(HOST) The Democratic party victories in Tuesday’s elections were certain to have some impact on future American foreign policy. But as commentator Barrie Dunsmore tells us this morning, that impact may now be greater than might have first been imagined.
(DUNSMORE) The vice-like grip that Dick Cheney has held over virtually all aspects of American foreign policy may have been broken. In asking for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation, President George W. Bush made the first major decision of his presidency that ran counter to Cheney’s known advice. That could significantly marginalize the once most powerful vice president in history. What’s more, by choosing Robert Gates to replace Rumsfeld, Bush signaled a major shift away from the neo-conservative ideologues who have set the agenda for most of his presidency.
Gates was CIA Director under President Bush’s father. He is a protege of Brent Scowcroft who was the father’s national security advisor. Gates is also a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group that is expected to soon propose new approaches to Iraq. That commission is co-chaired by James Baker, the father’s secretary of state.
Now bear in mind that Bush the father, Scowcroft, Gates and Baker are the very men Cheney and Rumsfeld and their neo-con acolytes dismissed as internationalist wimps who preferred negotiations and diplomacy over the use of raw military power. However, now at the nadir of his power and with his foreign policy in shambles, Mr. Bush has apparently given up on his neo-cons and is embracing former members of his fathers cabinet. This is a major about face, with important implications for future American policy.
It was after all, the neo-cons who inspired the Bush Doctrine which the president first presented in a speech to the graduating class of West Point in June 2002. Under that doctrine, America has the right to pre-emptively attack potential aggressors before they attack the U.S. This was a major departure from the policies of deterrence and containment that had been the bedrock of American policy for more than half a century. It also formed the basis for the invasion of Iraq.
The neo cons also brought us a more muscular foreign policy – based on the argument that as the sole remaining super-power America should not be shy about using its military might to achieve political goals unilaterally if necessary.
The neo-cons held the United Nations and its institutions in contempt. And they made the dubious legal case that enemy combatants in the War on Terror did not enjoy the protection of the Geneva Conventions. Thus, they created the conditions for the torture of prisoners in overseas CIA prisons, at Guantanamo and in Abu Ghraib.
And it was the neo-cons who claimed negotiating with your enemies was a sign of weakness and a form of appeasement – leaving America with no way short of war to deal with the growing nuclear threats of North Korea and Iran.
If indeed President Bush has truly rejected the toxic influence of these people and if he is finally willing to embrace the realist policies of his father and his team – that just might open the way to finding an acceptable bi-partisan formula to extricate this country from the growing tragedy of Iraq.
Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.