Friday, November 10, 2006

Different Views of Robert Gates

The next few weeks will be tricky when it comes to our foreign policy, Iraq and the Department of Defense. The Democrats won't be taking the reins until January and will probably have to depend on help from Republican moderates to keep Bush on the straight and narrow. The press will have to do a much better job of keeping the spotlight on the always secretive and less than candid Bush Administration during the transition.

The departure of Donald Rumsfeld is a good thing. Even if Robert Gates is not much better than Rumsfeld, he won't be trapped in the position of having to waste time defending old policies. I don't know much about Gates and have no opinion on him yet. In any case, the real issue is whether George W. Bush finally sees the writing on the wall and recognizes the need to change course and drop the empire/democracy project that no one could figure out in the first place.

Steve Clemons of The Washington Note is an expert on foreign policy and has a take on events in the last few days that was published in The Australian:
THE day after the 2006 US mid-term elections, a polite but important coup is under way in Washington. Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld has gone. Brent Scowcroft acolyte, former CIA director and anti-neo-conservative realist Robert Gates has got Rumsfeld's job. Democrats control both chambers of Congress. And George W. Bush has found that not only can he not stay the course in Iraq, he can't stay the course on any policy front.

Quite uncharacteristic of his earlier tenure, somewhat desperate-sounding pleas for bipartisanship have become the President's most often-stated phrase since voters ripped the gear shaft and steering column out of his control of the US political scene.

Top-tier neo-conservatives such as Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman and even "axis of evil" wordsmith David Frum - who brand Rumsfeld and Bush as seriously incompetent in the latest issue of Vanity Fair - are jumping off the Bush ship that they helped sink with the war against Iraq.

Realists are hot again and are trying to rescue Bush's administration from total ignominious collapse out of patriotism and loyalty to his father, George H.W. Bush.


The US, for the first time since Vietnam, is looking at a big military and political loss in the Middle East as well as a world of allies and foes who count on US support less than they once did or who are moving forward their aggressive and potentially harmful agendas.

Israel, Europe and Japan are behaving differently and engaging in military postures and aggressive diplomacy that was inconceivable even a year ago, mostly because of their perception of the weakening position of the US. States such as Iran and North Korea are aggravating the global order with disruptive nuclear pretensions, while Venezuela's Hugo Chavez flies across the globe attempting to cultivate a sphere of interest melded from oil influence, a revived state socialism and anti-Americanism. Russia and China are back as big power players in the global game; and al-Qa'ida, the transnational Islamist terror network that shocked the American psyche on September 11 more than five years ago, is still functioning, with its two top leaders at large, inspiring radical, often tragic terrorism across the world.

Americans pay a lot for their security - roughly half of what the entire world spends on defence - and they are not satisfied with the "deliverables" they have been getting.

Washington believed unilateralism conveyed US power more effectively than serious multilateralism. When the US got bogged down in a quagmire in Iraq and overtly displayed its military limits, the global equilibrium, already in shabby shape after the Cold War's end, came apart.

(snip) the election was drawing close, it became clear that realism and realist-hybrids, with other related schools of foreign policy thought, were growing in popularity at the expense of neo-conservative influence. In coming weeks, for example, Bush family fixer and former secretary of state and treasury secretary James Baker will release a report of the Iraq Study Group, which he co-chaired with Lee Hamilton. This report, acknowledged as important by the President, is expected to be a realistic call for deal-making in the Middle East, even with parties such as Syria and Iran, to establish a "new equilibrium of interests" in the region.

Based on what I know so far, I prefer the Republican 'realists' to the neoconservatives and certainly to the still poorly defined ambitions of the Bush/Cheney inner circle, but it's not certain yet what exactly defines Republican 'realists' these days. If we're talking about Bush 41, there are two 'realist' versions of foreign policy: the one that won the Gulf War and the version that led to the strange invasion of Panama. Panama seemed more about settling some old scores and establishing Bush 41's credentials than it was about a sensible foreign policy. On the other hand, the Gulf War was about using a multilateral force to drive out a nation that had invaded another nation and was a reasonably good example of statecraft (despite some mistakes).

The signs indicate that neoconservatism is dead but the Democrats are going to have to make sure that the policy from here forward stays 'realistic,' meaning our path at this point needs to focus on cleaning up Bush's mess while redeploying our troops and rebuilding a functional, multilateral foreign policy. Clemons gives the impression that Robert Gates belong to the multilateralist 'realist' camp that's closer to the position of Scowcroft or at least the pre-UN-speech Colin Powell. I hope Clemons is right.

