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Jewish World Review April 25, 2003 / 23 Nisan, 5763

Seth Gitell

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Democratic presidential hopefuls will be facing the first election drenched in foreign-policy issues in over 20 years. Whom are they turning to for advice? | UNLIKE ANY OTHER presidential election since perhaps 1980 - when the handling of the hostage crisis in Iran was at the political forefront - the 2004 presidential race will be shaped by foreign policy. We know where the Republican candidate for president in 2004 - George W. Bush - stands on issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism, and North Korea. But even at this late date, the Democratic candidates' views, in detail, remain something of a mystery.

While hints can be gleaned from the candidates' formal remarks, such as US Senator John Kerry's January 21 address at Georgetown University (KERRY ACCUSES BUSH OF 'BLUSTERING UNILATERALISM,' reported the Associated Press) or US Representative Dick Gephardt's June 4 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations (GEPHARDT BACKS WAR ON TERROR; MILITARY ACTION TO END THREAT FROM HUSSEIN SUPPORTED, said the Washington Post headline), the real index of the candidates' views lies with their coteries of advisers. Last month, the Forward listed policy advisers to the Democratic presidential candidates; HARDLY A DOVE AMONG DEMS' BRAIN TRUSTERS, the story headline concluded.

Not that this should come as a surprise. Most of the policy advisers the Democratic presidential challengers are pumping for information were privy to the same high-level intelligence briefings that prompted former president Bill Clinton to launch air strikes against Iraq in 1998. " Go find somebody who was in the government in the last 10 years and had one classified briefing on this and is still unambiguously anti-war, " says Elaine Kamarck, a former senior policy adviser to Al Gore during his vice-presidency.

In greatest demand are the troika of leading foreign-policy officers during the Clinton years - former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, former national-security adviser Sandy Berger, and former United Nations ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Albright, who is in the midst of finishing up a memoir on her time at the State Department, has been in touch with Gephardt. Her influence is magnified because she has been hosting dinners for many of her former foreign-policy underlings, events that, taken together, some in Washington have labeled a " government-in-waiting. " But even this quasi-opposition government supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein. ( " I have all along supported the 'why' of the war, " Albright said at a speech in Texas last Thursday. " I did and do believe in regime change. But the question I've had is, could more have been done to get more help? " )

Berger, meanwhile, has been talking to both Gephardt and Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman. Like Albright, Berger supported the Bush administration's aims in Iraq, but opposed its methods. ( " I think some European leaders have used this politically. I think others have been more concerned about controlling the American Gulliver than the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, " Berger said on MSNBC March 6. " But I think on our side we've been dismissive of the allies. " )

As for Holbrooke - the only one of the three who is seen as lobbying to get back into government work, and who is talking to Lieberman, Kerry, and Gephardt - he believes the Bush administration was not only right to invade Iraq, but that it was too amenable to the international system. " The U.S.-led coalition now faces the prospect of undermining its 1441 triumph with a humiliating rejection of a second resolution that was not necessary, " wrote Holbrooke in the February 23 Washington Post, referring to the unanimous UN Security Council resolution passed last November that authorized a new round of weapons inspections and warned of " serious consequences " if Iraq failed to comply with the UN. " This would leave the clear impression that any military action that follows is in violation of the Security Council's will, rather than being derived logically from the long trail of Iraqi defiance. " Holbrooke, who helped organize the diplomatic effort that led to the 1999 Kosovo war, also helped coordinate North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) support for the action when the Clinton administration couldn't get UN support.

A considerable amount of interesting policy work takes place just below the level of the Albright-Berger-Holbrooke troika, however. The people to watch here occupy the generally anonymous lower level of officialdom. They're typically former assistant secretaries of state and defense, eager to get back into government at higher positions than they held before. (Think Paul Wolfowitz, who as a former undersecretary of defense under President George H.W. Bush went to Austin in 1999 to advise then-Texas governor George W. Bush on Kosovo policy and to bend his ear about the continuing dangers in Iraq. Wolfowitz, of course, was subsequently named deputy secretary of defense and is one of the chief architects of the war on Iraq.)

Indeed, to facilitate contact between Democratic politicians and foreign-policy specialists at this level, Mark Ginsburg, a former ambassador to Morocco under Clinton, founded the Alliance for American Leadership - with the backing of Albright and Berger. Made up mainly of Clinton-era foreign-policy aides, the group's aim is to devise Democratic approaches to issues such as the nation's response to terrorism and national security. It is expected that the fledgling group, begun last year, will come up with specific policies candidates can advance in their bids for the 2004 presidential nomination.

