|The many voices of US foreign
By Jim Lobe
If foreign leaders and diplomats appear increasingly
confused about where United States foreign policy is
being made, they are not alone.
From Qalqiya on
the West Bank to Karbala in Iraq to North Korea,
contending forces within both the administration of
President George W Bush and his Republican Party are
duking it out for control, and the White House seems
more and more unable to impose discipline.
the neo-conservatives and right-wing hawks in the
offices of Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon chief
Donald Rumsfeld, who led the drive to war in Iraq, have
been put on the defensive as the costs in blood and
treasure of the post-war occupation mount, they have by
no means retreated from the battle.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has worked quietly to
extend his power, particularly over the
Israeli-Palestinian roadmap and dialogue with Pyongyang,
right-wing elements in Congress appear determined to
thwart him, even if the Pentagon's voice on the two
issues has been somewhat diminished.
Powell needs a strong ally within the White House, and,
as noted by the Financial Times last week, the newly
perceived weakness of National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice and her staff is making it very
difficult for the secretary to gain traction there.
Instead, Powell is relying increasingly on his
friends in Congress, particularly Democrats and moderate
Republicans - such as the chairman of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, and Senator Chuck
Hagel - to both press his positions and to keep the
Pentagon on its heels, a task they performed admirably
in a remarkably confrontational hearing on Iraq that
featured a defensive, if defiant, Deputy Defense
Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.
Indeed, as both
lawmakers and Bush left the capital for the August
recess, the overriding impression is one of a diffusion
of power that the president might find difficult to
recover when official Washington reconvenes in September
for what is shaping up as a very difficult autumn.
Congress has scheduled a battery of hearings on
whether, how, and why the administration exaggerated the
threat to the country allegedly posed by Iraq in the
run-up to the war, and how and why it so completely
failed to anticipate and plan for the post-war debacle.
Unless the military has captured Saddam Hussein
and resistance to the US occupation has been
substantially reduced by then, those hearings could
spell major trouble for the administration.
Bush's handlers appear to have sensed that he
has lost authority over the past few weeks, despite last
week's killings of Saddam's two sons, a development that
appears to have at least temporarily halted a steep
slide in Bush's popular support. They hastily scheduled
a rare press conference Wednesday, at which he gave a
particularly cocky and confident performance.
But Bush's demeanor came across as mostly empty
bluster, including his assumption of responsibility for
his controversial State of the Union Address reference
to flawed intelligence about Iraq's alleged effort to
gain uranium yellowcake from Africa. The appearance
became instant fodder for laughs on late-night
television talk shows.
But adding to the growing
sense of a vacuum at the White House has been Rice's
sharply diminishing public stature as a competent
arbiter of policy. Her case was probably not helped by
Bush's effusive - if irrelevant - endorsement of her as
"an honest, fabulous person" at his press conference.
Her initial attempts to blame the Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) for the president's reference
to the African yellowcake have clearly backfired, and
her tardy admission that she had not read key
intelligence documents on Iraq has exposed to the
broader public one of Washington's least-talked-about
secrets: she lacks the expertise and authority to impose
discipline on warring parts of the sprawling national
That shortfall has been
evident for a long time, but became particularly
pronounced last year when Cheney assailed United
Nations' weapons inspectors just as Powell had persuaded
Bush to request new inspections.
also encouraged Rumsfeld to speak out on a range of
foreign policy issues - such as "the so-called occupied
territories" and "Old Europe" - that both made Powell's
efforts to rally international support behind Washington
much more difficult and needlessly alienated key allies.
The fact that Rice - whose job it is to
coordinate different agency perspectives into a coherent
national security policy - could or would not impose
discipline on the Pentagon contributed to the perception
abroad this year that the State Department had been
seriously marginalized and its opinions could not be
taken as seriously as those of Cheney, Rumsfeld,
Wolfowitz or Rice herself.
changed partially just after the Iraq war, when Rice,
whose proximity to the presidential ear is still
regarded as without peer, was named by Bush as the
person responsible for overseeing the implementation of
the Israeli-Palestinian roadmap, which calls for the
creation of a Palestinian state by 2005.
the Pentagon pre-occupied with post-war Iraq, analysts
saw that a Powell-Rice alliance on the roadmap could
redress the balance of power within the administration
in the State Department's favor, not just with respect
to the Middle East, but on other key issues like North
Korea and Iraq.
While generally hawkish, Rice,
whose academic expertise is the Soviet military, is
regarded as more pragmatic and less ideological than the
unilateralists around Rumsfeld and Cheney. But her
public exposure as a lightweight, combined with Bush's
babble, has set back the hopes of those who thought
Powell might regain more control over policy. The result
is the spectacle of an uncoordinated scramble for power,
with Cheney and the Pentagon - backed by Congressional
right-wingers - still pushing their agenda, at the same
time that Powell and key Democrats and moderate
Republicans try to push back, with Bush, Rice and the
White House somewhere out in right field.
jockeying was clear all week long. While Powell and the
senators all but pleaded for a new UN Security Council
resolution that would permit more countries to
contribute troops and financial assistance to Iraq,
Wolfowitz rejected any arrangement that would diminish
US control over the occupation.
Powell and his Congressional supporters called for the
administration to swiftly engage North Korea, John
Bolton, the Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and
International Security who was forced on Powell by
Rumsfeld and Cheney, delivered a ferocious address in
Seoul in which he repeatedly and personally attacked Kim
Jong-il, suggesting to some experts that he was
deliberately trying to sabotage a new round of talks.
Meanwhile, in a meeting with Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon - a favorite of the hawks - Bush
declined to criticize Israel's construction of a
security fence in the occupied territories as he had
done just the week before.
And while Sharon was
toasted at the White House, the powerful Republican
Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, Tom
DeLay, assured his right-wing hosts in Jerusalem of his
reservations about the road map and that he "can't
imagine in the very near future that a Palestinian state
could ever happen".