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The shadow knows
Who knows what philosophy will drive Bush's foreign policy?

BY SETH GITELL

A “Shadow National Security Council.” It sounds like something out of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, but it isn’t. Washington is abuzz with talk of Vice-President Richard Cheney’s attempt to create just that.

The Jerusalem Post has mentioned it, as has the New Republic. And the rumor seems to have captured the imagination of a capital city starved for gossip. “Cheney’s obviously putting together his own foreign-policy team,” whispers one Washington insider, who adds: “A lot of the conservative people around town think that’s where the action is going to be.”

For all the cloak-and-dagger connotations, a shadow NSC would not secretly convene in a fortified bunker miles beneath the earth. Rather, the term refers to the group of foreign-policy advisers Cheney is said to be assembling under his own banner. Just two weeks into the new administration, it’s already becoming clear that Cheney is going to put together a foreign-policy team that’s larger and more influential than those of previous vice-presidents — who have typically employed only a handful of such advisers. Al Gore, for instance, who was perhaps the most active vice-president on the foreign-policy front, had his own national-security adviser in Leon Fuerth. But although Gore played a fairly active role in foreign affairs — for example, he acted as point man in America’s international environmental negotiations and worked with a Russian counterpart to address the transfer of nuclear and missile technology to Iran — Washington sources say something very different is happening with Cheney.

Consider that Cheney reportedly wants as many as a dozen advisers to run individual policy desks, say close observers of Washington-based foreign policy. He’s already hired Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who will serve as both his chief of staff and his assistant for national-security affairs. Libby made a name for himself on the commission headed by California congressman Christopher Cox, which investigated Chinese spying at American research bases. Meanwhile, Zalmay Khalizhad, a Rand Corporation official and Iraq expert, is under consideration for a posting to the Department of Defense. Should this fall through, he is expected to join Cheney’s team, foreign-policy sources say. And if he does, people who devour journals such as Foreign Affairs and the National Interest will view it as a significant sign of the strength Cheney will wield.

But even more significant, say foreign-policy insiders, is the success Cheney appears to be having in getting a key ally, Paul Wolfowitz, installed in the number-two position in the Pentagon. Wolfowitz — one of the “Vulcans” who advised George W. Bush on foreign policy during the presidential campaign — served both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush as an adviser on foreign-policy and defense issues. Wolfowitz is a strong backer of the democratic Iraqi resistance movement, the Iraqi National Congress, and believes human rights should play a role in determining US policy. Although Wolfowitz appeared to be overshadowed during the campaign by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Cheney and his ally, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, want him in the Pentagon, where he can magnify the influence of Cheney’s foreign-policy team.

Writing in the New Republic, Lawrence Kaplan rightly placed Cheney’s shadow NSC in the context of a behind-the-scenes power struggle between Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell — a battle in which Rice is merely a bystander. Figuring out who’s who in this struggle amounts to much more than a Beltway parlor game. What’s at stake is whether the United States will revert to isolationism or worse. As Wolfowitz wrote in the January 2000 issue of Commentary: “The worst imaginable indictment would be if future generations, looking back, were to conclude that our generation could have prevented a global war, but failed.”

With the stakes so high, Powell’s flaccid track record on interventionism doesn’t bode well. During his tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell — as Kaplan and others have reported — opposed the Gulf War, denied the Rangers’ request to use AC-130 gunships in Somalia (a decision that contributed to the spectacle of dead American troops being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu), and balked at intervening to stop ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

Cheney’s camp, on the other hand, is filled with people who believe that force can be used to foster liberty and American values abroad. Given that the London Telegraph is reporting that Saddam Hussein has built two atomic bombs, the raison d’être of Cheney’s team becomes clear. How America gets through what is beginning to look like a very difficult period — with the threat of a regional Middle East war looming and China rattling its sabers over Taiwan — will depend on whether Bush has an active, alert, and engaged foreign-policy team in place.

So what is Cheney up to, exactly? Foreign-policy experts all acknowledge that something different seems to be afoot. There has even been talk that Bush has declared national security to be within Cheney’s purview. “There was nothing like this under Gore,” says the Washington insider.