BEFORE GETTING into who's talking to whom, a caveat: long-time Washington presences like Kerry, Lieberman, and Gephardt (who is generally better known for his domestic-policy stances) are considered experts on the issues themselves. Take Kerry. He's been in the Senate since 1984, served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and chaired the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics, and International Operations (of which he is currently the ranking Democrat). He was considered, along with Holbrooke, a leading candidate for secretary of state had former vice-president Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election. So the names of his policy advisers don't tell us too much. That said, even Kerry is widening the circle of people he consults on foreign policy.

First, there's Harlan Ullman, author of the " Shock and Awe " concept employed by the Pentagon at the start of the war against Iraq, who shares Kerry's background as Naval veteran of the Vietnam War. And there's Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute (the think tank linked to the centrist-leaning Democratic Leadership Council), whom Kerry tapped to draft his January 21 Georgetown speech. He's also been in touch with Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign-policy studies at the Brookings Institution. O'Hanlon spoke out in favor of continued " containment " of Saddam Hussein in February 2001, but came out in support of Bush's Iraq policy after the president addressed the United Nations on September 12, 2002. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on October 2, 2002, O'Hanlon predicted between 1000 and 5000 American casualties in a war with Iraq.

Finally, Kerry has his own highly professional group of foreign-policy aides: Nancy Stetson, his chief foreign-policy aide; David McKean, his Senate chief of staff; and Jonathan Winer, his former staff counsel. Stetson is best known as an Asia expert and helped Kerry develop his policy on Vietnam. (Kerry and Arizona senator John McCain were part of the team that ushered in normalized relations with Vietnam.) Winer and McKean worked on Kerry's investigation into the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, an international bank implicated in money laundering and support for terrorism. That team helped contribute to Kerry's 1997 The New War: The Web of Crime That Threatens America's Security (Simon & Schuster).

Like Kerry, Gephardt, as the former House minority leader, has developed a degree of foreign-policy experience in his own right, having spent years routinely meeting with foreign leaders during his international travels. Gephardt has contacted O'Hanlon and his Brookings Institution colleague, James Steinberg, a former director of policy planning in the State Department. Steinberg has criticized Bush's diplomacy in the lead-up to the war. " At the end of the day, this president is talking through a framework that is his, " Steinberg told the New York Times on January 30. " The difficulty is that while Americans are not deeply uncomfortable with this way of thinking, it is not a perspective that other countries usually bring to foreign affairs. They are much more cynical about it. They see little good in the world, and therefore tend to see things as grayer, and in terms of interests, rather than right and wrong. " Gephardt also relies heavily on aide Brett O'Brien, who helped shape the then-House minority leader's position supporting the House resolution authorizing war with Iraq last fall.

For his part, Lieberman is a prominent expert on foreign policy. He authored the book The Scorpion and the Tarantula: The Struggle to Control Atomic Weapons, 1945-1949 (Houghton Mifflin) back in 1970 and has assumed leadership of the old hawkish wing of the Democratic Party, most synonymous with former Washington senator Henry M. " Scoop " Jackson. Lieberman's foreign-policy thinking, accordingly, tends to drift further to the right than that of other Democrats; during his run-up to the 2004 campaign, he's been in contact with a mix of conventional and conservative thinkers. In the more conventional category are Leon Fuerth, who served as national-security adviser to vice-president Al Gore, and Ken Pollack, a former NSC staffer during the Clinton administration and now a senior Brookings Institution fellow who is the author of the recently published and much-discussed The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (Random House).

In Lieberman's unconventional camp of advisers are neoconservatives like Robert Kagan, author of Of Paradise and Power: American vs. Europe in the New World Order (Knopf, 2003); Eliot Cohen, director of the Strategic Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and author of Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime (Free Press, 2002); and Andrew Krepinevich, executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. There's no mystery about where Kagan and Cohen stand on Iraq. Both are listed as honorary chairmen, along with Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, of the not-for-profit Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Krepinevich, who has co-written articles with Cohen in the past, is known more as a military defense expert - he is frequently quoted as a military analyst and advocate for increased defense budgets - than as a student of foreign policy.

