The White House, Pentagon and State Department in this Post Election Phase
November 21, 2006
The stinging rebuke by the voters this month got the president’s attention.
By letting Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld go, the president signaled a new direction in both Iraq and other areas is likely before long. Replacing Rumsfeld with former CIA Director Bob Gates, a member of the Iraq Study Group, indicates that a new team could soon have more influence over the thinking at the White House.
The Iraq Study Group is a bipartisan committee led by Republican former secretary of state James A. Baker III and Democratic former congressman Lee H. Hamilton (Ind.), who was a vice chairman of the panel that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The Iraq Study Group was the brainchild of Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.). Wolf started to talk to people about a set of “new eyes” to study the situation in Iraq and make recommendations following his third trip to Iraq in September 2005.
Wolf said, "We wanted a bipartisan group, people senior enough that they weren't looking to get placed in a law firm or good job. The test was: Do you love your country?"
The members of the group include Lawrence Eagleburger (secretary of state under the first President Bush), Vernon E. Jordan Jr. (former adviser to President Bill Clinton),Edwin Meese III (attorney general under President Ronald Reagan), Sandra Day O'Connor (former Supreme Court justice), Leon E. Panetta (chief of staff under Clinton and Democratic former representative from California), William J. Perry (secretary of defense under Clinton), Charles S. Robb (Democratic former senator from Virginia) andAlan K. Simpson (Republican former senator from Wyoming).
Because the congress has been unable or unwilling to chart a new course for Iraq, Rep. Wolf though an outside team of “solons” might be able to come to conclusions, make recommendations, and persuade the president to go in a new direction.
There is something else at play here too. By removing Mr. Rumsfeld and replacing him with Mr. Gates, the president might be signaling that he is starting to listen more to men close to his father. This group would include “Bush 41” National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft (he was Condoleezza Rice’s boss at the time), Colin Powell (who some say was treated badly by George W. Bush who dismissed him as his secretary of state), Richard Armitage (Powell’s deputy at state), James A. Baker III, and, perhaps, President “Bush 41” himself.
If allowed to get the president’s ear often enough over the holiday season, one might expect this group to urge a diminishing reliance upon the overpower influence of Vice president Dick Cheney.
This team of advisors is interested in resolving foreign policy messes like Iraq before the next presidential election. They have already been influential in getting the phrase “stay the course” out of the Republican and White House lexicon.
This group would also allow some new thinking on Afghanistan and Iran.
“Iraq is the disaster we have to get rid of, and Iran is the disaster we have to avoid,” Joseph Cirincione, the vice-president for national security at the liberal Center for American Progress, said.
According to Seymour Hersh, who wrote “The Next Act” for The New Yorker Magazine (November 27, 2006 issue),
Richard Armitage, the Deputy Secretary of State in Bush’s first term, told me that he believed the Democratic election victory, followed by Rumsfeld’s dismissal, meant that the Administration “has backed off,” in terms of the pace of its planning for a military campaign against Iran. Gates and other decision-makers would now have more time to push for a diplomatic solution in Iran and deal with other, arguably more immediate issues. “Iraq is as bad as it looks, and Afghanistan is worse than it looks,” Armitage said. “A year ago, the Taliban were fighting us in units of eight to twelve, and now they’re sometimes in company-size, and even larger.” Bombing Iran and expecting the Iranian public “to rise up” and overthrow the government, as some in the White House believe, Armitage added, “is a fool’s errand.”
Perhaps come January, between the new congress and the influence of the Iraq Study Group coming to bear, we shall see a real new direction in Iraq and some new strategic thinking (Bill Sammon of The Washington Examiner calls this “strategery”). In any event, next January’s State of the Union Address could well be a watershed that lays out the roadmap for the final two years of the George W. Bush presidency.