Still, some are skeptical of talk that Cheney is assembling his own national-security team. “I wouldn’t call it a shadow NSC,” cautions Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “It’s been clear since Cheney was the [vice-presidential] candidate that he was going to have an unusually responsible role in the administration. Given Bush’s lack of experience and lack of gravitas, one would expect the vice-president staffing up for a more active role.”

Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, notes that Cheney may be too busy to play foreign-policy czar at the White House. “It’s going to be very difficult with Cheney spending so much of his time on Capitol Hill and playing so many other roles to dip into foreign policy in a really big way,” he says. “If you get in the vice-president’s office six or seven professionals on foreign policy, then I’ll change my mind about what kind of strong role he will play.”

Cheney hasn’t made six or seven high-level foreign-policy hires yet, but consider this: in early January, when Israeli Knesset member Natan Sharansky was in New York City, he made sure to travel to DC for a meeting with the vice-president. Sharansky will have a high-ranking role in a government headed by Ariel Sharon if the Likud candidate wins the Israeli election next week — and polls suggest he will. Sharansky provided Cheney with a full briefing on the Middle East situation, and the meeting lasted for an hour. Sharansky spokeswoman Vera Golovensky says, “I think it’s obvious why it’s important to see Cheney. Having an opportunity to meet with somebody who’s the vice-president seems to be quite an important opportunity not to pass up.”

Cheney’s high profile shouldn’t come as a surprise. Bush, after all, didn’t choose Cheney to be the Dan Quayle of the ticket. Yet some of what Cheney is supposedly doing carries a lot of risk — especially for the first Republican administration since 1992. The last time anyone talked about a shadow NSC was in the mid ’80s, at the height of the Iran-contra affair, when there was concern about the NSC’s “Crisis Management Center.” The current talk could bring back memories the Republicans want to forget. And if it is true that Cheney — and not Powell and/or Rice — is the real foreign-policy force in the administration, then that could be seen as tarnishing Bush’s groundbreaking selection of two African-Americans for high-ranking posts.

Those aren’t the only problems. If Cheney is indeed forming a shadow NSC, “it would be a disaster,” says Ivo Daalder, a senior fellow and foreign affairs expert at the Brookings Institution. “You have the potential for two potential power centers in the White House. That would be a nightmare.”

But the positives of Cheney’s operation would outweigh the negatives. A contrast with the Clinton years shows why. Under Clinton, most of the big foreign-policy decisions started at the top. As numerous columnists have pointed out, the most important thing to Clinton was winning a Nobel Prize (the former president even went so far as to hire a Norwegian marketing company to help him snare one). He calculated that the best way to achieve this objective would be to devote an extraordinary amount of energy to the peace processes in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. So Clinton instructed underlings to draft policy analyses that meshed with his goals and told other acolytes to carry them out. The joke in Washington is that Clinton knew more about the intricacies of the Middle East peace process than the chief State Department negotiator, Dennis Ross.

But Clinton’s style had huge disadvantages — chief among them, the near impossibility of introducing alternative analyses. So when Clinton’s approach failed, as it did when the Middle East exploded into violence last fall, the administration had no choice but to encourage both sides to hurry back to the same kind of negotiations that prompted the violence in the first place. Cheney’s policy team will be able to provide Bush with options that sole reliance on Rice and Powell would preclude. And if Rice stumbles, the thinking goes, Cheney’s team will pick up the pieces.

It's unclear how all this will affect the real national-security adviser. There are, however, a couple of well-reasoned speculations. One suggests that it serves Rice right: during the campaign, she jealously guarded her access to Bush and blocked other foreign-policy viewpoints from getting to him. The other holds that this is simply how everything is supposed to work. Bush has already made one move to minimize Rice’s role. During the campaign, his camp floated the possibility that she would be elevated to Cabinet-level status. Once selected, though, Rice had no such luck. She’ll attend Cabinet meetings, but her official status will be lower than that of Rumsfeld and Powell. Explains the Washington insider: “She’s just a White House employee. Her job is general coordinator. Her job is to be the face that presents this stuff to Bush, but not to be the policy honcho that runs these fellows.” The honcho, it seems, is Cheney.

