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The radical hand behind Bush's war moves

JOHN NEWHOUSE is one of the foreign policy establishment's more thoughtful observers. He has passed between the worlds of journalism, think tanks, and government service to the enlightenment of all three. His new book, "Imperial America: The Bush Assault on the World Order," is a "cri de coeur" from that lost Washington world that favors diplomacy over dictate, working with allies rather than unilaterialism, and "sensible pragmatic policy" rather than the "ritual truculence" that has become the hallmark of America's international relations.

His canvas is the second Bush administration's missed opportunities since Sept. 11, 2001, when most of the world stood horrified at what had happened and when even countries that might not have traditionally loved us offered their hand. Newhouse argues that a lasting coalition against terror could have been built to this country's advantage. Instead, President Bush, in stark contrast to his father, adopted the attitudes, prejudices, and strategies of America's far right, which for the first time has gained ascendancy in foreign policy to the detriment of this country's long-term security.

Ronald Reagan, Newhouse argues, came to power with ideas and support from the right, but with the help of "gifted people" such as James Baker and Michael Deaver, he was able to impose "just enough moderation on his core political base" to operate within the traditional framework of US foreign policy. According to Newhouse, the second Bush administration is "the first to have positioned itself on the far right," a position that Newhouse calls "radical" rather than conservative.

The missed opportunities run the gamut from North Korea to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Iran, Pakistan, and Russia, to our traditional European allies, whom we have unnecessarily alienated. Secretary of State Colin Powell is one of Newhouse's good guys, but he sees Powell and the State Department as marginalized while the hard right-wingers installed in the Pentagon and the office of Vice President Cheney have stolen American foreign policy from its traditional vicars.

The new foreign policy makers have corrupted intelligence to get their way and told it "like they thought it ought to be," instead of like it is. In this new world there can be no compromises or different opinions among nations. By early March 2003, Bush "had described other countries as being `with us or with the terrorists' 99 times since taking office."

Newhouse traces the right's bid for power to the attempt to take over the Ford administration in the so-called Halloween Massacre of 1975, when Donald Rumsfeld was White House chief of staff and Cheney his deputy. Rumsfeld maneuvered Secretary of State Henry Kissinger out of his dual role as national security adviser, got Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger fired to be replaced by Rumsfeld himself, with Cheney promoted to chief of staff. Vice President Nelson Rockefeller was told he would not be on the ticket when Ford ran for president the following year. Rumsfeld was not interested in Kissinger's efforts to limit nuclear weapons -- he wanted a harder line -- nor did the right want the moderates associated with Rockefeller's branch of the party.

Ford lost the election. But the right wing tried again during the first Bush administration with a proposed doctrine "cobbled together" after the first Gulf War by Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld's deputy today, and Lewis Libby, now Cheney's chief of staff. The new doctrine spoke of not just remaining number one in the world but of destroying any state that might in the future challenge the United States -- i.e., preemptive offense without benefit of allies, without UN sanction, with a stress on raw military power over containment, persuasion, and diplomacy. It was not a doctrine that gained any purchase with Bush senior's administration. But after 9/11 in a new Bush administration, its day has come. Rumsfeld and others were angling for an attack on Iraq before Afghanistan, a suggestion which Bush wisely rejected. But it is now clear that for this administration, regime change always trumped disarming Iraq -- thus the intelligence skewing that has now been exposed.

One dream of the new right radicals is a wave of democracy sweeping over the Middle East that would destabilize the old monarchies and regimes. The influence of Israel's right-wing Likud Party over many in the Bush administration is a Newhouse theme. He writes that a "cohort in the Pentagon has operated, in effect, like an extension of the Likud leadership and has scared other governments with talk of redrawing the political map of the Middle East and implicitly turning the region into a US-Israeli co-management sphere."

Many in and out of government have warned that democracy will not come easily to the Arab regimes of the Middle East, and the administration's difficulties in Iraq should drive home the point. But the true-right in the Bush administration wants to believe otherwise. The danger in all this, as Amos Elon said about Israel and Newhouse says about the United States, is that as military power grows, overall security may be diminishing, if only because priorities have become so unrealistic and unbalanced.

H.D.S. Greenway's column appears regularly in the Globe.

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