The Magazine

The Axis of Appeasement

From the August 26/September 2, 2002 issue: The State Department "breaks ranks" with the president.

Aug 26, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 47 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

"Leading Republicans from Congress, the State Department and past administrations have begun to break ranks with President Bush over his administration's high-profile planning for war with Iraq."

--New York Times, August 16, 2002

WAIT A MINUTE. "Leading Republicans from . . . the State Department . . . have begun to break ranks with President Bush"? Isn't the State Department part of the Bush administration? How can its "leading Republicans"--Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage--"break ranks" with the president they work for?

Let's be clear. President Bush's policy is regime change in Iraq. President Bush believes that regime change is most unlikely without military action. He considers the risks of inaction greater than the risks of preemption. No doubt he and his administration could have been doing a better job of making that case in a sustained and detailed way. But that is not why an axis of appeasement--stretching from Riyadh to Brussels to Foggy Bottom, from Howell Raines to Chuck Hagel to Brent Scowcroft--has now mobilized in a desperate effort to deflect the president from implementing his policy.

The appeasers don't want the president to do a better job of explaining his policy. They don't agree with his policy. They hate the idea of a morally grounded foreign policy that seeks aggressively and unapologetically to advance American principles around the world. Some, mostly abroad and on the domestic left, hate it because they're queasy about American principles. Some, mostly foreign policy "realists," hate it because they're appalled by the thought that the character of regimes is key to foreign policy. Some, cosmopolitan sophisticates of all stripes, hate talk of good and evil. Now they've come together in a last-gasp attempt to stop President Bush from setting American foreign policy on a course of moral clarity and global leadership.

The establishment fights most bitterly and dishonestly when it feels cornered and thinks it's about to lose. Churchill was attacked more viciously in 1938 and 1939 than earlier in the decade. So now the New York Times shamelessly mischaracterizes Henry Kissinger's endorsement of the president's policy as breaking ranks--when in fact it represents an acknowledgment by the most intellectually honest of the "realists" that realism, post 9/11, requires rethinking concepts like deterrence and preemption. And now Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska wanders into Pat Buchanan-land with his comment that "maybe [Richard] Perle would like to be in the first wave of those who go into Baghdad." And now Brent Scowcroft (writing in the Wall Street Journal) thinks that a persuasive casus belli would be "compelling evidence that Saddam had acquired nuclear weapons capability." But as Henry Kissinger said in a television interview last week, "if there is no action now, that means that we are saying, we will wait until these weapons are used and react to an actual provocation. That is going to produce, if it comes, horrendous casualties."

Reading the Scowcroft/New York Times "arguments" against war, one is struck by how laughably weak they are. European international-law wishfulness and full-blown Pat Buchanan isolationism are the two intellectually honest alternatives to the Bush Doctrine. Scowcroft and the Times wish to embrace neither, so they pretend instead to be terribly "concerned" with the administration's alleged failure to "make the case." Somehow, Vice President Cheney's fine speech in San Francisco on August 7, or Condoleezza Rice's superb August 15 interview with the BBC, to say nothing of Donald Rumsfeld's impressive press briefings and President Bush's strong statements--these don't count.

But of course the problem with the administration has nothing to do with Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, or Rice. The problem is with the leading Republican in the State Department. Where is Colin Powell? The secretary of state is the lead spokesman for American foreign policy. This secretary of state, because of his popularity at home and his stature abroad, could be particularly helpful if he were to join the president, the vice president, the national security adviser, and the defense secretary in making the case for the Bush Doctrine with respect to Iraq. Instead, he allows his top aides to tell the New York Times on background that he disagrees with the president and is desperately trying to restrain him. And according to the Washington Post's Jim Hoagland, he complains privately that his boss is uninterested in foreign policy. When told that previous secretaries of state had an hour alone every week to talk foreign policy with the president, Powell is reported to have asked, "But what would I do with the other 55 minutes?" Well, what he could do is spend those minutes figuring out how best to execute the president's policy--or he could step aside and let someone else do the job.

Colin Powell is an impressive man. He is loyally assisted by the able Richard Armitage. They are entitled to their foreign policy views. But they will soon have to decide whom they wish to serve--the president, or his opponents.

--William Kristol