by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
three months of infighting, it seems that Secretary of State Colin Powell, who was largely marginalized by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, may have clawed his way back into relevance.
Last Friday's unanimous approval by the UN Security Council of a new arms-inspection resolution for Iraq appeared to mark a comeback for the beleaguered Powell. The resolution omitted provisions authorizing Washington to take unilateral military action if it judged that Baghdad failed to comply, elements dear to the heart of administration hawks.
Key Powell allies include some top figures in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and much of the Pentagon's uniformed brass, whose relations with Rumsfeld and his neo-conservative aides -- never very good --- have reportedly worsened in recent months.
But the battle for control of Bush's foreign policy is far from over, and Powell's victories may prove fleeting. Bush has made clear that he does not believe Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will comply with the terms of the Security Council resolution, even if he publicly accepts them.
Powell backers outside the administration, notably men closely associated with Bush's father, George H.W. Bush --- not to mention the former president himself -- also appear to have played key roles in reducing the influence of the hardliners in the Pentagon and Cheney's office.
Their influence is not confined to the UN resolution on Iraq. They also appear to have scored at least tentative victories in other areas, most notably on North Korea and, to a somewhat less clear extent, on China, with which Rumsfeld grudgingly resumed high-level military exchanges this past week after an 18-month hiatus.
On North Korea, the administration has not only committed itself to pursuing a multilateral response, based on consultation with North Korea's neighbors, to Pyongyang's declaration that it is developing nuclear weapons. It has also, reportedly under orders from the president himself, declined to declare the 1994 U.S.-North Korean Framework Agreement dead, as administration and Congressional hardliners have long demanded.
And while Bush keeps insisting that he prefers a peaceful resolution to the Iraq disarmament question and has reduced his public references to "regime change" as his goal in Iraq, he has already approved a military plan for invading the country and could presumably seize any perceived non-compliance as a pretext for launching an attack, possibly without seeking another resolution from the Security Council.
But the very fact that Bush yielded to Powell's arguments in September to ask the Security Council for a new resolution on inspections and then agreed to compromise on several key elements after eight weeks of debate marked a setback for the hawks.
As noted in this week's Weekly Standard by neo-conservatives William Kristol and Robert Kagan -- who are particularly close to hawkish Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz -- "It is impossible to ignore the fact that the weeks of negotiations carried out by the State Department have eroded the president's position, not terminally, but worryingly."
"Indeed, one of the most disturbing features of the current process is the extent to which it takes control of American foreign policy out of President Bush's hands and puts it in the hands of people who, to put it mildly, have no interest in furthering President Bush's goal of regime change in Iraq," argued the two neo-cons in a lengthy lead editorial entitled 'The UN Trap?'
Powell's apparent resurgence, if real, is remarkable. By early last August, he appeared to be on the ropes, with many analysts suggesting that he had become no more than a multilateral fig leaf for the most belligerent administration since Theodore Roosevelt's.
The former general had lost battle after battle in internal debates since Sept. 11 -- from the administration's withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty with Russia and the new International Criminal Court (ICC) to its backing for Israeli demands that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat be ousted from power.
"What is the point of fighting on, unless you occasionally win?" asked Philip Gordon, a Powell supporter at the Brookings Institutions.
By the end of August, Rumsfeld and Cheney were publicly ridiculing Powell's notion of going to the Security Council for a new round of arms inspections as dangerous and a waste of time. But it now appears that the two men were speaking less from confidence that they were winning than in defence of their position against a campaign by Powell's champions, especially those around Bush's father.
One by one, top aides of Bush the First, Brent Scowcroft, James Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Ret. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf -- the elder Bush's national security adviser, two former secretaries of state and the 1991 Gulf War commander -- argued publicly that the younger Bush must go through the Security Council for a new round of inspections.
The elder Bush, while refusing to speak publicly on Iraq policy, offered harsh criticism of neo-conservative efforts to depict Saudi Arabia as a sponsor of terrorism.
Meanwhile, dissident intelligence analysts and military commanders became increasingly bold in leaking information designed to embarrass the hawks. Detailed plans for an offensive against Iraq were disclosed amid suggestions that the civilians were not heeding the military's concerns, while a number of unidentified intelligence sources repeatedly refuted the administration's claims that Saddam Hussein was linked to al-Qaeda.
At the same time, not-so-subtle attacks were launched against another hardnoser, Richard Perle, who, as chairman of Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board and the top foreign-policy figure at the neo-conservative think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), has been perhaps the foremost exponent of both the alleged Iraq connection to al Qaeda and war against Baghdad.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Powell ally and 30-year Washington veteran whose influence and network among hawks both in and out of the administration is unmatched, called for Perle to personally lead the first wave of attacks on Baghdad, in remarks that provoked a flood of commentary about "chicken hawks" -- right-wing officials and commentators who favor war but carefully avoided military service themselves in Vietnam, like President Bush and Cheney.
The neo-conservatives are still smarting from the August events. Kristol and Kagan lamented that last week's Security Council resolution resulted from "the late-summer onslaught against removing Saddam", while Danielle Pletka, who works with Perle at AEI, described the latest events as "the policy of Bush I vs. Bush II."
November 12 2002 (http://albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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