Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Dems Have a Chance to Right Some Wrongs
Nov 10, 2006
Rumsfeld takes a hit for Bush
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - The abrupt replacement of defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld by former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Robert Gates, combined with the Democratic sweep in Tuesday's mid-term elections, appears to signal major changes in US foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East.
A career CIA analyst until his retirement in the early 1990s, Gates, a favorite of both former president George H W Bush and
his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, has shared their "realistic" approach to US foreign policy and shown little patience with the neo-conservatives and aggressive nationalists such as Vice President Dick Cheney. Or with Rumsfeld, who dominated President George W Bush's first term after the September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda attacks on New York and the Pentagon and led the march to war in Iraq.
As recently as two years ago, for example, Gates co-chaired a task force sponsored by the influential Council on Foreign Relations with former president Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, which called for a policy of diplomatic and economic engagement with Iran, a policy that was denounced as "appeasement" by a number of prominent neo-conservatives. Indeed, in the aftermath of Tuesday's electoral landslide, in which the Democrats gained at least 29 seats to win a secure majority in the House of Representatives and appear poised to win a narrower majority in the Senate as well, and Rumsfeld's departure, both Cheney and his neo-conservative supporters now appear more marginalized than ever.
"If the trend in the Bush second term is viewed as what a friend of mine once called 'an imperceptible 180-degree turn' from neo-con ideology to political realism, then this would be a crowning achievement," said Gary Sick, an Iran specialist at Columbia University who worked with Gates in the National Security Council under Carter. "Viewed from my own knowledge and perspective, I think this is one of the most significant US policy shifts in the past six years," he said, adding that, among other things, Rumsfeld's departure and Gates' ascension would, at the very least, give Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice - like Gates, a Soviet specialist from the realist school - more diplomatic maneuvering room than in the past when she had to contend with both a hostile vice president and secretary of defense.
Although apparently discussed for some time, Rumsfeld's resignation on the heels of the election was no doubt designed at least in part as a sacrificial offering to victorious Democrats, whose performance at the polls appears to have lived up to their greatest hopes. The quagmire in Iraq for which Rumsfeld was, of course, one of the most visible faces was, according to both the pre-election and exit polls, probably the single most important factor in what Bush himself called a "thumping" for his Republican Party. "At a minimum, Rumsfeld's departure buys the president time to adjust Iraq and other policies without the newly empowered Democrats screaming for blood," opined Chris Nelson, editor of the private insider newsletter The Nelson Report. "But they will start to do that pretty soon, if nothing coherent seems to be happening."
In his first post-election statement, Bush vowed to find "common ground" with the Democrats on Iraq, as well as other issues - a promise that seemed inconceivable just a month ago when he and Cheney were accusing the opposition party of wanting to "cut and run" from Iraq and handing the "terrorists" there a great victory. For their part, the new Democratic leadership - the House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi and the likely new majority leader, Senator Harry Reid - called for a national summit on Iraq policy. While the Democrats are united on Iraq, many, if not most, including Pelosi, believe that Washington should begin "redeploying" the 140,000-plus troops from Iraq and setting timetables for an eventual withdrawal over the next one to two years to reduce the mounting costs in blood and treasure of the US intervention, extricate Washington from what appears to be a growing sectarian civil war, and put pressure on the Iraqi government and its various factions to prevent one.
Both parties are likely now to defer to the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (ISG), a bipartisan, congressionally appointed task force co-chaired by former secretary of state James Baker and former House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Lee Hamilton, which is supposed to release its report between now and early next year. Significantly, Gates is a Republican member of the ISG, which, under Baker's guidance, met in September with senior representatives of Iran and Syria, governments that have been boycotted diplomatically by the Bush administration. Those meetings prompted strong speculation that the ISG was almost certain to recommend engaging both Tehran and Damascus as well as Iraq's other neighbors, as part of a strategy to facilitate a US withdrawal and prevent the sectarian conflict from spreading beyond Iraq's borders.
Such an approach has been anathema to Rumsfeld, Cheney and the neo-conservatives, who successfully vetoed Rice's suggestion during summer's Israel-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon that Washington communicate at least indirectly with Damascus and earlier efforts by her to persuade Bush to be prepared to offer Tehran security guarantees as part of any package that would emerge from successful negotiations between the European Union and Iran on freezing its nuclear program. But both approaches are likely to be advocated by Gates, and therein lies the possibility of a major overhaul of US policy, particularly in the Middle East but also with respect to Asia, particularly China, where tension with Rumsfeld's Pentagon has been the main irritant in an otherwise relatively constructive relationship under Bush.
Nelson points out that Gates is currently a leading member of the Baker policy advisory group. Indeed, some right-wing commentators see Rumsfeld's replacement by Gates as a virtual coup d'etat by the old, realist crowd around Bush's father against the remnants of the hawkish coalition of aggressive nationalists,** neo-conservatives and the **Christian right that seized control of Middle East policy, in particular, after September 11.
"Bottom line, the Gates nomination has Jim Baker's fingerprints all over it," said J William Lauderback, executive vice president of the American Conservative Union. That analysis will likely be echoed in the coming days by a host of neo-conservatives howling about a realist takeover. In fairness to the neo-conservatives, many of them have been calling for Rumsfeld's ouster, some even as early as the Iraq invasion, when they determined that he was unprepared to devote the kind of resources and manpower "in ground forces and security" into the kind of "model" they had envisaged for the rest of the Arab world.
In recent months, even neo-conservatives who have stood by Rumsfeld have publicly criticized him for botching the Iraq occupation. They had urged Bush to choose Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat with strong neo-conservative views on the Middle East, to replace Rumsfeld. Lieberman, who was defeated two months ago in the Democratic primary election by a virtually unknown anti-war candidate, Ned Lamont, was re-elected with Republican votes and money to the Senate as an Independent in one of the few pieces of good news that the hawks have received over the past 48 hours.
But Lieberman's re-election could not overcome the tide of bad news for the neo-conservatives and their main sponsor and protector within the administration, Cheney, who, now deprived of both his former chief of staff, I Lewis Libby (indicted for lying to a federal grand jury in October 2005), and Rumsfeld, now lies isolated and exposed. "Rumsfeld is his guy," journalist Bob Woodward told the TV public-affairs program 60 Minutes last month. "And Cheney confided to an aide that if Rumsfeld goes, next they'll be after Cheney." (Inter Press Service)
Rumsfeld not the only one to blame Nov 9 2006America votes and the spin masters wobble Nov 9 2006US ready to face the world anew Nov 8 2006
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