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Waiting in the wings
Democratic presidential hopefuls will be facing the first election drenched in foreign-policy issues in over 20 years. Whom are they turning to for advice?

UNLIKE ANY OTHER presidential election since perhaps 1980 — when the handling of the hostage crisis in Iran was at the political forefront — the 2004 presidential race will be shaped by foreign policy. We know where the Republican candidate for president in 2004 — George W. Bush — stands on issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, and North Korea. But even at this late date, the Democratic candidates’ views, in detail, remain something of a mystery.

While hints can be gleaned from the candidates’ formal remarks, such as US Senator John Kerry’s January 21 address at Georgetown University (KERRY ACCUSES BUSH OF ‘BLUSTERING UNILATERALISM,’ reported the Associated Press) or US Representative Dick Gephardt’s June 4 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations (GEPHARDT BACKS WAR ON TERROR; MILITARY ACTION TO END THREAT FROM HUSSEIN SUPPORTED, said the Washington Post headline), the real index of the candidates’ views lies with their coteries of advisers. Last month, the Forward listed policy advisers to the Democratic presidential candidates; HARDLY A DOVE AMONG DEMS’ BRAIN TRUSTERS, the story headline concluded.

Not that this should come as a surprise. Most of the policy advisers the Democratic presidential challengers are pumping for information were privy to the same high-level intelligence briefings that prompted former president Bill Clinton to launch air strikes against Iraq in 1998. "Go find somebody who was in the government in the last 10 years and had one classified briefing on this and is still unambiguously anti-war," says Elaine Kamarck, a former senior policy adviser to Al Gore during his vice-presidency.

In greatest demand are the troika of leading foreign-policy officers during the Clinton years — former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former national-security adviser Sandy Berger, and former United Nations ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Albright, who is in the midst of finishing up a memoir on her time at the State Department, has been in touch with Gephardt. Her influence is magnified because she has been hosting dinners for many of her former foreign-policy underlings, events that, taken together, some in Washington have labeled a "government-in-waiting." But even this quasi-opposition government supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein. ("I have all along supported the ‘why’ of the war," Albright said at a speech in Texas last Thursday. "I did and do believe in regime change. But the question I’ve had is, could more have been done to get more help?")

Berger, meanwhile, has been talking to both Gephardt and Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman. Like Albright, Berger supported the Bush administration’s aims in Iraq, but opposed its methods. ("I think some European leaders have used this politically. I think others have been more concerned about controlling the American Gulliver than the threat posed by Saddam Hussein," Berger said on MSNBC March 6. "But I think on our side we’ve been dismissive of the allies.")

As for Holbrooke — the only one of the three who is seen as lobbying to get back into government work, and who is talking to Lieberman, Kerry, and Gephardt — he believes the Bush administration was not only right to invade Iraq, but that it was too amenable to the international system. "The U.S.-led coalition now faces the prospect of undermining its 1441 triumph with a humiliating rejection of a second resolution that was not necessary," wrote Holbrooke in the February 23 Washington Post, referring to the unanimous UN Security Council resolution passed last November that authorized a new round of weapons inspections and warned of "serious consequences" if Iraq failed to comply with the UN. "This would leave the clear impression that any military action that follows is in violation of the Security Council’s will, rather than being derived logically from the long trail of Iraqi defiance." Holbrooke, who helped organize the diplomatic effort that led to the 1999 Kosovo war, also helped coordinate North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) support for the action when the Clinton administration couldn’t get UN support.

A considerable amount of interesting policy work takes place just below the level of the Albright-Berger-Holbrooke troika, however. The people to watch here occupy the generally anonymous lower level of officialdom. They’re typically former assistant secretaries of state and defense, eager to get back into government at higher positions than they held before. (Think Paul Wolfowitz, who as a former undersecretary of defense under President George H.W. Bush went to Austin in 1999 to advise then–Texas governor George W. Bush on Kosovo policy and to bend his ear about the continuing dangers in Iraq. Wolfowitz, of course, was subsequently named deputy secretary of defense and is one of the chief architects of the war on Iraq.)

Indeed, to facilitate contact between Democratic politicians and foreign-policy specialists at this level, Mark Ginsburg, a former ambassador to Morocco under Clinton, founded the Alliance for American Leadership — with the backing of Albright and Berger. Made up mainly of Clinton-era foreign-policy aides, the group’s aim is to devise Democratic approaches to issues such as the nation’s response to terrorism and national security. It is expected that the fledgling group, begun last year, will come up with specific policies candidates can advance in their bids for the 2004 presidential nomination.

BEFORE GETTING into who’s talking to whom, a caveat: long-time Washington presences like Kerry, Lieberman, and Gephardt (who is generally better known for his domestic-policy stances) are considered experts on the issues themselves. Take Kerry. He’s been in the Senate since 1984, served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and chaired the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations (of which he is currently the ranking Democrat). He was considered, along with Holbrooke, a leading candidate for secretary of state had former vice-president Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election. So the names of his policy advisers don’t tell us too much. That said, even Kerry is widening the circle of people he consults on foreign policy.

First, there’s Harlan Ullman, author of the "Shock and Awe" concept employed by the Pentagon at the start of the war against Iraq, who shares Kerry’s background as Naval veteran of the Vietnam War. And there’s Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute (the think tank linked to the centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council), whom Kerry tapped to draft his January 21 Georgetown speech. He’s also been in touch with Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign-policy studies at the Brookings Institution. O’Hanlon spoke out in favor of continued "containment" of Saddam Hussein in February 2001, but came out in support of Bush’s Iraq policy after the president addressed the United Nations on September 12, 2002. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on October 2, 2002, O’Hanlon predicted between 1000 and 5000 American casualties in a war with Iraq.

