Cheney: Obstacle To Middle East Detente genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation
The concept of detente, a feature of the Nixon years under the direction of Henry Kissinger, may be the most viable alternative to the spiraling conflict that now grips the Middle East. Standing clearly in the way of such an effort is none other than Dick Cheney. A little history is necessary to fully understand the underlying philosophical principles as well as the less obvious psychological motivations.
Taken together, the current Bush team represents the generation that believes in unrivaled American power -- an America so strong that it has no need to reach accommodations with anyone, neither the Soviet Union or China in the Cold War period, nor Russia or China today. The key players all share some common underlying assumptions about the need for a muscular American role in the world, with an extensive network of alliances that support the United States but do not unduly limit its freedom of action, and with troops deployed around the globe to deter major wars, but not to become ensnarled in extensive peacekeeping duties.
Most of the Bush team became involved in foreign policy in the1970s, in reaction to events -- the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam and the pursuit of detente with the Soviet Union -- that they viewed as unduly hamstringing America's role in the world. Within the Ford administration, Rumsfeld, first as White House chief of staff and then as defense secretary, emerged as a leading obstacle to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's policy of detente. Rumsfeld wouldn't support Kissinger's pursuit of arms control with the Soviets. In his recent memoir of the Ford years, Kissinger writes that Rumsfeld 'in effect permitted and indeed encouraged the bureaucratic process [for detente] to run into the sand.' Rumsfeld's sidekick and ally in the Ford administration -- his deputy on the White House staff and, eventually, his successor as chief of staff -- was a rising young Republican named Dick Cheney.
As the first Bush administration took office, the Cold War was easing. For years, American military planning in the Middle East had been directed above all toward defending against a Soviet strike aimed at seizing oil fields in Iran. By 1989, that threat began to seem remote and outdated. The Joint Chiefs of Staff began drafting a new plan that spoke of the importance of defending the United States, Western Europe and East Asia, but made no mention of the Middle East. The proposal aroused Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. military commander responsible for the Persian Gulf, who began lobbying to have the plan rewritten to recognize the strategic importance of the Middle East and its oil resources. As Schwarzkopf described in his memoir, his campaign succeeded because he attracted three key allies in positions of power: Cheney, who was President George H.W. Bush's new defense secretary; Wolfowitz, the new undersecretary for policy; and Powell, then in a top military post.
As one tracks the career of Dick Cheney, it becomes clear that his philosophy is such that detente is antithetical to his vision of an America atop the power pyramid. He and many of those who have been key players in the Bush administration foreign policy strategy have a long history of opposition to detente. The 9/11 attack simply provided the nexus to proceed with the agenda now defined as neoconservatism and the doctrine of preemption. Prior to being defined as neoconservatives, the alliance took the form of a group identified as Team B.
The origin of Cheney's alliance with the neoconservatives goes back to his instrumental support for Team B. Upon being appointed secretary of defense by the elder Bush, he kept on Wolfowitz as undersecretary. And Wolfowitz kept on his deputy, his former student at the University of Chicago, Scooter Libby. Earlier, Wolfowitz and Libby had written a document expressing suspicion of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's liberalizing perestroika and warning against making deals with him, a document that President Reagan ignored as he made an arms control agreement and proclaimed that the Cold War was ending.
After the Gulf War victory, in 1992, Cheney approved a new "Defense Planning Guidance" advocating U.S. unilateralism in the post-Cold War, a document whose final draft was written by Libby. Cheney assumed Republican rule for the indefinite future.
The motivation behind the drafting of the DPG centered on the concern that with the fall of the Soviet Union, the defeat of Sadaam Hussein in the Gulf War, and with no apparent superpowers to compete with the U.S., there may be a move towards demilitarization. In order to prevent any such actions and to avoid a return to detente, the DPG was drafted and recommended the following:
"preventing a hostile power from dominating regions whose resources would allow it to attain great power status, discouraging attempts by the advanced industrial nations to challenge US leadership or upset the established political and economic order, and precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor" (12).
Golub goes on to explain how 9/11 not only provided for the continuation of the neoconservative philosophy, it allowed for the addition of the doctrine of preemption.
In the aftermath of 11 September, the Bush administration turned the campaign against terrorist networks into a war against the "axis of evil". In so doing, it was simply pursuing a strategic and political policy defined in the 1970s and revised in the early 1990s to meet the needs of the post-cold war era. The doctrine of pre-emptive strikes, officially adopted in September 2002, certainly breaks with the policy of containment and deterrence the US had consistently pursued. But it is in line with the unwavering determination of the radical, nationalist and neo-conservative American right to wage war to establish its authority.
