Wednesday, November 24, 2004
PART III: FIRST OFFICER
Throughout the campaign year of 2004, President George W. Bush always believed that his turnout operation and the basic themes of his campaign (prosperity at home and victory abroad) would carry him to victory. It did; Bush won the greatest number of votes cast for any President in history, over 61 million (for his part, Senator John F. Kerry didn't do bad either; he outpaced Al Gore's 2000 totals by several million votes in a losing effort). So the President could not be blamed if he took charge and started taking firm control of the Government-something that had eluded him in his first term.
Bush's first move occured before his election victory. The Central Intelligence Agency had been leaking to journalists all year, each leak was designed to undermine President Bush and help to elect his opponent, Senator Kerry. However, what occured was a strange paradox. The 9/11 Commission Report and the Senate Intelligence Committee's reporting left no doubt that the CIA was primarily responsible for failing to anticipate the 2001 attacks and for providing horribly innacurate information to the President in the runup to Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. While the Mainstream Media attempted to spin these stories as Bush disasters, in point of fact, it was George Tenet who resigned. Bush almost immediately nominated Porter Goss to replace Tenet. Goss began to purge the Agency of leakers after the Election, but his appointment alone was an indication that Bush was going to govern with a firm hand if he was reelected.
Condoleezza Rice's appointment to State is a similar move. The Department has been in opposition to the President's policies ever since the election in 2000. State was another outfit that leaked like a sieve. Powell was a good administrator, and much-loved within the Department, but if the President was going to insure that everyone was moving in the same direction, he had to gain more control over State. Rice was his choice to do that.
Here's the great thing for Rice: this happens at the point at which State becomes a more important Department than the Pentagon. Post-campaign Iraq is becoming more and more a State Department operation as the President is compelled to amass foreign support for the Allawi Government in Baghdad and the January 30th elections. The present military campaign serves the political end, and not the other way around. The gains made in the Middle East on the ground need political consolidation, and it will be Condoleezza Rice's brief to do so. Had she gone to the Pentagon as she originally wanted, her role would have been on the downside within the Administration. As it stands, her department will be taking the lead in implementing and developing policy. The Pentagon's responsibility is for the execution of policy by armed force, and is organically incapable of, say, brokering a solution to the Palestinian quandary. She is well on her way to becoming this Administration's First Officer, as martial impulses will be ruthlessly subordinated to political aims.
I would also argue that two other events are leading to an increase in Rice's influence and in the relative strength of State relative to the Pentagon. The influence of Donald Rumsfeld is declining, as it is understood that he will be leaving next year, once the Iraqi elections have taken place. I would argue, similarly, that the power of Dick Cheney will also begin to decline, as the need for the President to protect his base has declined with the latter's reelection. As she begins to take control of the Department, and develop policy solutions for the President, Rice's relative influence will increase. As she will be the only cabinet officer with immediate access to the President, she will remain as the President's most influential advisor. This can only help the Department and the morale of the Foreign Service.
In our final post on Condi Rice, we'll deal with her prospective approaches to the great questions of the day: Europe, the Palestinian Question, the Grand War on Terror, Russia's new Authoritarianism, and the rise of Chinese power.
Monday, November 22, 2004
II. THE WATCHER
As mentioned in my earlier post, I suspect that President-elect George W. Bush conducted a series of consultations with his father as to the makeup of the cabinet. In December of 2000, Bush took a vacation down near Naples, Florida (the family owns an estate near Cape Coral, I believe) where he probably sat down with Bush the Elder and discussed pending appointments. I'm quite sure that George H. W. Bush placed an emphasis on an assertive national security advisor who would cull the herd and get rid of the chaff that would come in from State and the Pentagon. That's how Kissinger dominated Nixon's foreign policy shop; that's how Brezinzki neutered State's Cyrus Vance in the Carter years. Later, an operator like Brent Scowcroft achieved a smoothly operating Bush policy shop by knocking heads together. Working for Scowcroft was a young Condoleezza Rice, who acted as the elder Bush's Soviet analyst. All of the men mentioned were brutal realists of the Metternich/Morgenthau Akademie of foreign affairs. For instance, in the wake of the T'ien an Mien Square massacre, Brent Scowcroft showed up on Deng Xiaoping's doorstep to assure him that business would be conducted as usual. Rice was a disciple of that school, although she would adjust her views to the new environment of protracted ideological struggle in later years.
Now then, both the Elder Bush and his son had to know that the W was determined to pick Condoleezza Rice as his DNSC. As mentioned earlier, Rice had no retinue of supporters, no network of sympathetic media people who would leak damaging information on a rival for her. So, what to do with a woman of immense drive, focus, and intellect, but limited powers? The answer to that lies in the fact that this national security advisor had a constituency that no one counted on-a constituency of one: the President.
