Wednesday, May 10, 2006

April 3 Neocons failing?

US President George W Bush could probably find a partial salvation from the crisis of confidence he faces with the American people if he could cut himself off from the hawkish neoconservatives and set the diplomatic course set by his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and her camp of people who have come be called realists.
The neoconservative camp, which orchestrated the political, diplomatic and military build-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is deemed to be slowly disintegrating, with its influence and power weakening against the "realist" course spearheaded by Rice and her confidants like Deputy Secretary Robert Zoellick and Under-Secretary for Policy Nicholas Burns.
Away from the corridors of power and influence in Washington are neocons and their supporters like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, John Bolton, Carl Rove, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Richard Perle, who had to step down as chairman of the Defence Policy Board, Michael Ledeen and several others who have been closely involved in preparing the grounds for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
They were all linked together in a network that was led by the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies and included the American Enterprise Institute, the Centre for Security Policy, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and the Committee on the Present Danger.
Most of the neocons have close ties with Israel's right-wing Likud Party, and ardent lobbyists for the Jewish state. They are accused of orchestrating the war against Iraq in order to serve Israel's interests (since Iraq, despite being weakened following the 1991 war over Kuwait, posed the strongest challenge to the Jewish state and Saddam Hussein was a strong supporter of the Palestinians).
The neoconservatives' decline in power was seen to have started in early 2004, when it became abundantly clear that they had failed to forsee an insurgency in Iraq and then they did not have any effective solutions to counter it when it gathered strength.
However, it was not until Bush was re-elected for a second term in October 2004 that they were slowly pushed out but not in disgrace. To sideline them before the elections would have meant Bush was admitting that he had failed in his objectives in Iraq and this would have had an impact on his re-election chances.
Wolfowitz was made president of the World Bank; Feith resigned as deputy defence secretary; Bolton was sent to the UN as the US ambassador to the world body; Libby had to quit as the chief of staff of Vice-President Dick Cheney and Rove had to leave the White House in a scandal linked to the outing of an undercover Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative.
Indeed, Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, often called the "real brains" behind the Iraq war, remain very much in power.
However, Rice and her "realist" camp are edging out the neoconservative influence and ideology — essentially based on a military approach to solving problems — from the administration, according to experts in Washington.
"Demoralised by the quagmire in Iraq, as well as President George W. Bush's still falling approval and credibility ratings, the coalition of aggressive nationalists, neoconservatives, 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 here," writes Jim Lobe on
"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," according to Lobe.
Rice's recent admission that the US had made "thousands" of "tactical" mistakes in Iraq was taken as an implicit hit at the neocons, who appeared to have expected the people of Iraq to embrace the American military as their liberators and ready to start a new life under American directions after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
In the meantime, Rice is going ahead with the "realist" policy, which puts a greater emphasis on diplomacy, says Lobe, who refers to "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America," released in March.
He describes the document as a "kinder, gentler version of its fire-breathing 2002 predecessor that laid out the doctrinal justification for the March 2003 invasion." He asserts that "the new version puts a greater emphasis on diplomacy and development, tending alliances, and other realist themes, even as it continues the administration's defense of preemptive military action with Iran squarely in mind."
Rice's constant travel — as well as that of Zoellick and Burns — "not only demonstrates the priority the administration has placed on cultivating allies and even states more sceptical 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."
How does the shift in Washington affect prospects for peace in the Middle East?
Not much, experts say. President Bush is committed to supporting Israel's unilateral moves and has in fact signed a document affirming his endorsement of Sharon's plans to annex parts of the West Bank and his refusal to recognise the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their pre-1948 homes in what is now Israel.
It is widely held that the Bush administration had no independent policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict except that was formulated by Sharon, who is now in comatose. Ehud Olmert, Sharon's successor as acting prime minister, and the Sharon-founded Kadima party are following the same policy, and hence there is little chance of a breakthrough, particularly given that the Hamas group has taken over the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) after winning January elections.
As to Iraq, all one needs to be reminded of is Bush's recent statement that his successor as US president would have to decide on withdrawing the US military from that country.
As to Iran, the file remains open. The argument remains strong in Washington circles that Iran's nuclear programme is a threat to vital US interests and hence military action against the Iranians is indeed an option.