The two relative wild cards in the Democratic-challenger camp - at least as far as foreign policy is concerned - are US Senator John Edwards and former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Edwards, who is running for president before his first term as senator is even up, hasn't been in Washington long enough to have established a presence in foreign policy. He is talking with Richard Gardner, a corporate lawyer who served as Jimmy Carter's ambassador to Italy and Bill Clinton's ambassador to Spain. Gardner, who also worked at the State Department during the Kennedy administration with then-UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson, is also talking with potential Democratic presidential candidate and Florida senator Bob Graham; he emphasizes that his relationship with Edwards is not exclusive. " The central issue today in our foreign policy is to provide legitimacy for America's leadership, " says Gardner, who notes that he would have justified the invasion of Iraq as an extension of existing UN resolutions 678 and 687, which govern the agreement ending the 1991 Gulf War. " This group in Washington, there's no doubt it knows how to fight a war, but it doesn't know how to make alliances. " Gardner suggests that the ill will harbored by the rest of the world toward the US will impede America's ability to rebuild Iraq and achieve any of the broader goals of the war. " What is our plan for the rebuilding of Iraq? Is it going to be run by the Defense Department or are we going to involve the world? "

As the former governor of a small New England state, Dean's foreign-policy experience is nearly nil. You have to look to some of the candidate's personal experiences to understand where he might be coming from. Last year, Dean traveled to Laos to visit the grave of his brother, Charles, who was killed in 1974 by communist rebels. Meanwhile, Dean's campaign is trying to keep a tight lid on the names of those advising him on foreign policy. On April 9, he spoke before the Alliance for American Leadership (AAL), in hopes of winning some advisers for his campaign. Even so, Danny Sebright, a former undersecretary of policy at the Department of Defense from 1995 to 2001 who helped coordinate the first months of US response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, tells the Phoenix that he has been coordinating meetings between Dean and other policy experts, whom he will not name. Sebright also hosted a lunch for Dean at Washington's Palm Restaurant during the national conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in March.

" I was immediately taken with Dean and his message, " says Sebright. Interestingly, Dean, who wowed delegates to the Democratic State Party convention in California and attendees at national meetings for the Democratic National Committee in Washington in February with his anti-war rhetoric, used Wednesday's forum with AAL to talk tough: he would permit neither Iran nor North Korea to develop nuclear-weapons programs.

THE APPARENT gap between Dean's public anti-war stance and his private hawkishness is symbolic of the policy divide between Democratic-establishment types like Albright, Berger, and Holbrooke, and the Democratic base of activists who work the primaries. It's a problem that can be papered over, or even ignored, during most presidential campaigns. But not in 2004.

Heather Hurlburt, a former Albright speechwriter, wrote in a November 2002 piece for the Washington Monthly that the dovish members of the Democratic Party will damage the party's viability in the future: " We will never ... regain credibility with voters on national security until we learn to think straight about war, " she wrote. " And we will never learn to think straight about war until this generation of professional Democrats overcomes its ignorance of and indifference to military affairs. "

The dovish base that turns out for primary elections is not the only thing Democrats running for president next year have to worry about. They also have to deal with the simple-minded Talk Showteriat, which flatly ignores the complex subtleties that underlie international diplomacy. Already radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC, and Jay Severin, locally, are calling for retribution against those Democrats who expressed criticism of Bush. Kerry's call for " regime change " in Washington, DC, for instance, sparked an overheated, overwrought outcry from the GOP (see " Do As I Say ..., " This Just In, April 11).

So what should the Democrats do? Well, they have no choice but to return to their roots. And there is, in fact, a common doctrine by which most prominent Democrats appear to abide. Hurlburt terms it " advanced democracy internationalism. " The idea holds that the US should work as much as possible through the United Nations, or at least through multilateral alliances. If this is one of the foundations of the Democratic approach to foreign policy, then they have to promote it. They might even make a virtue of it.

Regardless of who becomes the Democratic presidential nominee, one foreign-policy issue that will come up repeatedly in the campaign is that the Bush Doctrine of pre-emptive war is fundamentally dangerous. American voters might be happy with the results of the war in Iraq. But they may be apprehensive about the doctrine's sweeping nature. Do Americans really want carte blanche to strike at Syria, Iran, and North Korea? Do they have the stomach for it? " There's no legal basis for saying we reserve the right to go to war with any country that might threaten us in the future, " says Gardner. " When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, they used a similar argument. "

Then, there is North Korea. So far the Bush administration's approach has been to talk tough and refuse one-on-one contacts with North Korea. The problem with this hard-edged stance is that the administration can't back it up with force. Defense-policy experts estimate that North Korea would be able to lay waste to South Korea's capital, Seoul, and to the contingent of US troops now stationed there almost instantaneously, were the US to launch a pre-emptive air strike against North Korea's nuclear-weapons plant similar to the one Israel deployed against Iraq more than two decades ago. The Democrats, particularly Albright, may be at fault for forging a 1994 agreement with the North Koreans, which the North Koreans secretly subverted. But military action - while an option - means much more bloodshed than what we just saw in Iraq.

