, one that acknowledges Bush's democratizing vision but incorporates lessons from the previous eight years. Michael Desch, an expert on conservative foreign policy at Texas A&M, agrees: "Someone in 2008 will have to find some balance." Let the games begin
Yes, in the Winter Olympics in Torino, but I don't see anything exciting really happening in the Republican party in Washington notwtistanding Kurlantzick's efforts to discover Republican "dissenters" and "schools of foreign policy thought" on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. And btw, when he discusses "foreign policy" he also includes in it immigration and trade policies. So, yes, there are some Republicans who are making some noises on immigration and who are not staunch free traders, but when it comes to foreign policy, like in Iraq, Iran, North Korea, there isn't really any opposition (at all) to that kind of Bush's foreign policy. Some lawmakers sound less idealistic than Bush on these issues (thwy would like us just to bomb and invade these places; democracy can wait) and Kurlantzick calls them "nationalists." And then there is Senator Chuck Hagel and.. did I mention Hagel? And the front-runner in the presidential race, John McCain who is actually more hawkish and idealistic than Bush.
Interestingly enough, both the New Republic and The Economist in its new (February 9) issue, use Pat Buchanan as a standard with which to measure whether the growing public opposition to the Iraq war and other neocon-driven foreign entanglements are driving the Republican party towards "isolationism." Buchanan is of course the symbol of "isolationism," "nativism" and "protectionism," and since most Republican leaders are not adopting his "extremist" agenda, we can all relax. According to the piece, "The isolationist temptation" in The Economist:
A growing number of Americans would like fewer entanglements with foreigners. For many Americans, it's a mad, mad, mad, mad world out there, and getting worse. During the Salman Rushdie affair 17 years ago, angry Muslims were content merely to call for the death of the allegedly blasphemous author and his publishers. This week, they were calling for the death not only of some allegedly blasphemous cartoonists but also their compatriots. And people from neighbouring countries. And Jews. And, inevitably, Americans.
What's the point, some Americans grumble, of engaging with such people? We gave the Iraqis freedom, runs the argument, and they repaid us with roadside bombs. Palestinians got the vote and used it to elect terrorists. And dealing with the rest of the world is scarcely more rewarding: old Europe sneers at us, the Chinese steal our jobs and Mexicans are quietly re-conquering the south-western United States. Wouldn't it be simpler to build a fence around our vast, rich, sane nation and let the rest of the world go hang? [Notice that The Economist doesn't explain what's so wrong with these sentiments -- but just mocks them].
It is a sign of the appeal of such sentiments that George Bush devoted much of his state-of-the-union speech to them.
“The road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting—yet it ends in danger and decline...America rejects the false comfort of isolationism...Isolationism would not only tie our hands in fighting enemies, it would keep us from helping our friends in desperate need...American leaders—from Roosevelt to Truman to Kennedy to Reagan—rejected isolation and retreat, because they knew that America is always more secure when freedom is on the march.”
Mr Bush oversimplified, using one word—isolationist—for several disparate opponents. But he is right to worry. Partly in reaction to the president's hyperactive foreign entanglements, various forms of isolationist sentiment are indeed on the rise. A Pew poll in October found 42% of Americans agreeing that the United States “should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.” That figure had jumped by 12 points in three years to its highest level since the mid-1970s (after the humiliation of Vietnam).
Although Mr Bush was hardly fair when he described all advocates of a less muscular foreign policy as “isolationist”, he has correctly identified one of the strongest currents against which he must swim. Many Americans wish to disengage from the world in one or more of four ways: by fighting fewer wars, by trading less freely, by allowing fewer foreigners into their country or by giving less foreign aid.
Now it's to Bad, Bad Pat:
The purest isolationists, ironically, are to be found in the president's own party. Since Mr Bush came to office promising a “humble” foreign policy, they feel betrayed that he has practised the opposite. “Why would a president use his state of the union to lash out at a school of foreign policy thought that has had zero influence in his administration?” fumes Pat Buchanan, a former presidential aspirant and voice of the GOP's nativist wing. The answer: “His foreign policy is visibly failing, and his critics have been proven right.”
Iraq never attacked America, argues Mr Buchanan, so America did not have to attack it. As for the idea that America's security depends on ending foreign tyranny, that is “noble-sounding nonsense”, writes Mr Buchanan. “Our security rests on US power and will, and not on whether Zimbabwe, Sudan, Syria, Cuba or even China is ruled by tyrants. Our forefathers lived secure in a world of tyrannies by staying out of wars that were none of America's business.” Mr Buchanan thinks foreign aid is “the looting of America for the construction of the New World Order”. He is proudly protectionist and he fears that Hispanic immigration threatens not only America's survival as one nation but also Republican dominance of American politics, since Latinos usually vote Democrat.
Mr Buchanan has been singing this song for some time: it was part of his pitchfork rebellion against Mr Bush's father in the Republican primaries in 1992. But in damning the Iraq war and the use of force to spread democracy, Mr Buchanan is part of a much broader (and potentially more potent) movement.
And then we have the competing "schools of thought:"
On the right, there are two main groups: small-government conservatives and foreign-policy realists. The former point to the huge cost to the taxpayer of the Iraq war and the Pentagon. The latter, typified by Brent Scowcroft, the first President Bush's national-security adviser, think that the old policy of propping up Arab strongmen brought “50 years of peace” to the Middle East.
For different reasons, almost everyone on the left opposes the war. The people who have enough spare time to go on marches and listen to Cindy Sheehan tend to think “BusHitler” invaded Iraq to enrich Halliburton. A larger, quieter group thinks the administration launched an avoidable war and botched it. Overall, the proportion of Americans who think the Iraq war worth fighting has fallen from 70% in April 2003 to about 45% now. [For some reason, The Economist doesn't take all these guys too seriously].
Then the Economist, like the NR, associates the those opposed to Bush's foreign policy with those who oppose free trade and immigration, and concludes that despite growing public skepticism towards military intervention, free trade and immigration, it would be very difficult to form an effective political and electoral "isolationist" coalition and notes that McCain is even more of an interventionist than Bush.
I'm a proud member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and a contributing editor to The American Conservative and would be delighted to see the neoconservative ideologues out of business, the Bush Administration adopting a more realistic foreign policy and the Republican party conducting a serious debate on foreign policy. But I don't think that any of these things are happening in Washington these days. In fact, I don't see any serious challenge to the Bush Administration's policies in the Middle East and elsewhere among leading Democrats. I think that the drive towards a U.S. hegemonic position in the Middle East will continue for quite a while. It will ensure a continuing occpuation with Iraq and lead to more tensions with Iran while at the same time the drive towards U.S. dominance will conflict with the neoconservative global democratic agenda. I also don't think that any political figure opposed to this strategy would be able to win the presidential nomination of the Republican or Democratic parties.I think what Joe Lieberman (or someone else) said that "We are all neoconservatives now" remains an accurate description of the current consensus among members of the foreign policy elites.