Finally, Kerry has his own highly professional group of foreign-policy aides: Nancy Stetson, his chief foreign-policy aide; David McKean, his Senate chief of staff; and Jonathan Winer, his former staff counsel. Stetson is best known as an Asia expert and helped Kerry develop his policy on Vietnam. (Kerry and Arizona senator John McCain were part of the team that ushered in normalized relations with Vietnam.) Winer and McKean worked on Kerry’s investigation into the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, an international bank implicated in money laundering and support for terrorism. That team helped contribute to Kerry’s 1997 The New War: The Web of Crime That Threatens America’s Security (Simon & Schuster).

Like Kerry, Gephardt, as the former House minority leader, has developed a degree of foreign-policy experience in his own right, having spent years routinely meeting with foreign leaders during his international travels. Gephardt has contacted O’Hanlon and his Brookings Institution colleague, James Steinberg, a former director of policy planning in the State Department. Steinberg has criticized Bush’s diplomacy in the lead-up to the war. "At the end of the day, this president is talking through a framework that is his," Steinberg told the New York Times on January 30. "The difficulty is that while Americans are not deeply uncomfortable with this way of thinking, it is not a perspective that other countries usually bring to foreign affairs. They are much more cynical about it. They see little good in the world, and therefore tend to see things as grayer, and in terms of interests, rather than right and wrong." Gephardt also relies heavily on aide Brett O’Brien, who helped shape the then–House minority leader’s position supporting the House resolution authorizing war with Iraq last fall.

For his part, Lieberman is a prominent expert on foreign policy. He authored the book The Scorpion and the Tarantula: The Struggle to Control Atomic Weapons, 1945-1949 (Houghton Mifflin) back in 1970 and has assumed leadership of the old hawkish wing of the Democratic Party, most synonymous with former Washington senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson. Lieberman’s foreign-policy thinking, accordingly, tends to drift further to the right than that of other Democrats; during his run-up to the 2004 campaign, he’s been in contact with a mix of conventional and conservative thinkers. In the more conventional category are Leon Fuerth, who served as national-security adviser to vice-president Al Gore, and Ken Pollack, a former NSC staffer during the Clinton administration and now a senior Brookings Institution fellow who is the author of the recently published and much-discussed The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (Random House).

In Lieberman’s unconventional camp of advisers are neoconservatives like Robert Kagan, author of Of Paradise and Power: American vs. Europe in the New World Order (Knopf, 2003); Eliot Cohen, director of the Strategic Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and author of Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime (Free Press, 2002); and Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. There’s no mystery about where Kagan and Cohen stand on Iraq. Both are listed as honorary chairmen, along with Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, of the not-for-profit Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Krepinevich, who has co-written articles with Cohen in the past, is known more as a military defense expert — he is frequently quoted as a military analyst and advocate for increased defense budgets — than as a student of foreign policy.

The two relative wild cards in the Democratic-challenger camp — at least as far as foreign policy is concerned — are US Senator John Edwards and former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Edwards, who is running for president before his first term as senator is even up, hasn’t been in Washington long enough to have established a presence in foreign policy. He is talking with Richard Gardner, a corporate lawyer who served as Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to Italy and Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Spain. Gardner, who also worked at the State Department during the Kennedy administration with then–UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson, is also talking with potential Democratic presidential candidate and Florida senator Bob Graham; he emphasizes that his relationship with Edwards is not exclusive. "The central issue today in our foreign policy is to provide legitimacy for America’s leadership," says Gardner, who notes that he would have justified the invasion of Iraq as an extension of existing UN resolutions 678 and 687, which govern the agreement ending the 1991 Gulf War. "This group in Washington, there’s no doubt it knows how to fight a war, but it doesn’t know how to make alliances." Gardner suggests that the ill will harbored by the rest of the world toward the US will impede America’s ability to rebuild Iraq and achieve any of the broader goals of the war. "What is our plan for the rebuilding of Iraq? Is it going to be run by the Defense Department or are we going to involve the world?"

As the former governor of a small New England state, Dean’s foreign-policy experience is nearly nil. You have to look to some of the candidate’s personal experiences to understand where he might be coming from. Last year, Dean traveled to Laos to visit the grave of his brother, Charles, who was killed in 1974 by communist rebels. Meanwhile, Dean’s campaign is trying to keep a tight lid on the names of those advising him on foreign policy. On April 9, he spoke before the Alliance for American Leadership (AAL), in hopes of winning some advisers for his campaign. Even so, Danny Sebright, a former undersecretary of policy at the Department of Defense from 1995 to 2001 who helped coordinate the first months of US response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, tells the Phoenix that he has been coordinating meetings between Dean and other policy experts, whom he will not name. Sebright also hosted a lunch for Dean at Washington’s Palm Restaurant during the national conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March.

"I was immediately taken with Dean and his message," says Sebright. Interestingly, Dean, who wowed delegates to the Democratic State Party convention in California and attendees at national meetings for the Democratic National Committee in Washington in February with his anti-war rhetoric, used Wednesday’s forum with AAL to talk tough: he would permit neither Iran nor North Korea to develop nuclear-weapons programs.

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Issue Date: April 17 - 24, 2003
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