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November 10, 2006
Return Of The Realists

I find it very helpful to read international publications to see how outsiders perceive America and our politics. Especially in foreign policy, it helps to keep from developing a parochial perspective. After all, one of the major goals of any foreign policy is to convince other nations to follow our leadership. With Robert Gates replacing Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, it's worth checking to see if the foreign press have come to the same conclusion as we have.

At least in London, they have:

Two years ago they were the pariahs of neoconservative Washington, a group of soft-spined old timers who refused to see that the only way to defeat America’s enemies was with the lethal might of the US military.

But within hours of Donald Rumsfeld’s enforced resignation on Wednesday, and in the clearest of signs that President Bush has turned to his father to dig him out of a mess in Iraq, the foreign policy “realists” who dominated US diplomacy in the early 1990s have been suddenly restored to the helm.

In choosing Robert Gates, the former CIA Director, to replace Mr Rumsfeld as Defence Secretary, Mr Bush completed an extraordinary recall to duty for the White House foreign policy team that advised his father, while ending the influence of the neoconservatives who had disparaged them after Mr Bush took office in 2000.

Mr Gates comes from a circle of national security aides who counselled the first President Bush from 1989 to 1992. They loathe the neoconservative world view and their swift re-emergence signals a profound change in how Mr Bush will deal with Iraq, Iran and the Middle East during the last two years of his presidency.

Gates has won endorsements from Zbigniew Brzezinski and Scowcroft himself, and he co-authored a report with Zbig two years ago that will raise eyebrows from American hardliners. The study recommended that the Bush administration drop its hard-line stance on Iran, instead offering diplomatic relations and the end of all sanctions in exchange for an end to Iran's nuclear program. The Times of London quotes Frank Gaffney as wondering whether James Baker, who brought Gates into the Iraq Study Group, hasn't already opened some back-channel negotiations with the Iranian mullahcracy.

Israel may wonder if their best friend has suddenly decided to distance himself from them in favor of this aspect of realpolitik.

Brzezinski also mentioned the blow this appointment gives to Dick Cheney, who has suddenly begun looking like a traditional Vice-President: isolated and decreasingly influential. Jimmy Carter's former national-security advisor told the Times that Cheney tried to keep Bush from essentially firing Rumsfeld, a rumor that has passed around DC since the announcement yesterday, and that appointing Gates makes Cheney's marginalization complete. Condoleezza Rice is said to already be on board with the move away from the "neocon" approach in favor of the Baker/Scowcroft flavor of foreign policy.

The Times, of course, believes this to be a wonderful development. One can hardly miss the tone of delight in its reporting on the subject. Republicans who see Iran and Syria as dire threats (especially Iran) will not share in this enthusiasm. The effort to get John Bolton confirmed as UN Ambassador will not mitigate the pushback on this sudden policy switch, as Bolton looks doomed. While it is true that the American public voted for change, particularly on Iraq, it is equally true that Bush won re-election in 2004 on his own foreign policy and not that of John Kerry.

At this point, Bush seems to have turned on a dime after the midterm debacle. We will have to wait and see whether this turnabout actually protects America as much as it appears intended to protect the White House.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 10, 2006 5:24 AM

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