I think both men decided that Condi would become the President's eyes and ears in the Principal's Committee. She could not, from the beginning, even hope to push around people like Rummy and Dick Cheney. In early January of 2001, Rice was alarmed when stories hit the Washington Post that Cheney's people intended to have the Vice-President chair the Principal's Committee. They were peddling damaging quotes about Rice, indicating that she was not highly thought of among the Players and was simply a hanger-on from the Campaign. Rice went to the President-elect and sought out a commitment that she would chair the Committee, a seat that normally went to a DNSC. Bush saw, correctly in my opinion, that Cheney was trying to grab the reins and issued a Presidential Directive that placed his National Security Advisor as permanent chair of the Principal's Committee.
As Greg Djerejian has made clear, Condi's management of interagency policy formulation left something to be desired. This reaction is understandable, if one believes that Bush intended to follow the Scowcroft template. My thinking is that the President never intended for her to have that kind of power, but to be his silent advocate. Bush subscribed to a chaos theory, in which Rumsfeld, Powell, Tenet, and Cheney fought things out. Rice would pull together everybody's thoughts (although I strongly suspect she was far more assertive than many foreign policy heads believe) and submit everyone's proposals to the President. This was a hugely messy process, in which the Principals fought policy battles both within and without the Committee. If one didn't like what was going on, one could always call Bob Woodward, drop a line to Dana Milbank, or watch the fun when the Washington Times ran a Page One Bill Gertz story based on one's own leak. Bush knew this was going to happen, and understood that it was the price he had to pay for getting talent like Rumsfeld and Powell on board. His father's administration leaked like a sieve, as Cheney, then SECSTATE James A. Baker III, and Scowcroft fought their battles in the Press. What is key here, and few people out in the blogosphere appear to get this, is what happened next. Bush asked Rice what she thought and asked for her recommendation. And Rice never breathed a word to the Press about what she said to the President. The President's trust was her sword, and her silence was her shield.
She became the President's advocate on the Sunday talk ghetto, and I am convinced, within the Principal's Committee, as well. The woman who began almost every sentance with "This President believes...." said so with sincerity, as it was what they agreed that the policy should be once the savage disputes from the chaotic Bush policy process had been settled by the President.
She was the last person who talked with George W. Bush on any foreign or military question, and on some domestic questions as well (you will all recall that she got heavily involved in George W. Bush's consideration of the University of Michigan's Affirmative Action arguments before the Supreme Court). And it should be noted that she has almost never been on the losing end of a foreign policy fight. She argued for the invasion of Afghanistan, for Powell's approach to the U.N., and for the invasion of Iraq.
To be clear, she has had failures. Her one great failure, in my opinion, is the fact that the Iraq reconstruction portfolio dropped in her hands in October of 2003, but the rest of the Administration appeared to ignore her authority. A lot of this I blame on Bush, who didn't back her authority as much as he should have. A PDM or a Finding would have been a real help in this regard, but in the absence of a firm hand from the Oval Office, Iraq reconstruction authority had meandered about, with a lot of it moving to State (Speaking of the lack of a firm hand, please read Greg's latest post on the Administration's laughable policy on troop levels In Country. The whole thing, please. Rumsfeld's foolish decision not to increase Army end strength by several rifle divisions back in 2001 is coming back to haunt us. But at least Rummy killed the Crusader...). By January of 2004, the corrosive effect of the Presidential campaign was felt, followed in train by the Abu Ghraib scandal and the jihadist Spring offensive. Of necessity, a lot of authority transferred back to the Pentagon. Enough reconstruction authority has remained with State for this to pay dividends for Condi as she takes her new job. However, it remains a fact that while at NSC, she was never able to truly dominate Iraq occupation policy. I will turn to Condoleezza in Iraq in a later post.
There were some other rather minor contrived contretemps. First, the "Sixteen Words" affair turned out to have been a huge propaganda mistake by the Bush communications team. In his 2003 SOTU speech, George W. Bush stated that British intelligence believed that the Moustache had sent his people to Africa to buy Uranium Oxide ("yellowcake") for processing into weapons grade material. The British did believe that. They never backed down. Rice backed down because she lost sight of the central fact of the case: that Tony Blair had evidence that the Mukhabarat had been sent to Africa. The President never mentioned Niger in his speech. He also didn't mention Joe Wilson, and neither should anyone else by the way. Rice should never have ceded this point to the President's critics. That was a mistake. She gave a propaganda gift to the President's opponents that turned into a meme that lasted throughout the campaign.