If Cheney trumps Rice, which he most certainly does, what about the popular Powell? So far, Cheney has him as well. He got Rumsfeld — or “Cheney’s twin,” as Washington wags like to refer to him — into the Pentagon. Powell’s already indicated that he opposes Bush’s missile-defense proposal, but just last week Rumsfeld said the administration will move forward with it. Even less promising for Powell: the cash-poor State Department lacks the money, staff, and sexy toys of the Pentagon. But even if Cheney has a team of advisers watching over the world’s hot spots, the charismatic Powell still gets to crisscross the globe to meet with world leaders. He’ll be dispatched to handle relations with America’s allies in Europe and Japan, who will surely bristle at the administration’s missile-defense plans.

If the emerging arrangement keeps Cheney happy and busy on national security and Powell satisfied as America’s chief diplomat, that could be exactly how Bush wants it. It’s obvious — and a point hammered home in the Kaplan story — that Powell and Rumsfeld have serious policy differences. Bush needs somebody to mediate between these two heavyweights. It’s more than likely that foreign-policy questions will go first to Rice, and then to Cheney. Says Ornstein: “I’m sure Bush sees Cheney as playing a role here when disputes come up between secretaries, and I think he [Bush] sees himself as the final arbiter.”

But these dynamics — and whether they were set up deliberately — remain unclear. Nobody knows whether Cheney will succeed in putting together his team, and nobody really knows how influential it will end up being. As the new administration continues its campaign-style attempt to manage information — last week was education, this week it’s faith-based organizations — the real test will come when it’s forced to deal with the unexpected. And that’s when the relationships between Cheney and Powell, Rumsfeld and Rice, will really play out. Whether Cheney’s shadow NSC is in place may itself signal which faction will win. The smart money is on Cheney. And with Saddam Hussein readying his atomic weapons, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]phx.com.

A “Shadow National Security Council.” It sounds like something out of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, but it isn’t. Washington is abuzz with talk of Vice-President Richard Cheney’s attempt to create just that.

The Jerusalem Post has mentioned it, as has the New Republic. And the rumor seems to have captured the imagination of a capital city starved for gossip. “Cheney’s obviously putting together his own foreign-policy team,” whispers one Washington insider, who adds: “A lot of the conservative people around town think that’s where the action is going to be.”

For all the cloak-and-dagger connotations, a shadow NSC would not secretly convene in a fortified bunker miles beneath the earth. Rather, the term refers to the group of foreign-policy advisers Cheney is said to be assembling under his own banner. Just two weeks into the new administration, it’s already becoming clear that Cheney is going to put together a foreign-policy team that’s larger and more influential than those of previous vice-presidents — who have typically employed only a handful of such advisers. Al Gore, for instance, who was perhaps the most active vice-president on the foreign-policy front, had his own national-security adviser in Leon Fuerth. But although Gore played a fairly active role in foreign affairs — for example, he acted as point man in America’s international environmental negotiations and worked with a Russian counterpart to address the transfer of nuclear and missile technology to Iran — Washington sources say something very different is happening with Cheney.

Consider that Cheney reportedly wants as many as a dozen advisers to run individual policy desks, say close observers of Washington-based foreign policy. He’s already hired Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who will serve as both his chief of staff and his assistant for national-security affairs. Libby made a name for himself on the commission headed by California congressman Christopher Cox, which investigated Chinese spying at American research bases. Meanwhile, Zalmay Khalizhad, a Rand Corporation official and Iraq expert, is under consideration for a posting to the Department of Defense. Should this fall through, he is expected to join Cheney’s team, foreign-policy sources say. And if he does, people who devour journals such as Foreign Affairs and the National Interest will view it as a significant sign of the strength Cheney will wield.

