Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Crisis Point?

By the end of the 35-day Israel-Hezbollah conflict in southern Lebanon, the atmosphere in Washington had become stifling as political alarm bells...

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By the end of the 35-day Israel-Hezbollah conflict in southern Lebanon, the atmosphere in Washington had become stifling as political alarm bells clanged with ever increasing intensity. Doubtless sharpened by the terrorist threat in London, there was a growing sense that the many crises in the “new Middle East,” proudly midwifed by the administration of President George W. Bush, was rapidly spinning out of control, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the entire region and beyond.

The war between Israel and Hezbollah has, by virtually all accounts, inflamed and radicalized the Islamic world and rendered a larger regional conflagration much more likely. At the same time, the mounting death toll in Iraq seems to confirm the increasingly widespread view that Iraq is moving headlong toward civil war, if it isn’t already in one, as many regional experts have contended for some time. Last Wednesday a report was released showing that an unprecedented 1,815 bodies-90% of them the victims of violence-were brought to the Baghdad morgue in July, eclipsing the previous high established in June by some 250 deaths.

“Two full-blown crises, in Lebanon and Iraq, are merging into a single emergency,” noted Richard Holbrooke, Washington’s former UN ambassador, in an uncharacteristically alarming column in the August 10 Washington Post. The column’s title, “The Guns of August,” was a reference to a book about the diplomatic follies and indecisive battles that launched Europe into a devastating world war in 1914. “A chain reaction could spread quickly almost anywhere between Cairo and Bombay,” Holbrooke warned. “The combination of combustible elements poses the greatest threat to global stability since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, history’s only nuclear superpower confrontation.”

Holbrooke also pointed to other ill omens: Turkey’s growing impatience with developments in northern Iraq and its intimations that it is considering an invasion; the world’s largest anti-Israel demonstrations taking place in downtown Baghdad; the potential that Syria could be pulled into the conflict in Lebanon; the growing threat from a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan; and India’s threats to take punitive action against Pakistan for its alleged involvement in the recent Mumbai train bombings.

Particularly alarming to Holbrooke, as to a steadily growing number of Republican realists and other members of the traditional U.S. foreign policy elite, is the apparent complacency of the Bush administration in the face of these events.

Indeed, since the outbreak of the Lebanon crisis, several former top Republican policymakers -including Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush; Richard Armitage, George W. Bush’s former deputy secretary of state; and Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations-have called publicly for a major reassessment of U.S. Mideast policy and of its conduct of the “global war on terror.”

Their common message is the necessity of pressing Israel for a quick ceasefire in Lebanon, of engaging directly with Syria and Iran on both Lebanon and Iraq, and of restarting a serious peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. It has been echoed by leading Democrats, including former President Jimmy Carter; his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski; and former secretaries of state Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright, as well as by Holbrooke himself.

To these appeals, however-as well as to the worsening of the twin crises themselves-the Bush administration has appeared largely deaf. “There is little public sign that the president and his top advisers recognize how close we are to a chain reaction, or that they have any larger strategy beyond tactical actions,” Holbrooke noted.

The one, at least partial, exception has been Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose State Department, largely a bastion of realism, has been under almost constant attack since the outset of the Lebanon crisis by the same coalition of neoconservatives, assertive nationalists, and Christian rightists-led by Vice President Dick Cheney-that spearheaded the drive to war in Iraq.

In the early stages of the latest war, Rice, who is also the only senior administration official who has been in constant communication with European and Arab leaders, was most outspoken about the importance of Israel exercising restraint and not attacking civilian infrastructure in Lebanon. She was reportedly infuriated when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert failed to follow through on a pledge to suspend aerial attacks for two days late last month.

Rice, a Scowcroft protégée, has supported talks with Syria on the crisis, and according to a recent account published in Insight magazine, a publication of the right-wing Washington Times, she has also argued in favor of engaging Iran.

Before the Lebanon crisis, Rice appeared to be successfully moving U.S. policy gradually, if fitfully, toward a more realist position, particularly with respect to Iran. But she has now run into a brick wall in the form of Bush himself, according to Insight.

“For the last 18 months, Condi was given nearly carte blanche in setting foreign policy guidelines,” it quoted one “senior government source” as saying. “All of a sudden, the president has a different opinion, and he wants the last word.”

Her problems, however, may not be confined to Bush, according to another report in the August 10 New York Times that suggested that Cheney and his mainly neoconservative advisers have become increasingly assertive in the latest crisis in support of Israel’s efforts to crush Hezbollah. (In fact, some of Cheney’s unofficial advisers, such as Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, have called for expanding the war to Syria and even Iran.)

