Wednesday, March 2, 2005

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I'm forced to leave the moderate temperatures of Chicago to the sweltering climate of Honolulu to attend the International Studies Association annual meeting. Perhaps, if I have some spare time between sessions, I'll find the time to post--- oh, who the hell am I kidding??!! I'm going to be in friggin' Hawaii!!!! The only way I'm blogging anything is if it's 4 AM and I can't sleep and there's nothing on HBO.

So.... while I'm gone, go check out David Rothkopf's fascinating Foreign Policy essay, "Inside the Committee that Runs the World." It's about the foreign policy divisions that have emerged within the Bush administration. I've blogged about Rothkopf's argument before, but the FP article is the fullest treatment I've seen on this topic -- plus lots of inside dirt.

The section I'm particularly glad to see is the one that confirms my assessment of Dick Cheney's role in upsetting the NSC policy process. I said a year ago:

has nothing to do with the policy positions Cheney has taken on Iraq or anything else. Rather, the difficulty is that even cabinet-level officials can be reluctant in disagreeing with him because he's the vice-president. This leads to a stunted policy debate, which ill-serves both the President and the country.

From Rothkopf's essay:

Cheney has had the largest national security staff of any vice president in U.S. history—one larger than President John F. Kennedy’s entire NSC staff at one time. He also has a network of close associates that extend throughout the government and who report to him or to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, his chief of staff, whose rank (assistant to the president) is technically equivalent to the national security advisor’s. Estimates of the total number of staffers, consultants, and those seconded from other agencies to the vice president’s office to work on national security-related issues have ranged from 15 to 35; it’s impossible to know for sure, as the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act do not cover the Office of the Vice President, and therefore it does not need to disclose details of its operation.

Rice describes Cheney as a “terrific” asset, in that “he has been able to sit as a principal without a bureaucratic domain to defend, so he’s always just a really wonderfully wise voice in the principals’ councils.” Others see it differently, including many officials within the administration who believe that the true value of a principals’ committee meeting is to allow the president’s national security team to have a free and open discussion about the advice they wish to give the president. Unfortunately, when Cheney is at the table, he is not simply, as Rice characterizes him, just a wise, old principal without a portfolio. He is seen as an 800-pound gorilla whose views carry much more weight than the others and which therefore skew discussions and quash open dissent, inadvertently or otherwise.

Richard Haass, who served in the administrations of both George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush and is currently president of the Council on Foreign Relations, recalls that Cheney had “three bites at the apple. He has his staff at every meeting. He would then come to principals’ meetings. And then he’d have his one-on-ones with the president. And given the views that came out of the vice president’s office, it introduced a certain bias to the system…. As a result, I felt that at just about every meeting, the State Department began behind two and a half to one.”

Really, read the whole thing.


posted by Dan on 03.02.05 at 12:26 AM


Why do I get the feeling that this is an attack against Bush, Cheny, rumsfeld, and Condi?

posted by: bindare on 03.02.05 at 12:26 AM [permalink]

It's not. It's clearly yet another apology for the Wise Old Men Of The Institution, who are looking for a way to weather the ideological weather and co-opt those driven mad by 9/11, and deal with the Jesus-addled cowboy they're saddled with.

I can't believe the bigoted garbage that comes out of the mouths of elder statesmen when they're allowed to speak anonymously. "I don’t know exactly what it means to be a born-again Christian, but, if it means that Jesus has entered your soul, then does it mean that you are infallible?" Who was that, Scowcroft, or just one of his jumped-up minions?

More and more, I'm starting to suspect that we ought to send a torch-and-pitchfork-waving-crowd through Foggy Bottom on a twice-yearly rampage. Fleeing from the peasant mob ought to give the State boys some much-needed exercise, and exert some Darwinian (or at least, Lamarckian) selection in favor of those capable of either thinking on their feet, or with them.

posted by: Mitch H. on 03.02.05 at 12:26 AM [permalink]

Mitch, it's comments like that that make people turn into, er, "bigots."

posted by: praktike on 03.02.05 at 12:26 AM [permalink]

If you read the whole statement,

one Bush family intimate, commenting on the commander in chief’s renewed sense of mission, muses, “I don’t know exactly what it means to be a born-again Christian, but, if it means that Jesus has entered your soul, then does it mean that you are infallible? I don’t know the answer to that. But it may impart a certitude to the president that affects the way he reacts to his team and everything else.”