But even more significant, say foreign-policy insiders, is the success Cheney appears to be having in getting a key ally, Paul Wolfowitz, installed in the number-two position in the Pentagon. Wolfowitz — one of the “Vulcans” who advised George W. Bush on foreign policy during the presidential campaign — served both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush as an adviser on foreign-policy and defense issues. Wolfowitz is a strong backer of the democratic Iraqi resistance movement, the Iraqi National Congress, and believes human rights should play a role in determining US policy. Although Wolfowitz appeared to be overshadowed during the campaign by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Cheney and his ally, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, want him in the Pentagon, where he can magnify the influence of Cheney’s foreign-policy team.

Writing in the New Republic, Lawrence Kaplan rightly placed Cheney’s shadow NSC in the context of a behind-the-scenes power struggle between Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell — a battle in which Rice is merely a bystander. Figuring out who’s who in this struggle amounts to much more than a Beltway parlor game. What’s at stake is whether the United States will revert to isolationism or worse. As Wolfowitz wrote in the January 2000 issue of Commentary: “The worst imaginable indictment would be if future generations, looking back, were to conclude that our generation could have prevented a global war, but failed.”

With the stakes so high, Powell’s flaccid track record on interventionism doesn’t bode well. During his tenure as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell — as Kaplan and others have reported — opposed the Gulf War, denied the Rangers’ request to use AC-130 gunships in Somalia (a decision that contributed to the spectacle of dead American troops being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu), and balked at intervening to stop ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.

Cheney’s camp, on the other hand, is filled with people who believe that force can be used to foster liberty and American values abroad. Given that the London Telegraph is reporting that Saddam Hussein has built two atomic bombs, the raison d’être of Cheney’s team becomes clear. How America gets through what is beginning to look like a very difficult period — with the threat of a regional Middle East war looming and China rattling its sabers over Taiwan — will depend on whether Bush has an active, alert, and engaged foreign-policy team in place.

So what is Cheney up to, exactly? Foreign-policy experts all acknowledge that something different seems to be afoot. There has even been talk that Bush has declared national security to be within Cheney’s purview. “There was nothing like this under Gore,” says the Washington insider.

Still, some are skeptical of talk that Cheney is assembling his own national-security team. “I wouldn’t call it a shadow NSC,” cautions Stephen Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “It’s been clear since Cheney was the [vice-presidential] candidate that he was going to have an unusually responsible role in the administration. Given Bush’s lack of experience and lack of gravitas, one would expect the vice-president staffing up for a more active role.”

Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, notes that Cheney may be too busy to play foreign-policy czar at the White House. “It’s going to be very difficult with Cheney spending so much of his time on Capitol Hill and playing so many other roles to dip into foreign policy in a really big way,” he says. “If you get in the vice-president’s office six or seven professionals on foreign policy, then I’ll change my mind about what kind of strong role he will play.”

Cheney hasn’t made six or seven high-level foreign-policy hires yet, but consider this: in early January, when Israeli Knesset member Natan Sharansky was in New York City, he made sure to travel to DC for a meeting with the vice-president. Sharansky will have a high-ranking role in a government headed by Ariel Sharon if the Likud candidate wins the Israeli election next week — and polls suggest he will. Sharansky provided Cheney with a full briefing on the Middle East situation, and the meeting lasted for an hour. Sharansky spokeswoman Vera Golovensky says, “I think it’s obvious why it’s important to see Cheney. Having an opportunity to meet with somebody who’s the vice-president seems to be quite an important opportunity not to pass up.”

Cheney’s high profile shouldn’t come as a surprise. Bush, after all, didn’t choose Cheney to be the Dan Quayle of the ticket. Yet some of what Cheney is supposedly doing carries a lot of risk — especially for the first Republican administration since 1992. The last time anyone talked about a shadow NSC was in the mid ’80s, at the height of the Iran-contra affair, when there was concern about the NSC’s “Crisis Management Center.” The current talk could bring back memories the Republicans want to forget. And if it is true that Cheney — and not Powell and/or Rice — is the real foreign-policy force in the administration, then that could be seen as tarnishing Bush’s groundbreaking selection of two African-Americans for high-ranking posts.

