"The Bush Administration Is Pursuing a Neoconservative Foreign Policy"
If only it were true! The influence of the neoconservative movement (with which I am often associated) supposedly comes from its agents embedded within the U.S. government. The usual suspects are Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense; Douglas Feith, under secretary of defense for policy; Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff; Elliott Abrams, the National Security Council staffer for Near East, Southwest Asian, and North African Affairs; and Richard Perle, a member of the Defense Policy Board. Each of these policymakers has been an outspoken advocate for aggressive and, if necessary, unilateral action by the United States to promote democracy, human rights, and free markets and to maintain U.S. primacy around the world.
While this list seems impressive, it also reveals that the neocons have no representatives in the administration’s top tier. President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice: Not a neocon among them. Powell might be best described as a liberal internationalist; the others are traditional national-interest conservatives who, during Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign, derided the Clinton administration for its focus on nation building and human rights. Most of them were highly skeptical of the interventions in the Balkans that neocons championed.
The contention that the neocon faction gained the upper hand in the White House has a superficial plausibility because the Bush administration toppled Saddam Hussein and embraced democracy promotion in the Middle East -- both policies long urged by neocons (though not only by neocons) and opposed by self-styled “realists”, who believe in fostering stability above all. But the administration has adopted these policies not because of the impact of the neocons but because of the impact of the four airplanes hijacked on September 11, 2001. Following the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, Bush realized the United States no longer could afford a “humble” foreign policy. The ambitious National Security Strategy that the administration issued in September 2002 -- with its call for U.S. primacy, the promotion of democracy, and vigorous action, preemptive if necessary, to stop terrorism and weapons proliferation -- was a quintessentially neoconservative document.
Yet the triumph of neoconservatism was hardly permanent or complete. The administration so far has not adopted neocon arguments to push for regime change in North Korea and Iran. Bush has cooled on the “axis of evil” talk and has launched negotiations with the regime in North Korea. The president has also established friendlier relations with Communist China than many neocons would like, and he launched a high-profile effort to promote a “road map” for settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that most neocons (correctly) predicted would lead nowhere.