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Bush's Foreign Policy Process Is the Big Problem

April 23, 2004

Recent books by Richard Clarke and Bob Woodward point to a number of flaws in the Bush Administration's policy making process, as Nicholas Berry explains.

Bush's Foreign Policy Process Is the Big Problem

By Nicholas Berry

Unlike in past Republican administrations, Bushís foreign policy process is less thorough and less organized. This process results in policies with gaps, unintended consequences, and abrupt shifts in direction.

Recent inside-the-White House books, especially Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies and Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack, reveal three characteristics of Bushís process for making foreign policy. The process is closed, relatively unstructured, and exceptionally hierarchical.

This is a format for failure.

A closed process has few players. Clarke and Woodward refer to a relatively small number of advisors involved in virtually all policy making -- Vice President Dick Cheney and his advisor I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and her deputy Steven J. Hadley, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Having a small number of participants definitely does facilitate control of policy and message, including minimizing leaks. But it also leaves out experts with knowledge of foreign cultures, histories, and governments. Absent in the Clarke and Woodward books are the names of lower-level experts and specialists involved in decision-making. The advisors listed above may be really smart, but they simply cannot have the breadth of knowledge about the politics of foreign leaders and movements. There is a disconnect with lesser staff, as Clarke so often mentions. "On September 4, 2001," laments Clarke, "the Principals Committee meeting on al Qaeda that I had called for urgently on January 25 finally met." Al Qaeda was not a priority of the closed circle, and perhaps would have been if Clarke's Counterterrorism Security Group had some access.

The closed process restricts the number of policies that can be pursued simultaneously. Both Clarke and Woodward indicate that the burden put on top team members causes them to set aside policies considered of lesser priority. As Woodward concludes, "The run-up to war had sucked nearly all the oxygen from every other issue in foreign relations." Besides failing to deal with al Qaeda, Bush increasingly surrendered control of his Israeli-Palestinian policy to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

A closed system allows it to be relatively unstructured. Working with a small number of advisors does not require a highly structured process. What one often sees in White House photographs of a National Security Council principals meeting is five or six people sitting in comfortable chairs in a living room setting. No desks. No computers. No charts. No staff. Very little paper. Informality may be fine for sharing thoughts, identifying problems, and building rapport, but it is not suitable for detailed, operational decision making or planning. Planning is a bureaucratic process, and major policies inevitably involve coordinating multiple bureaucracies. According to Woodward, in a major principals meeting on the issue of going to war, "the president never once asked Powell, Would you do this? What's your overall advice? The bottom line." Powell, when informed of Bush's decision for war (only after Bush informed Saudi Ambassador Bandar!) brought up what he thought was a major unresolved issue: governing Iraq. "You know you're going to own the place," Powell said. The Pentagon had already dismissed the State Department team's recommendations on post-war management, and the Pentagon's post-war management in Iraq inevitably produced a mess.

Woodward reports that in another pre-war principals meeting at Camp David (but without the president), Powell argued that "the war could trigger all kinds of unanticipated and unintended consequences, some that none of them, he included, had imagined." Woodward then gives the response: "Not the issue, Cheney said." Not the issue! Consequences not provided for? Woodward writes that Powell and Cheney "never" had a meeting to iron out differences. Clarke and Woodward portray Bush talking to Powell privately, Rumsfeld privately, Tenet privately. All are scrambling to influence Bush. They are not melding and blending foreign policy estimates and capabilities among themselves.

What results are winners and losers, with the bureaucratic winners running the show. The Pentagon may be terrific at winning wars, but it was woefully unprepared to run the occupation of Iraq. Disbanding the Iraqi army and firing all the Baathist professional workers (whose party membership was a union card) was brainless. Failing to organize electoral rolls, voting systems, parties, and scheduling early elections -- thereby proving that the occupation would be temporary -- was equally brainless. Going back to the UN, bringing back Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani into the Iraqi political process, and hiring back Baathist professionals are all policy reversals designed to rectify unanticipated and unintended adverse consequences.

A closed, relatively unstructured policy-making process is exceptionally hierarchical. The tight-knit scramble to make policy creates the need that a top judge be available to make a decision. Bush, therefore, acts like a judge and jury. Once he has made his verdict, everyone is then to come on board. Woodward probed this issue with Bush during a December 2003 interview. "Other than Rice, Bush said, he didn't need to ask the principal advisers whether they thought he should go to war. He knew what Vice President Cheney thought and he decided not to ask Secretary of State Colin L. Powell or Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld." Bush was clearly the decision maker on going initially to the UN, abandoning the UN approach, giving Saddam Hussein and sons 48 hours to get out of Iraq, and initiating war. In telling the secretary of state that he was going to war with Iraq, the president declared "I'll make the decision" and then he asked Powell, "Are you with me on this?"

Yes, this is commanding leadership, with the emphasis on commanding. That is the aura Bush wants. And he has the policy making system to make him the pure commander in chief. Now if Bush had the wisdom of Lincoln, the political savvy of Roosevelt, and the experience of Eisenhower, maybe the system would work. But Bush is the least knowledgeable president in modern times. The burden upon him is simply too great, although his hubris would never allow him admit it. "I don't do nuance," Bush once said.