Those aren’t the only problems. If Cheney is indeed forming a shadow NSC, “it would be a disaster,” says Ivo Daalder, a senior fellow and foreign affairs expert at the Brookings Institution. “You have the potential for two potential power centers in the White House. That would be a nightmare.”

But the positives of Cheney’s operation would outweigh the negatives. A contrast with the Clinton years shows why. Under Clinton, most of the big foreign-policy decisions started at the top. As numerous columnists have pointed out, the most important thing to Clinton was winning a Nobel Prize (the former president even went so far as to hire a Norwegian marketing company to help him snare one). He calculated that the best way to achieve this objective would be to devote an extraordinary amount of energy to the peace processes in Northern Ireland and the Middle East. So Clinton instructed underlings to draft policy analyses that meshed with his goals and told other acolytes to carry them out. The joke in Washington is that Clinton knew more about the intricacies of the Middle East peace process than the chief State Department negotiator, Dennis Ross.

But Clinton’s style had huge disadvantages — chief among them, the near impossibility of introducing alternative analyses. So when Clinton’s approach failed, as it did when the Middle East exploded into violence last fall, the administration had no choice but to encourage both sides to hurry back to the same kind of negotiations that prompted the violence in the first place. Cheney’s policy team will be able to provide Bush with options that sole reliance on Rice and Powell would preclude. And if Rice stumbles, the thinking goes, Cheney’s team will pick up the pieces.

It's unclear how all this will affect the real national-security adviser. There are, however, a couple of well-reasoned speculations. One suggests that it serves Rice right: during the campaign, she jealously guarded her access to Bush and blocked other foreign-policy viewpoints from getting to him. The other holds that this is simply how everything is supposed to work. Bush has already made one move to minimize Rice’s role. During the campaign, his camp floated the possibility that she would be elevated to Cabinet-level status. Once selected, though, Rice had no such luck. She’ll attend Cabinet meetings, but her official status will be lower than that of Rumsfeld and Powell. Explains the Washington insider: “She’s just a White House employee. Her job is general coordinator. Her job is to be the face that presents this stuff to Bush, but not to be the policy honcho that runs these fellows.” The honcho, it seems, is Cheney.

If Cheney trumps Rice, which he most certainly does, what about the popular Powell? So far, Cheney has him as well. He got Rumsfeld — or “Cheney’s twin,” as Washington wags like to refer to him — into the Pentagon. Powell’s already indicated that he opposes Bush’s missile-defense proposal, but just last week Rumsfeld said the administration will move forward with it. Even less promising for Powell: the cash-poor State Department lacks the money, staff, and sexy toys of the Pentagon. But even if Cheney has a team of advisers watching over the world’s hot spots, the charismatic Powell still gets to crisscross the globe to meet with world leaders. He’ll be dispatched to handle relations with America’s allies in Europe and Japan, who will surely bristle at the administration’s missile-defense plans.

If the emerging arrangement keeps Cheney happy and busy on national security and Powell satisfied as America’s chief diplomat, that could be exactly how Bush wants it. It’s obvious — and a point hammered home in the Kaplan story — that Powell and Rumsfeld have serious policy differences. Bush needs somebody to mediate between these two heavyweights. It’s more than likely that foreign-policy questions will go first to Rice, and then to Cheney. Says Ornstein: “I’m sure Bush sees Cheney as playing a role here when disputes come up between secretaries, and I think he [Bush] sees himself as the final arbiter.”

But these dynamics — and whether they were set up deliberately — remain unclear. Nobody knows whether Cheney will succeed in putting together his team, and nobody really knows how influential it will end up being. As the new administration continues its campaign-style attempt to manage information — last week was education, this week it’s faith-based organizations — the real test will come when it’s forced to deal with the unexpected. And that’s when the relationships between Cheney and Powell, Rumsfeld and Rice, will really play out. Whether Cheney’s shadow NSC is in place may itself signal which faction will win. The smart money is on Cheney. And with Saddam Hussein readying his atomic weapons, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

Seth Gitell can be reached at sgitell[a]phx.com.

 


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