Clipped wings and a triumph for
realism By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Although still united in
pushing for confrontation with Iran, the coalition
of hawks that propelled US troops toward Baghdad
three years ago appears to have finally run out of
steam. Demoralized by the quagmire in Iraq, as
well as President George W Bush's still falling
approval and credibility ratings, the coalition of
aggressive nationalists, neo-conservatives and the
Christian Right that promoted the belligerent,
neo-imperial trajectory in US foreign policy has
lost both its coherence and its power to
dominate the political agenda
As a result - and almost by
default - realists under Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and in the uniformed military
have steadily gained control over the
administration's policy. Within the increasingly
fractious Republican Party, more xenophobic forces
appear to be on the rise, as evidenced by recent
and ongoing controversies surrounding immigration
and foreign control of US ports.
of a decisive shift is not hard to find, beginning
with the latest edition of the "The National
Security Strategy of the United States of
America", released last month.
gentler version of its fire-breathing 2002
predecessor that laid out the doctrinal
justification for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq,
the new version puts a greater emphasis on
diplomacy and development, tending alliances and
other realist themes, even as it continued the
administration's defense of preemptive military
action with Iran squarely in mind.
Rice's constant travel - as well as that of her
two underlings, Deputy Secretary Robert Zoellick
and Under Secretary for Policy Nicholas Burns -
not only demonstrates the priority the
administration has placed on cultivating allies and even
states more skeptical of US benevolence. It also
suggests that the State Department - the bastion of
foreign-policy realism - is considerably more confident of
its own power within the administration.
Indeed, Rice's peripatetic pace stands in
striking contrast to the homebody habits of her
predecessor, Colin Powell, who feared that even a
two- or three-day absence from headquarters would
create policy vacuums instantly filled by Vice
President Dick Cheney and Pentagon chief Donald
Rumsfeld, co-leaders of the hawks' "cabal", as
Powell's former chief of staff, Colonel Lawrence
Wilkerson, has called them.
senior military officers have appeared less
reluctant to buck the party line, making
assertions about the lack of progress and looming
possibility of civil war in Iraq that are far less
optimistic than the two cabalists-in-chief.
In fact, the hawks' decline dates to late
2003 when it became clear that Cheney and Rumsfeld
and their neo-conservative subordinates,
then-deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz,
under secretary for policy Douglas Feith, had
totally failed to anticipate, let alone prepare
for, a Sunni-based insurgency that has gone from
strength to strength.
Except for a brief
period from Bush's November 2004 re-election and
very early in 2005 - a period in which they had
hoped that Powell's departure and the president's
soaring pro-democracy inaugural address signaled a
resurgence of their power - the hawks have
steadily lost power to the realists led by Rice.
The neo-conservative rhetoric, like the
president's, has masked the shift back to the more
cautious approach of Bush's father.
return to realism has been helped immensely by the
disappearance over the past year of key players
from the administration, among them Wolfowitz and
Feith, whose unpopularity with the military and
among even Republican lawmakers made them
convenient scapegoats for the growing fiasco in
John Bolton's move from a
policymaking role in the State Department to the
United Nations also deprived the "cabal" of a key
player in a strategic post behind "enemy" lines.
The loss of I Lewis "Scooter"
Libby, Cheney's formidable chief of staff and
national security adviser, after his indictment by
a federal grand jury for perjury and other
charges in connection with the unauthorized leading
of classified information last October was an
even more decisive blow against the hawks. A
national-security specialist who acted with the full
authority and confidence of the most powerful vice
president in US history, Libby was the hub of the
hawks' network inside the administration.
The network has also suffered serious
losses in Congress, most particularly the
resignation after his indictment by a Texas grand
jury last year of the unusually powerful House
majority leader, Tom DeLay, who this week said he
would not stand for re-election. An outspoken
champion of Israel's settler movement, "The
Hammer", as he is known, imposed iron discipline
on Republicans in the lower chamber on behalf of
the 25-year alliance between the Christian Right
and pro-Likud neo-conservatives.
aside from these losses, the coalition has been
set back by internal divisions that seem only to
With a few hardline
exceptions, neo-conservatives such as Weekly
Standard editor William Kristol have been
attacking Rumsfeld for failing to deploy many more
troops to Iraq and crush all resistance virtually
since US forces invaded.
they have taken advantage of the growing calls for
a comprehensive shakeup in the administration to
renew their demands for Rumsfeld's resignation,
demands that ironically echoed those in recent
days of their realist foes in retired military
ranks, including former Central Command chief
General Anthony Zinni and General Paul Eaton, who
served as senior commander in Iraq.
Neo-conservatives have also suffered
internal divisions that have weakened their
political potency. The most important has been
their reaction to Israel's disengagement from Gaza
and the Kadima Party's plans to dismantle
settlements in the West Bank. Staunch Likudniks
have opposed disengagement and the
administration's support for it; while more
moderate elements, including Kristol, have taken a
more flexible position.
The coalition of
hawks is also increasingly threatened by growing
disillusionment over the effects of the Bush
administration's democracy crusade across the
leaders in the Christian Right, in particular,
were stunned by the capital charges brought this
year by a court in Afghanistan against a Christian
convert, who after US and Western protests was
permitted to go into exile in Italy last week.
"Some [in] our
community decided early on that we would support
the president's policies because it might provide
the shock therapy to change these dictatorships"
in the Islamic world, Reverend Richard Cizik,
vice president of the National Association of
Evangelicals, told National Public Radio on
"Now, if in fact as a result of
this effort ... we're not going to have that kind
of freedom for people to choose [their faith],
then that's a real torpedo in the belly of the
findings of two recent national surveys was that
evangelical Christians, who make up roughly 40% of
all Republicans and have long been Bush's
strongest source of political support, have become
significantly more skeptical about his
interventionist policies in the Middle East since
late last year.
While all of these trends
have weakened the hawks and are likely to moderate
US policies in the region, they do not mean that
the chances of military action against Iran have
been significantly reduced.
Iraq invasion, which was promoted almost
exclusively by the three coalition constituents,
Iran's nuclear program is seen as a threat to
vital US interests by a broader range of forces,
including some realists and even liberal
internationalists in the Democratic Party.