Indeed, the situation in North Korea presents a good example of just what kinds of opportunities and obstacles the Democrats face in the realm of foreign policy. Last week, the North Koreans indicated they might be willing to engage in multilateral discussions of the sort called for by the Bush administration. The Democrats can certainly co-opt this issue. Who, after all, is more in favor of multilateral engagement? The Democrats or the Republicans? Even so, this approach to foreign policy, while coherent, requires much more explaining than the Bush Doctrine's with-us-or-against-us manner of conducting business in the world.

We've already seen what kinds problems lie in store for those who promote multilateralism. During much of the debate in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Kerry urged that something should be done to disarm Hussein, but that it was imperative to undertake such action through existing international structures and in concert with other nations. It was a complicated, wordy position that drew Kerry much criticism .

Bush's position, by contrast, which can be easily faulted as too simplistic, is readily understood by more people. None of the Democrats has been able to devise a set of foreign-policy precepts as easily digestible as Bush's. An anti-war candidate, such as Dean, could counter with an equally clear opposing vision. But then he would be open to the charge that he isn't serious about national security. Even Dean himself - with the assistance of Sebright - is trying to combat that perception.

Going into the next presidential-election cycle, David Halberstam's characterization of the foreign-policy establishment encountered by President John F. Kennedy in 1960 comes immediately to mind. " It feared the right ... it feared the left; it held what was proclaimed to be the center. " If the Democrats are wise, this is what they'll do to defeat Bush and his contingent of hawkish policy advisers in 2004.

JWR contributor Seth Gitell is the political writer of the Boston Phoenix Comment by clicking here.

04/25/03: What a German Conservative Has to Say about Terrorism
04/16/03: On to Syria?
04/11/03: US must help Iraq achieve a democratic government which poses a threat neither to its own people nor to its neighbors in the region --- - what Michael Kelly would have wanted
04/04/03: Fighting house to house
03/21/03: After the war Will Bush's promise of democracy for Iraq be kept?
03/12/03: The North Korean hawks are missing the big picture
02/21/03: Urban fight: Military takes lessons from Mogadishu, Chechnya, Jenin
02/13/03: Imagine that, Bin Laden not listening to Chris Matthews!
02/06/03: Powell's powerful presentation
02/05/03: Making the case that Saddam Hussein is linked with Al Qaeda
01/31/03: Gen. Schwarzkopf is against going to war with Iraq. Since he messed things up so bad the first time around, why is anyone listening to him now?
01/24/03: Cynthia McKinney for president
01/16/03: The Sharpton test
01/13/03: Lieberman is in a pickle --- and it's becoming increasingly more sour
12/26/02: Where does the war on terror go from here?
12/23/02: Why democracy never came to Iraq after the last Gulf War
12/20/02: Vermont governor Howard Dean hopes to bridge the gulf between New England and the Western states, and bypass the socially conservative South. Should John Kerry be worried?
12/18/02: No Gore 2004: Follow the Money
12/06/02: Gore, like Dicken's Jacob Marley, Dead as a Door-nail
10/24/02: War with Iraq may not happen, after all
10/22/02: Winning European hearts and minds
10/18/02: Lieberman makes 'em laugh --- on purpose
10/04/02: Hawking an interpretation (in which Scott Ritter tells our columnist to 'go to H-LL!')
09/13/02: Bush Challenge to U.N. Members: Are You Better than League of Nations?
09/06/02: Iraq attack: Ritter's reversal
08/30/02: Stick with comedy, Jon Stewart
08/16/02: Green around the gills: Nader Effect could cost the Dems the election in three states
08/01/02: Gore's low profile is no accident
07/31/02: President Hillary? Despite her denials, candidacy is not that unlikely
07/26/02: On the road with John Kerry
07/17/02: Meet the 'Clinton' of the 2004 New Hampshire primary
07/12/02: Ancient rivalry: Williams vs. DiMaggio
07/10/02: Warrior spirit
05/08/02: Hosting a TV show will keep Clinton off the streets
04/26/02: Truth in advertising in SaudiLand --- and ours
02/28/02: Time for hipsters to do a reality-check

© 2002, Seth Gitell