Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bush's Father Exerts His Influence
Bush's Father Exerts His Influence
Cheney and Rumsfeld are on the outs. Scowcroft, Baker and Gates are in. Can they get America out of Iraq?
By Howard Fineman

Nov. 8, 2006 - President George W. Bush's Iraq policy is now in the political equivalent of receivership—a bankrupt project that is about to be placed in the hands of the worldly-wise pragmatists who surrounded the president's own father. Think of them as receivers in bankruptcy, looking for ways to salvage America's military and moral assets after a post-September 11 adventure that voters (and most of the rest of the world) concluded was a waste of blood and treasure.

Here's another analogy: the Shakespeare histories and tragedies in which battlefield mayhem ends with a restoration of order in the person of the Respected Nobles. In this case, these are the old royals from the Castle of Bush the First: a coterie of commercially minded globalists (as opposed to those ideologically minded globalists, the neocons) who have spent their lives as advisers and friends of former president George Herbert Walker Bush.

The man who is about to be isolated in the White House is not the president, but Vice President Dick Cheney—the last neocon left. Elbowing him aside now, as Donald Rumsfeld departs the scene, are people such as former secretary of State James A. Baker III and now—as Rumsfeld's replacement at the Department of Defense—former CIA director Robert M. Gates. They are loyal liegemen of Bush 41, and they bring to an analysis of Iraq decades worth of diplomatic and intelligence-community experience. They come from and inhabit a world of gray, not the black-and-white universe of good and evil that Bush 43 has occupied for years, especially since 9/11.

In a sense, the whole story of the internal conflict leading up to the war in Iraq, and a good bit of the backbiting since, has been about a subterranean and never-ending war between the Old Boys of the CIA and the State Department (the "pragmatists" for want of a better term) and the White House and Defense Department "Vulcans." The pragmatists believe in commerce above all, and in an America that survives through the cold-eyed view that our country has no permanent enemies and no permanent friends—only permanent interests.

Now they are in charge, having been handed one of the biggest military, diplomatic and public-relations messes in recent American history. Gates and Baker—and other pragmatists such as Brent Scowcroft—have been called in over the objections of Vice President Cheney.

He knew what the arrival of Gates and the Old Boys means. It means that the pragmatists have won the battle for the president's attention. Now let's see how the president responds, and what, together with the Democrats, they can do about Iraq.