Filed undER: Front Page, USA, Israel, Palestinians, Hezbollah, Lebanon
Foreign policy conservatives charge State Dept. has hijacked Bush agenda
July 25, 2006
Conservative national security allies of President Bush are in revolt against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, saying that she is incompetent and has reversed the administration's national security and foreign policy agenda.
The conservatives, who include Newt Gingrich, Richard Perle and leading current and former members of the Pentagon and National Security Council, have urged the president to transfer Miss Rice out of the State Department and to an advisory role. They said Miss Rice, stemming from her lack of understanding of the Middle East, has misled the president on Iran and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
"The president has yet to understand that people make policy and not the other way around," a senior national security policy analyst said. "Unlike [former Secretary of State Colin] Powell, Condi is loyal to the president. She is just incompetent on most foreign policy issues."
The criticism of Miss Rice has been intense and comes from a range of Republican loyalists, including current and former aides in the Defense Department and the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. They have warned that Iran has been exploiting Miss Rice's inexperience and incompetence to accelerate its nuclear weapons program. They expect a collapse of her policy over the next few months.
"We are sending signals today that no matter how much you provoke us, no matter how viciously you describe things in public, no matter how many things you're doing with missiles and nuclear weapons, the most you'll get out of us is talk," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said.
Miss Rice served as Mr. Bush's national security adviser in his first term. During his second term, Miss Rice replaced Mr. Powell in the wake of a conclusion by the White House that Mr. Bush required a loyalist to head the State Department and ensure that U.S. foreign policy reflected the president's agenda.
"Condi was sent to rein in the State Department," a senior Republican congressional staffer said. "Instead, she was reined in."
Mr. Gingrich agrees and said Miss Rice's inexperience and lack of resolve were demonstrated in the aftermath of the North Korean launch of seven short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles in July. He suggested that Miss Rice was a key factor in the lack of a firm U.S. response.
"North Korea firing missiles," Mr. Gingrich said. "You say there will be consequences. There are none. We are in the early stages of World War III. Our bureaucracies are not responding fast enough. We don't have the right attitude."
Several of the critics have urged that Mr. Bush provide a high-profile post to James Baker, who was secretary of state under the administration of Mr. Bush's father. They cited Mr. Baker's determination to confront Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein in 1990.
A leading public critic of Miss Rice has been Richard Perle, a former chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board and regarded as close to Mr. Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Mr. Perle, pointing to the effort by the State Department to undermine the Reagan administration's policy toward the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, has accused Miss Rice of succumbing to a long-time State Department agenda of meaningless agreements meant to appease enemies of the United States.
"Condoleezza Rice has moved from the White House to Foggy Bottom, a mere mile or so away," Mr. Perle wrote in a June 25 Op-Ed article in the Washington Post that has been distributed throughout conservative and national security circles. "What matters is not that she is further removed from the Oval Office; Rice's influence on the president is undiminished. It is, rather, that she is now in the midst of-and increasingly represents-a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries."
Mr. Perle's article was said to have reflected the views of many of Mr. Bush's appointees in the White House, Defense Department and State Department. Mr. Perle maintains close contacts to U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Robert Joseph, Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams and Mr. Cheney's national security adviser, John Hannah.
A major problem, critics said, is Miss Rice's ignorance of the Middle East. They said the secretary relies completely on Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, who is largely regarded as the architect of U.S. foreign policy. Miss Rice also consults regularly with her supporters on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Chairman Richard Lugar and the No. 2 Republican, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.
The critics said Miss Rice has adopted the approach of Mr. Burns and the State Department bureaucracy that most-if not all-problems in the Middle East can be eased by applying pressure on Israel. They said even as Hezbollah was raining rockets on Israeli cities and communities, Miss Rice was on the phone nearly every day demanding that the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert exercise restraint.
"Rice attempted to increase pressure on Israel to stand down and to demonstrate restraint," said Stephen Clemons, director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. "The rumor is that she was told flatly by the prime minister's office to back off."
The critics within the administration expect a backlash against Miss Rice that could lead to her transfer in wake of the congressional elections in 2006. They said by that time even Mr. Bush will recognize the failure of relying solely on diplomacy in the face of Iran's nuclear weapons program.
"At that point, Rice will be openly blamed and Bush will have a very hard time defending her," said a GOP source with close ties to the administration.