Change in Administration Foreign Policy?

We are not optimistic – it appears to us to be more BushCo smoke and mirrors, and we expect no meaningful results.

Slowly, Slowly, the Ship of State Turns Realist
Analysis by Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, May 4 (IPS) – With just over 18 months left in office, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush appears once again to be moving in a more “realist” direction in its dealings with the rest of the world, including the Middle East.

The most obvious sign came during this week’s regional meeting in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spent a 30-minute tete-a-tete with her Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moallem, reportedly focused on securing greater cooperation from Damascus on sealing its border with Iraq.

It was the first bilateral cabinet-level encounter between the U.S. and Syria since the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, in protest of which Washington recalled its ambassador from Damascus.

While Rice later insisted that her meeting differed from last month’s controversial visit to Damascus by Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi because the discussion was both confined to Iraq and no photographers were present to record the occasion, most analysts here saw it one as the latest — and potentially most significant — in a series of tentative steps toward implementing key recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (ISG), co-chaired by super-realist James Baker.

“Gee, all of a sudden meeting with the Syrian government is not an act of high treason,” wrote Juan Cole, a Middle East specialist at the University of Michigan on his influential blog, who noted that Rice had even sought Pelosi’s advice before setting out on her trip.

“I can only think that Condi’s meeting with Mouallem is a sign that (Vice President) Dick Cheney’s grip on power inside the White House is slipping badly, and that Condi has Bush’s ear on the need to engage.”

Cheney, the leader of the administration’s hawks, had publicly condemned Pelosi’s visit to Damascus as “bad behaviour”, while some of his neo-conservative allies outside the administration even called for her prosecution under a 200-year-old law that makes it a crime for individual citizens to communicate with hostile foreign governments to influence their behaviour.

Cheney, who is still smarting from Bush’s approval — following a personal appeal by Rice — of a controversial nuclear deal with North Korea in February, suffered another setback this week when the White House announced the resignation of Deputy National Security Adviser J.D. Crouch, II, a veteran hard-liner who has overseen the day-to-day management of the National Security Council (NSC) during Bush’s second term.

Crouch, who served first as assistant secretary of defence for international security affairs and then as ambassador to Romania, during Bush’s first term, chaired the inter-agency deliberations that led to the adoption of Bush’s “Surge” strategy to send some 30,000 more troops to Baghdad beginning in February.

He first worked for the vice president when Cheney headed the Pentagon under former President George H.W. Bush. In that capacity, Crouch, long a proponent of developing new nuclear weapons and missile defence systems, helped prepare the 1992 draft Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) overseen by then-Undersecretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz and the vice president’s future chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, both of whom played key roles in Bush’s first term.

The DPG draft, which was leaked to the New York Times and subsequently repudiated by the elder Bush administration, called, among other things, for Washington to pursue military dominance in and around Eurasia, carry out pre-emptive attacks against potential treats, and rely on ad hoc alliances rather than multilateral mechanisms, such as the U.N. or NATO, to promote U.S. interests — ideas which were incorporated 10 years later in the younger Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy.

The announcement of Crouch’s departure was particularly remarkable given the widely reported — and as yet unsuccessful — search by his boss, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, for a so-called “war czar”. This would be someone with sufficient stature and clout to ensure that White House directives on the conduct of the U.S. “war on terror”, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, are implemented so that Hadley himself, who colleagues say is already over-worked, can address himself to other problems. His deputy’s imminent departure can only add to his burdens.

Read the rest here.

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