Well, policy is about nuance. Intuition, a characteristic many mention as associated with the president, always proves that humans are fallible. Successful leadership thoroughly vets policy, delegates, gets expert advice, allows honest public debate, is patient, is prepared to know good policy from bad (studies history), and organizes his policy process in such a manner to maximize these factors.

The problem then and now is with a policy process congenial to the president's leadership style -- and both process and style are inadequate. Instead of "praying for strength to do the Lord's will," as Bush told Woodward he did on March 19, 2003, after ordering the attack, the president needed to first study the vast literature on organizing a process for producing successful policies.

Nicholas Berry is director of Foreign Policy Forum and a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.

Posted by coalition at 10:16 PM | Comments (1)

Nation-Building Exposes GOP's House Divided

April 01, 2004

Jacob Heilbrunn of The Los Angeles Times shows how the neoconservatives' dream of exporting democracy clashes with the traditional Republican view of a foreign policy grounded in "realism."

From The Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2004

The longer the U.S. struggles to impose order in postwar Iraq, the harsher the indictments of the Bush administration's foreign policy are becoming. "Acquiring additional burdens by engaging in new wars of liberation is the last thing the United States needs," declared one Bush critic in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs. "The principal problem is the mistaken belief that democracy is a talisman for all the world's ills, and that the United States has a responsibility to promote democratic government wherever in the world it is lacking."

Sound like a Democratic pundit bashing Bush for partisan gain? Nope. The jab came from Dimitri K. Simes, president of the predominantly Republican Nixon Center and co-publisher of the National Interest magazine. And he is not alone in calling on the administration to reclaim the party's pre-Reagan heritage - to abandon its moralistic, Wilsonian, neoconservative dream of exporting democracy, in favor of a more limited and realistic foreign policy.

The most profound foreign affairs ideological divide in the 2004 election might not be so much between liberals and conservatives as it will be among conservatives themselves. A growing number of so-called "realists," who feel that U.S. foreign policy should be shaped by a narrowly defined national interest rather than by a broad desire to promote global democracy and human rights, have gotten increasingly vociferous in warning about the perils of adventurism abroad.

These critics, unlike the anti-imperialists of the left, don't view U.S. power with antipathy: They revere it. But they fear squandering the country's might and are fond of recalling 18th century British statesman Edmund Burke's warning: "I dread our own power and our own ambition. I dread being too much dreaded." They see neoconservatives like the Weekly Standard's William Kristol as championing big government in the service of social engineering abroad. The debate between realists and neoconservatives over U.S. power and moralism could prove as poisonous to the Republicans as the foreign policy fights that racked the Democratic Party during the 1970s and 1980s.

The GOP has struggled before with its position on entanglements abroad. Sen. Robert Taft, a leading light of the party during the 1940s and early 1950s, decried America's entry into NATO and its sponsorship of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe: "No foreign policy can be justified except a policy devoted ... to the protection of the liberty of the American people, with war only as the last resort and only to protect that liberty." But once Mr. Republican, as Taft was known, lost the 1952 presidential nomination to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the GOP was set on a more internationalist course. As William F. Buckley Jr. put it, "in order to fight communism, we may have to accept bureaucratic totalitarianism on these shores" because communism was "the greatest danger the West has ever faced."

But this was only a temporary accommodation. By the mid-1990s, many Republicans, like House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, displayed distinct isolationist impulses, attacking the Clinton administration's interventions in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor. They saw Bill Clinton's humanitarian interventions as the equivalent of welfare programs - as attempts by big government to carry out social engineering. But like the Cold War, Sept. 11 pushed a large chunk of the GOP back onto an internationalist course. George W. Bush, who denounced nation-building during his campaign, has found himself presiding over the economic and political reconstruction of two Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Before the Iraq war, conservative complaints about Bush were largely confined to a figure like Pat Buchanan. "Lust for destruction is not policy, no matter how much Pentagon hawks and neoconservative media trumpets may yearn to plow salt into the fields of Iraq," his American Conservative magazine declared in fall 2002. In response, in the April 7 issue of National Review last year, David Frum, coauthor of the new neoconservative manifesto "An End to Evil," denounced "unpatriotic conservatives," declaring that "they have turned their backs on their country. Now we turn our backs on them."

But in recent months, the kind of apprehensions expressed by Simes and others about U.S. overreaching have spread. According to realist thinker Fareed Zakaria, author of the bestseller "The Future of Freedom," a skeptical look at exporting democracy, "At some point denial will stop working, the markets will react ... and the budget will be under severe pressure. Then Congress will begin searching for cuts, and spending on foreign affairs, even military spending, will get the ax. And America's grand new engagement in the world will turn out to be short-lived indeed."

In Congress, conservatives like Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.) are expressing doubts about the country's new activism around the world: "I continue to believe that this war came about because [Bush] is surrounded by big-government neocons in key foreign policy positions rather than traditional conservatives," Duncan wrote last year.