In that respect, Rice’s current situation recalls the humiliation of her predecessor Colin Powell, who in early 2002 sought to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to halt Israel’s military offensive in the Palestinian territories, only to be undercut back home by Cheney and, perhaps ironically, by then-National Security Adviser Rice.

“She had as much to do with cutting his legs out from under him vis-à-vis the Middle East as anyone else-either through outright agreement with Cheney, or, at the minimum, complicity with his views so as to draw even closer to Bush,” according to retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell’s former chief of staff at the State Department.

That experience, of course, confirmed the demise of realist influence in Bush’s first term, at least with respect to the Middle East.

That Rice may now find herself in a similar position, having to contend with a resurgent Cheney-led coalition of hawks who are not so much complacent about the course of current events in the Middle East as convinced that their strategy of regional “transformation” by military means will be vindicated, is what is particularly alarming about the current situation.

“This whole business is nuts-unless, of course, you believe what the rumormongers are beginning to pass around,” wrote Wilkerson, in reference to the Lebanon war, in an e-mail exchange with the Inter Press Service. “[T]hat this entire affair was ginned up by Bush/Cheney and certain political leaders in Tel Aviv to give cover for the eventual attack by the United States on Iran. At first, I refused to believe what seemed to be such insanity. But I am not so certain any longer.”

Jim Lobe is a Right Web contributing writer and the Washington, DC bureau chief for the Inter Press Service, which published a version of this article.



Jim Lobe, "Crisis Point?" Right Web Analysis (Somerville, MA: International Relations Center, August 16, 2006).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was a leading framer of the “global war on terror” and a staunch supporter of aggressive U.S. military action around the world.

Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s second secretary of state, is a long time foreign policy hawk and has led the public charge for an aggressive policy toward Iran.

Right Web readers will be familiar with Mr. Fleitz, the former CIA officer who once threatened to take “legal action” against Right Web for publicizing reports of controversies he was associated with in the George W. Bush administration. Fleitz recently left his job at the conspiracy-mongering Center for Security Policy to become chief of staff to John Bolton at the National Security Council.

Norm Coleman is chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a former senator from Minnesota known for his hawkish views on foreign policy.

Billionaire hedge fund mogul Paul Singer is known for his predatory business practices and support for neoconservative causes.

Keith Kellogg, national security adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, is a passionate supporter of Trump’s foreign policy.

Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the largest “pro-Israel” advocacy group in the United States, is known for its zealous Christian Zionism and its growing influence in the Republican Party.

For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trumpian new regional order in the Middle East is predicated on strongman rule, disregard for human rights, Sunni primacy over Iran and other Shia centers of power, continued military support for pro-American warring parties regardless of the unlawfulness of such wars, and Israeli hegemony.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A comparison of U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran and the current version with North Korea puts the former in a good light and makes the latter look disappointing. Those with an interest in curbing the dangers of proliferating nuclear weapons should hope that the North Korea picture will improve with time. But whether it does or not, the process has put into perspective how badly mistaken was the Trump administration’s trashing of the Iran nuclear agreement.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Numerous high profile Trump administration officials maintain close ties with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists. In today’s America, disparaging Islam is acceptable in ways that disparaging other religions is not. Given the continuing well-funded campaigns by the Islamophobes and continuing support from their enablers in the Trump administration, starting with the president himself, it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed any time soon.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Trump administration’s nuclear proliferation policy is now in meltdown, one which no threat of “steely resolve”—in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s words—will easily contain. It is hemorrhaging in part because the administration has yet to forge a strategy that consistently and credibly signals a feasible bottom line that includes living with—rather than destroying—regimes it despises or fears. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle must call for a new model that has some reasonable hope of restraining America’s foes and bringing security to its Middle East allies.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Congressional midterm elections are just months away and another presidential election already looms. Who will be the political leader with the courage and presence of mind to declare: “Enough! Stop this madness!” Man or woman, straight or gay, black, brown, or white, that person will deserve the nation’s gratitude and the support of the electorate. Until that occurs, however, the American penchant for war will stretch on toward infinity.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

To bolster the president’s arguments for cutting back immigration, the administration recently released a fear-mongering report about future terrorist threats. Among the potential threats: a Sudanese national who, in 2016, “pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS”; an Uzbek who “posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS”; a Syrian who, in a plea agreement, “admitted that he knew a member of ISIS and that while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with Al Nusrah,” an al-Qaeda offshoot.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The recent appointment of purveyors of anti-Muslim rhetoric to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom exposes the cynical approach Republicans have taken in promoting religious freedom.