Here's an article by James Mannn in The Washington Post:
In the early months of 1989, the overriding foreign policy issue for the new George H.W. Bush administration was how to deal with Mikhail Gorbachev. Did the Soviet leader represent fundamental change, or was he merely a new face for the same old policies?

The administration was divided. James Baker, the secretary of state, wanted to test out Gorbachev. The anti-Gorbachev hawks were led by Robert M. Gates, the deputy national security adviser. Gates's principal ally was then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney.

Baker vs. Gates/Cheney: That alignment should serve as a warning to those who view Wednesday's appointment of Robert M. Gates to replace Donald Rumsfeld as representing the triumph of Bush the Father's administration over Bush the Son's. Any such analysis is far too simplistic. Gates's nomination unquestionably stands for one proposition: a long-awaited recognition that the administration's war in Iraq has been a disaster. But the broader interpretation of the appointment as representing a victory of Bush 41 over Bush 43 -- or of one school of thought over another -- breaks down when you look at Gates's background and the history of the 1980s and early '90s.

We'll know soon enough whether Mann has a more accurate read of Robert Gates than Steve Clemons; if Mann's assessment is right, Bush's failures could go on a bit longer.

Whether Cheney was involved in the selection of Gates or not, it's clear that one of the things that has to happen is that Cheney's role in the last two years of Bush's presidency needs to be monitored and limited however that might happen. Bush is not the sole author of all the failures in his administration; he simply bears the final responsibility. Still, there can be no doubt that Cheney's fingerprints are on many of the Bush Administration's failures and arrogant grabs for power. If Bush can't take steps to limit Cheney's reckless incompetence, Congress may have to find ways to do so.

And some thought should be given to Condi Rice. The cleaning up of the Iraq mess will require considerable shuttling back and forth in the region and elsewhere to ease our departure and guarantee autonomy for Iraq. So far, Dr. Rice's diplomatic skills leave much to be desired. It is clearly time for her to step up. Or leave.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really like the term "reckless incompetence" to describe Dick Chaney. He has blown it in every jopb that he has had in the government, yet he keeps being recycled back in just as if he had done something worth while.

If things are ever going to get better, we need to stop letting guys like Chaney, Rumsfeld and Gates come back in the revolving door for Washingtom bureaucrats.

There is no way we are going to get "fresh ideas" for Iraq or anything else if we keep letting the same old schmucks back into these powerful jobs.

It is like the definition of insanity....keep appointing the same people to the most important jobs hoping the results will be different this time.....

8:40 AM  
Blogger Carl said...

Donald Rumsfeld is smart man, but he epitomized what is wrong with the Republican Party (of which I am a member). Dick Cheney is another example of Republican arrogance. To often Republican leaders lose touch with little guy, my local State Representative just stepped down, but while in office he had an attitude of arrogance when disagreed with on issues and would attack the source rather than truly discuss the issue. He also really looked down on the youth in our community. Thankfully he is being replaced by a more humble Republican man.
The Republicans can win in 2008, but they need to fix these problems first:

• Lose the arrogance.
To often Republican leaders lose touch with little guy, my local State Representative just stepped down, but while in office he had an attitude of arrogance when disagreed with on issues and would attack the source rather than truly discuss the issue. He also really looked down on the youth in our community. Thankfully he is being replaced by a more humble Republican man.

• Image is not everything, in fact it should be number 3 or less:
Often politicians and businesses put image first (real common in our area). Truth should come first; People should come second (or first); Then maybe image (yes image does sell, politically and professionally).
Voters (and consumers) also need to honor those who do put truth and people above image. In my business, I have dropped major accounts do to poor treatment of my employees I have sent out in the field, I also have tried to sell only what I know works based on my testing in my maintenance business. But sadly I see politicians and businesses get rewarded for image and not honesty.

• Stand up for the Truth:
Sadly many politicians will not take a stand for the truth or at least what they believe is right. Joe Lieberman stood his ground against his own party and paid for it in the primary, but not in the general election. I do not agree on the majority of his views, but I have to give him credit here. What happens in my opinion is far left leaning politicians such as Nancy Pelosi get in power when no one Democrat or Republican stands up to them.

• Admit to not always being right:
Unfortunately Republicans are not always right (I sure make mistakes, wish I didn’t). Admit to mistakes.

• You cannot have it all:
This is where the Christian right gets into trouble, they will insist on 100% or nothing, such as no abortion-ever. Start with what you can get, such as a ban on partial birth abortion.
Governor Schwarzenegger is a good example of this, many Republican would not back him do to some more liberal views, but in my opinion, he was vastly better than the alternative.

Carl Strohmeyer

10:06 AM  

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