Indeed, it is precisely the grand neoconservative push to democratize the Third World that has alarmed writers such as conservative commentator George F. Will. In his article "Can We Make Iraq Democratic?" in a recent City Journal, Will warns against Bush's contention that any country can become a democracy. According to Will, nothing is more alluring than the idea "suddenly central to America's international exertions ... that nations are mechanical, not organic things. And therefore a can-do people with an aptitude for engineering - people like Americans - can build nations. These ideas share a dangerous lack of respect for the elemental, powerful impulses that produce nations."

So far, such views have held no sway with neocons in the administration. The U.S. has had less than a year to create a functioning government in Iraq, which, they insist, is far too little time to declare the venture a failure. But if the worst-case fears of the realists become reality, then the GOP will find itself in for some agonizing self-examination.

Just as Democrats shied away from an activist foreign policy for decades following Vietnam, so a Bush defeat in November would probably trigger a prolonged civil war between realists and neoconservatives over the use and abuse of U.S. power at home and abroad.

Jacob Heilbrunn is an editorial writer at The Los Angeles Times. This article appeared in the March 21, 2004 issue of the Times.

Posted by coalition at 10:15 PM | Comments (0)

Iraq's Future: Sovereignty or 'Sovereignty'

Carolyn Eisenberg explains in this article originally published in Newsday that the Iraqi interim constitution signed in April is really designed to make sure the upper hand is stamped 'U.S.'

The Bush administration's commitment to restore sovereignty to the Iraqi people on June 30 is as illusory as Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

In what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld buoyantly described on March 12 as "an historic moment in history, one that shows the power of freedom," the 25-member Iraqi Governing Council four days earlier signed an "interim constitution" for the period following the proposed transfer of power.

Yet this "Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period" is a deceptive document designed to obscure continued U.S. control.

It sets forth elaborate arrangements for a "transitional government" that will come into effect some time after Dec. 31, but specifies neither a structure nor a method of selection for the Iraqi body that will supposedly exercise "full sovereignty" after June 30.

These critical items are relegated to "a process of deliberations and consultations" conducted by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority and the existing Iraqi Governing Council.

Bush officials are plainly hoping that sometime between now and June 30, United Nations negotiators will prevail upon the Iraqi principals, notably the balky Shia, to create an expanded version of the Governing Council. Even if they succeed, skeptics may properly wonder how this "sovereign" government differs from the current un-sovereign entity.

The answer is probably very little. However, by declaring the occupation over and turning the CPA into an outsized American embassy, George W. Bush can claim that Iraq is on the road to "democracy." For proof, he can continue to cite the interim constitution with its impressive list in "Chapter Two - Fundamental Rights."

Yet there is nothing democratic about the process by which the Law of Administration was developed. It was drafted by a small group of American-appointed Iraqi officials, deliberating in secret under CPA direction. The Iraqi people will have no opportunity to ratify it and cannot even enact amendments until a later stage.

Meanwhile, the document legitimates the continued presence of foreign troops in Iraq by saying "the Iraqi Armed Forces will be a principal partner in the multi-national force operating in Iraq under unified command . . ." This is of vital concern to the inhabitants, who were not consulted. Nor are these foreign troops obligated to respect the Fundamental Rights.

Beneath these machinations lies a fundamental dilemma for the Bush administration. While desiring the appearance of democracy for domestic and international purposes, it is afraid to surrender authority. Its problem is that a free Iraq is unlikely to implement the U.S. agenda: a secular state, permanent military bases, American direction of the oil industry, a privatized economy and a foreign policy consonant with Washington's.

In designing their mission for Iraq, Bush officials hoped to re-enact the successes of the early Cold War. A reconstructed West Germany helped consolidate Western Europe into a bastion of democratic capitalism and U.S. power. They envisioned a reformed, malleable post-Saddam Hussein government that could spark a similar transformation of the Middle East. But, unlike Iraq, Germany had a tradition of parliamentary governance, an established capitalist class and a strong national identity.

Moreover, Germany had first declared war on the United States, not the other way around. And the American occupiers possessed the authority that came from fighting and defeating an enemy, which had actually surrendered and disarmed. By contrast, Secretary Rumsfeld's strategy of racing to Baghdad bypassed tens of thousands of enemy troops, who retained their weapons and remained dangerous.

The result has been a disastrous occupation in which security remains an agonizing problem. The administration's current inability to arrange a viable political transition is but the most recent illustration of its foolishness in launching an invasion in the first place. Had the president and his inner circle welcomed advice, their own Middle East experts could have warned them that there was no German option for Iraq.

With luck, the Bush team may patch together another formula for keeping its handpicked Iraqi leaders in power for a few more months. But it will face a tough choice: to allow the Iraqis to determine their own leadership and pattern of governance or keep an expanded cohort of American soldiers fighting and dying in Iraq for years to come. So far, American troops have not had to face the combined wrath of the Sunnis and the Shia. It would be tragic if they did.

Carolyn Eisenberg is a professor of U.S. foreign policy at Hofstra and a member of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. This article first appeared in Newsday, April 1, 2004.

Posted by coalition at 08:25 AM