After Howard Dean’s big foreign-policy address Monday, one staffer for one of his rivals offered a cannibalistic prediction of doom: “Karl Rove will eat this guy alive.”
The aide wasn’t referring to Dean’s declaration that “the capture of Saddam has not made America safer,” already a new favorite target of rivals Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, and Dick Gephardt. The forecast was spurred by Dean’s comment that “had the United Nations given us permission and asked us to be a part of a multilateral force, I would not have hesitated to go into Iraq, but that was not the case.”
Never mind the astronomical improbability of the fractured United Nations approving an American invasion–what got the staffer was the word “permission.”
“A president who thought we needed ‘permission’ from the U.N. to do anything about Iraq?” the staffer, a longtime Democrat, asked incredulously. “And who thought apparently we would only join a multilateral force if asked to by the U.N. rather than trying to nudge the U.N. to do it? Acquiescence not leadership? This is something to be filed jointly under ‘Karl Rove will eat this guy alive’ and ‘not ready for primetime.’”
The point of Dean’s Monday’s speech was to paint the candidate is a foreign-policy centrist now–a task helped by two gushing stories in the nation’s top papers on Sunday (Washington Post: “Dean Working to Be Seen as Foreign Policy Centrist”; New York Times: “Dean Strives for a Nuanced Approach to Foreign Policy”).
But a major announcement meant to enhance the Dean-as-centrist theme was Dean’s simultaneous unveiling of his new team of national-security advisers Monday.
Any governor running for president faces the accusation that he lacks enough familiarity with foreign policy, so collecting highly regarded advisers is seen as an important inoculation against the charge of “inexperience.” By the time voters went to the polls in 2000, George W. Bush’s campaign had touted the presence of Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Richard Armitage, Richard Perle, George Shultz, Paul Wolfowitz, and Robert B. Zoellick on his team.
Now it is the former Vermont governor’s turn to show off the men and women most likely to staff national-security jobs in a Dean administration. At first glance, Dean appears to have refuted his reputation as a McGovernite, peacenik dove by assembling an all-star team of impressive titles and resumes–retired generals, former CIA directors, defense secretaries, national-security advisers. The gathered gaggle resembles a cast of a Tom Clancy novel.
But a closer look at Dean’s advisers reveals a less-than-sterling record. In fact, some of them had front-row seats for America’s worst foreign-policy missteps of the last 20 years. They’ve espoused controversial theories, flubbed basic facts, and allegedly let craven political calculations influence policy.
Before delving into the records of the Dean team, it is worth noting that any public figure opining on foreign policy is likely to write, at one point or another, something which looks wrongheaded or foolish in hindsight. But the past comments of Dean’s advisers suggest that the issues they’ve been wrong about–genocidal dictators and regimes, terrorist groups, the strategic goals of the nation’s enemies, American military needs–are likely to be the biggest challenges in the coming years, and have the gravest consequences for miscalculation.
‐Benjamin R. Barber is the Kekst Professor of Civil Society at the University of Maryland, author of Jihad Vs. McWorld, and an informal adviser to former President Bill Clinton.
Barber has just published a book called Fear’s Empire, which charges that the Bush administration’s approach to the war on terror “could lead to generations of increased terrorism while contributing to a bunker mentality of fear back at home.”
As the Baltimore City Paper put it in a profile of the author, “In Barber’s vivid portrayal of Bush’s America, parents engage in ‘quasi-hysterical behavior’ such as ‘wrapping their suburban homes in plastic sheeting’ and are afraid to send their children to school; citizens are ‘fretful spectators’ who ‘anxiously watch their own government’s color-coded signals announcing today’s level of risk to determine how safe they are supposed to feel’. Voters are parrots of a violent patriotism: ‘While the world trembles, Americans release their own cold fear in shivers of applause for a militant Americanism punctured by ‘USA! USA!’”
When an academic’s view of American daily life is so wildly off-the mark, should his assessments of life in foreign countries be more trusted?
Barber’s extensive public commentary also bristles with comments that will probably strike voters as unusual. He insists that “the global spread of markets and democracy is a principal, aggravating cause of group hatred and ethnic violence throughout the non-Western world.” He contends that “democracy always fails when it is imposed from the outside.” (Ahem, Japan, Germany, and South Korea.)
“When the president first announced after 9/11 that he intended to hold responsible any states that harbored terrorists, I was deeply worried,” Barber said in a speech to the Carnegie Council. “The notion that you can hold responsible for terrorist acts states that may harbor them is in its simplest form a category mistake.” Later he added, “Some of the tensions between religion and state are healthy. But they must be negotiated on a constant basis. We see Islamic societies today that have negotiated it well–Bangladesh, Iran, Morocco, and Turkey.”
There are probably some Iranians who would disagree with that assessment.
‐Morton H. Halperin is the very definition of a Democratic-party foreign-policy veteran. He quit his job on the National Security Council staff to protest the 1970 U.S. invasion of Cambodia, and spent the following decades criticizing the Vietnam War, advocating deep cuts in nuclear weapons and opposing covert military operations abroad.
In 1976, Halperin wrote, “In the final analysis, covert actions by the CIA undermine our democracy because they are an inherently criminal enterprises” and that “Covert action and spies should be banned.” During the 1980s that the Soviet posture in Europe was “defensive and deterrent.”
He said he had changed his mind on those subjects during congressional hearings on his nomination as President Clinton’s assistant secretary of defense for peacekeeping and democracy, a position the new president created for Halperin in 1993. The nomination turned into one of the toughest policy brawls of the early Clinton years.