Not only does it not seem bigoted, it seems pretty reasonable. The cautionary notes about people on grand missions are reasonable -- we've seen that a lot of such missions driven by ideology tend to go awry in unexpected ways. Even in post-war Iraq, we've seen a litany of negative news before finally seeing some positive news (and the jury is still very much out there).

posted by: erg on 03.02.05 at 12:26 AM [permalink]

I suspect Rothkopf's evaluation of how policy is made in this administration is pretty close to my own. But no matter how influential one official is over the process of making decisions his influence doesn't mean much without the means to implement the decisions made.

In the Bush administration the guy responsible for the means is Donald Rumsfeld, not Dick Cheney. Rumsfeld and Cheney agree on so much that this distinction does not always make a difference. But on key issues from the conduct of operations in Iraq to military transformation to the extension of DoD's brief well into the traditional jurisdictions of State and CIA it looks to me as if Cheney's role has been to run interference for Rumsfeld's policies.

posted by: Zathras on 03.02.05 at 12:26 AM [permalink]

God forbid an elected official should have some influence on policy.

posted by: Norman Pfyster on 03.02.05 at 12:26 AM [permalink]

Puh-leeze. Frankly, I thought the Rothkopf piece was a total embarrassment--a rambling, incoherent, sloppily argued mess that served up nothing new or interesting except possibly a few extra quotes from Scowcroft confirming what we already knew to be his anti-Bushite views. Why such a harsh view? For these reasons:

1. You say the piece is on "the foreign policy divisions in the Bush administration," but in fact it's supposedly about the NSC in particular--yet it never really tells you what the NSC is or does. No significant discussion of the structure of foreign policymaking in the Executive Branch, the role of the NSC staff, the relation of the NSA to other cabinet members, etc. This would make a lousy teaching tool, no?

2. It jumps from one independent variable to another without any rhyme, reason, or explanation. Bureaucratic structure and politics, individual personalities, ideologies, domestic politics--all are brought into the discussion at one time or another as factors that might affect the administration's foreign policy, yet without any theoretical sophistication or even clear argument. A total dog's breakfast, one that reflects poorly not just on the author but on his editors.

3. It breaks the shocking story that the administration is divided between 41 realists and 43 idealists/transformationalists/neocons. Whoa, stop the presses! Excuse me, but isn't this completely old hat? What exactly did the piece tell you that you didn't already know?

I too have recommended that people read it--but as a sad, sad comment on what passes for high-level foreign policy analysis these days. Yes, it has some gossip, but enough to merit a lead article position in a supposedly serious journal? come on...


posted by: lamont cranston on 03.02.05 at 12:26 AM [permalink]

The section I'm particularly glad to see is the one that confirms my assessment of Dick Cheney's role in upsetting the NSC policy process.[...]

The difference between you and I is that you seem to think this is a bad thing.

The NSC is an advisory body that exists at the pleasure of the President, while the Vice President is an elected official with an office and duties defined by the Constitution.

Kvetching by NSC members that the VP isn't "just another guy at the table" indicates that some people on the NSC are missing the point rather badly. Heaven forbid that a mere elected official have more clout and access to the President than Wise Old Men Of The Institution have!

I'd rather have the Vice President making policy decisions than unelected Wise Old Men Of The Institution calling the shots.

posted by: rosignol on 03.02.05 at 12:26 AM [permalink]

Looks like trade is the only thing free in China:

posted by: Dan on 03.02.05 at 12:26 AM [permalink]

Are those intimidated by Cheney a bunch of jellyfish? He may be VP, but he's not the boss of any of them, is he?

posted by: John Corn on 03.02.05 at 12:26 AM [permalink]

I've made my reservations about the "Cheney shadow presidency" theory clear above, but it's undeniable that Cheney has far more influence over Bush administration policy than any previous Vice President I can think of had into the policy of his administration.

Actually, I have trouble thinking of a President before Bush who would not have regarded a Cheney-like Vice President as a sign that he himself was not up to being President -- or, in more than one case, that he was going insane. Historically Vice Presidents have sometimes been called on for advice and sometimes given specific projects of limited duration, but as far as I know Cheney's prominence in this administration is unprecedented.

Surely that tells us something about Bush. Perhaps that his native sagacity multiplied by the unequalled management skills imparted by the MBA program at Harvard has enabled him to act on a management insight far beyond the 42 poor schlubs who preceeded him in the Oval Office. Yes, I'm sure that must be it.

posted by: Zathras on 03.02.05 at 12:26 AM [permalink]

[I]t's undeniable that Cheney has far more influence over Bush administration policy than any previous Vice President I can think of had into the policy of his administration.
Undeniable? Are you forgetting a certain John C. Breckinridge who wielded such cloat in the Buchanan administration!?

posted by: Anonymous on 03.02.05 at 12:26 AM [permalink]

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