As the campaign year wore on, Bush began to consider what a Second Term would bring. He knew that he was probably going to win, and that would bring with it changes in personnel and policy. The runup to that, and Rice's place in it all, in my next post.
I. "THIS BLACK SLIP OF A GIRL..."
The tut-tutting over at the New York Times about Condi Rice indicates that the MoDo Crowd believe that Dr. Rice is merely a Bush yes-woman, willing to believe anything that the Boss dictates, akin to Rudolf Hoess taking transcription from the future Fuhrer at Landsberg (one last tip o' the hat to the "Bush is Hitler" meme so gratuitously peddled by the Left in the last campaign). But nothing is so simple. Rather, she is a client of George Bush, while at the same time, being George H.W. and Barbara Bush's "extra" daughter. When George W. Bush has to run a decision through his head one last time, the last person he talks to about it is Condoleezza Rice. She never trumpets her access to the President. She remains as a Sphinx, and W knows he can trust her to keep both her silence and her word.
Somehow, up in Midtown Manhattan, these qualities are frowned upon, or described as the slavish conduct of a foreign policy mediocrity. However, within the Bush family and the larger constellation of the Republican party's foreign policy nomenklatura, silence is golden. It is the trademark of the serious player, the person who can be trusted to close the deal with the Russian, cajole the Chinese, or lay down the law to the Indian and the Pakistani before those two irradiate the Subcontinent.
Powell was a serious man, but he played the press game with the Post and the Times in all too many instances to be of much good to Bush in a second term. Further, Powell found it very hard to hold his own within the Principal's Committee against the active opposition of both Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney. Powell was constantly watching his back, and was never sure of President Bush's support. In contrast, Dr. Condoleezza Rice enjoys the complete trust of both Bushes, and it is said, never needs to make an appointment to see him. Rice enjoys the one thing that Powell never had: complete trust and complete access.
This gives her immense and extraordinary power, which she will exercise with shrewd dispatch and, when necessary, utter ruthlessness. But before we go there, let's set the scenery that serves as the backdrop to her opening act.
The Belgravia Dispatch is all Condi all the Time, this week, and for good reason. Gred Djerejian, like me, suspects that Dr. Rice will be no wallflower. Indeed, he expects a second Thermidor, but from a most unlikely source: Condoleezza Rice. With a fine sense of the theater, Greg seems to believe that the PNAC upstarts are to be driven from the stage, while Vice President Dick Cheney's moneylenders are to be driven from the Temple. What I think Greg is driving at is that in the middle of a war, foreign policy primacy just passed over to the State Department.
Greg had been disappointed in Condi's management of the interagency process. His disappointment was shared by others, but I believe that Condi's apparent passivity led to a misunderstanding of her role: she was Bush's representative within a larger universe of competing agency ambitions. Before he became President, I am sure that GW sat down with his dad and discussed Condi's role. Condi had ridden in from Stanford in the van of the Bush campaign back in 2000. She had no clientele in Washington, she was nobody's Principal, and most important of all, nobody owed Condi Rice a damn thing.
Plenty of people around D.C. were owned by Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney. Each Principal knew it, too. These three men were not going to take orders from what Brent Scowcroft described as this "black slip of a girl" of 46. So what to do? How does a new President herd these lions?
Bush decided to put in a kitten to watch after them.
Let's look at Bush for a moment. Here he was, having lost the popular vote to Crazy Al Gore, and sore in need of gravitas in the Cabinet. He picked Powell as his first Secretary of State. The retired General was the most popular man in America and a veteran of the beureucratic and media wars of the late Reagan and Bush years. Bush moved on to consider a SECDEF; but while this was going on, word leaked out that the President-elect was going to pick Dan Coates for DOD. Word even got out the Powell liked the idea! I think Bush believed that Colin Powell was trying to establish early dominance within the Cabinet and outflank a powerful Vice-President. I'm sure Dan Coates is a nice guy who never stole a freight train, but Powell would have stolen Dan Coates' lunch and the Senator would have paid for it. Bush must have thought that Powell needed to be reined in. So Bush, following the wise counsel of Chairman Mao ("Let one hundred flowers bloom, let one thousand schools of thought contend"), picked Donald Rumsfeld, a guy who could go toe to toe with Powell and make the latter live to regret it. Bush set it up so that Powell and Rumsfeld would fight each other and have to turn to him. Throw Cheney and his goons into the mix and one had a the makings of a scrum at the Rugby Association cup final.
That's where Condi came in. More in the next post.