To demonstrate the political acumen of Dick Cheney, I would offer the observations of Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman. In an article published in The New Republic in November, 2003 and titled, The Radical, they explain how Cheney sold President Bush on the invasion of Iraq.
Bush was well aware that several of his senior aides wanted to take the battle to Iraq. When his advisers had convened at Camp David the weekend after the September 11 attacks, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz argued on three separate occasions that the United States should immediately target Iraq instead of the more difficult Afghanistan. Bush had settled the matter by instructing his chief of staff, Andrew Card, to quiet Wolfowitz--a moment humiliatingly enshrined by Bob Woodward in his book Bush at War. But, in early 2002, Cheney dispensed with the policy arguments for taking down Saddam in favor of a far more personal appeal. He said simply that he had been part of the team that created what he now saw as a flawed policy--leaving Saddam in power at the end of the Gulf war--and now Bush had a chance to correct it.
His plea was enormously successful. "The reason that Cheney was able to sell Bush the policy is that he was able to say, 'I've changed,'" says a senior administration official. "'I used to have the same position as [James] Baker, [Brent] Scowcroft, and your father--and here's why it's wrong.'" By February, observes a since-departed senior National Security Council (NSC) staffer, "my sense was the decision was taken." The next month, Bush interrupted a meeting between national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and three senators to boast, "Fuck Saddam. We're taking him out."
Note how cleverly Cheney chose to approach the younger Bush. Without directly calling into question the decisions of George H. W. Bush with regard to Iraq, he was able to substitute his own mea culpa in order to persuade George W. that it was time to "correct" the prior miscalculation. Thought Theater has previously explored the relationship between Bush 41 and Bush 43, making the point that the younger Bush has often been motivated to avoid the mistakes he perceived were made by his father in order to overcome his own feelings of inadequacy.
Both men seemed to have closer relationships with their mothers than their fathers and both mothers doted over and frequently defended their sons. Much of what I read about Nixon in sourcing the paper seemed to indicate that his mother had a significant influence in his life. As I compare this to George Bush, it seems to be the same. When President Bush speaks about toughness, he has often referenced his mother. When asked about consulting his father for advice, few can forget his remark that he instead consulted the heavenly father. Similarly, Nixon’s mother is often the parental influence cited when reading about the former president.
While little can be concluded from these observations, one can put forth the argument that George Bush has a tepid relationship with his father…one that was characterized by a son who followed in his fathers footsteps but rarely achieved the same successes. In many ways, I view their relationship as competitive and I suspect that Barbara Bush has often been the arbiter. One is left to wonder what part this dynamic may have played in the motivation and justification to invade Iraq. As with much of psychology, little can be proven. Nonetheless, sometimes when one strings together enough information it can remain inconclusive but it can also be powerfully convincing.
As we witness the expanding instability of the Middle East which now includes the situation in Iraq that must be characterized as some degree of civil war, the ascension of Hamas to power within the Palestinian government structure, the expanding threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions, the escalating conflict between Israel, the Palestinians in Gaza, Hezbollah, Lebanon, and Syria, one cannot fail to question the impact of the neoconservatism championed by Dick Cheney and his cohorts for some three decades.
One must also wonder how different the situation in the Middle East might be had 9/11 not provided the trigger needed to fully implement the goals of the neoconservatives. Nonetheless, 9/11 happened and history will have to look back and review the efforts of this group of men to determine their impact on world stability. It is difficult to imagine any significant shift in strategy away from the current doctrines although the events on the ground may have already forced some retreat. Nonetheless, Dick Cheney will likely remain a formidable obstacle to some return to detente. The Boston Globe's James Carroll may have provided the best summary of the Cheney legacy with the following remarks.
At world-shaping moments across a generation, Cheney reacted with an instinctive, This is war! He helped turn the War on Poverty into a war on the poor. He helped keep the Cold War going longer than it had to, and when it ended (because of initiatives taken by the other side), Cheney refused to believe it. To keep the US war machine up and running, he found a new justification just in time. With Gulf War I, Cheney ignited Osama bin Laden's burning purpose. Responding to 9/11, Cheney fulfilled bin Laden's purpose by joining him in the war-of-civilizations. Iraq, therefore (including the prewar deceit for which Scooter Libby takes the fall), is simply the last link in the chain of disaster which is the public career of Richard Cheney.