An Army official alleged in the Washington Times that Halperin and other aides to Secretary of Defense Les Aspin opposed the U.S. military’s request for heavy armor in Somalia because they feared it “would appear too offensive-oriented.” Halperin and Aspin denied the allegation.
Also during his confirmation hearing, Halperin denied ever suggesting that he supported giving the U.N. control over U.S. military assets. But Sen. John McCain quickly found a Halperin article from the summer 1993 edition of Foreign Policy: “The United States should explicitly surrender the right to intervene unilaterally in the internal affairs of other countries by overt military means or by covert operations. Such self-restraint would bar interventions like those in Grenada and Panama, unless the United States first gained the explicit consent of the international community acting through the Security Council or a regional organization.”
After a lengthy and nasty series of confirmation hearings, Halperin withdrew his nomination.
‐Elisa D. Harris is former director for Nonproliferation and Export Controls on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration. One of her specialties is bioterrorism, and she has written extensively about how to deal with that threat, and suggested many noncontroversial policy changes.
But one of her suggestions is to give the United Nations veto power over America’s research into biological weapons.
“Unfortunately, only institutions that receive National Institutes of Health funding for biotechnology research are required to follow the institutes’ oversight rules,” she wrote in the International Herald Tribune earlier this month. “This means that most of the relevant research in private industry, or in government biodefense laboratories, which the National Academy of Sciences singled out as posing particular dual-use problems, would not be covered by the new oversight rules. It also means that experiments of concern in other countries would be exempt from oversight unless their work was being funded by the institutes… This suggests the need for a more robust response, one that is comprehensive, mandatory and applies uniformly on a global scale.”
Harris continues, “Under a global oversight system, participating governments would be required to establish review bodies to oversee and approve relevant research activities. No institution–whether academic, corporate or government–would be exempt from these oversight requirements. Participating countries would also be required to submit especially dangerous research activities to an international review body for approval.”
Perhaps Dean’s highest-profile consultant appears to be Anthony Lake, who served as President Clinton’s national-security adviser. His years in that position earned him his share of critics, including Jacob Heilbrunn of The New Republic:
“Lake’s view of the world, decisively shaped by the central event of his young adulthood, the Vietnam War, is rooted in moral ambiguity and ambivalence. From Cambodia to the Soviet Union, from Bosnia to the Middle East, Lake’s career-long penchant has been to evade unpleasant realities and elide the differences imposed by clear moral choices.”
“Lake’s ambivalence about confronting American enemies abroad was not confined to Bosnia,” Heilbrunn continued. “It also manifested itself toward Islamic fundamentalists in the Middle East and North Africa. [In an article published in Foreign Affairs in 1994,] Lake singled out economic misery and the exclusion of militants from the political sphere as the causes of terrorism. The hope was to reach an accommodation with the rebels in the event they came to power. The Clinton Administration’s brief flirtation with the Islamic Salvation Front not only threw Algeria into a panic, but Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well.”
The most direct military experience on Dean’s team comes from retired Air Force Chief of Staff Merrill McPeak. However, some of McPeak’s statements indicate a lack of foresight. He was quoted in Time’s June 5, 1995 issue as saying, “We should walk away from the two-war strategy. Neither our historical experience nor our common sense leads us to think we need to do this. We’ve had to fight three major regional contingencies in the past 45 years. One comes along every 15 years or so–two have never come along simultaneously…. If you come down to 1 million troops you can do one war, be ready to do it and be modernized to do it.”
The Time article added, “McPeak acknowledges that the Clinton administration’s shaky relations with the military make it unlikely that this administration would push to replace the two-war strategy with a more modest pledge, although the Pentagon’s civilian leaders quietly suggested it two years ago. ‘They got their shins kicked,’ says McPeak. ‘It has to be a hard-line guy who says, ‘This is silly.’”
Well, of course: Silly to think the United States could ever need to fight two enemies simultaneously.
Finally, Dean’s team includes Susan E. Rice, former special assistant to President Clinton for national-security affairs and assistant secretary of state for African affairs. Conservatives and hawks might have a natural inclination for a female African-American national-security specialist named Rice. But it’s unlikely that Condoleezza Rice would ever utter words considering the domestic political effect of ignoring genocide. As Samantha Power wrote in the September 2001 issue of The Atlantic Monthly:
At an interagency teleconference in late April, Susan Rice, a rising star on the NSC who worked under Richard Clarke, stunned a few of the officials present when she asked, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?” Lieutenant Colonel Tony Marley remembers the incredulity of his colleagues at the State Department. “We could believe that people would wonder that,” he says, “but not that they would actually voice it.”
Rice does not recall the incident but concedes, “If I said it, it was completely inappropriate, as well as irrelevant.”
As one examines the theories, statements, records, and decisions of the men and women who would have Dean’s ear, it’s worth noting that one can read too much into a presidential candidate’s advisers. The unfortunately named Stan Crock wrote in BusinessWeek on August 14, 2000 that “Since his son has enlisted many of his dad’s foreign-policy advisers, including Richard B. Cheney, Colin L. Powell, and Condoleezza Rice–and will no doubt get an earful from his dad–it’s a good bet a Bush II administration would take a similar pragmatic approach.” Whoops.
But somehow, one gets the sense that the views of the advisers aren’t too far from the views of Dean himself.
–Jim Geraghty, a reporter with States News Service, is a frequent contributor to NRO.