The next Bush administration (part one)

Restructuring foreign policy management

The next Bush administration (part one)

By Quentin Langley

Dateline 24 July 2004

The vacancy at the head of the CIA means that now is a suitable time to consider what the international team will look like in a future Bush administration. While it must be tempting to fill the post immediately, many of the best external candidates are unlikely to quit current roles for what might prove a temporary appointment. Appointing a candidate already serving in the administration would create consequent vacancies which would be just as hard to fill. Better to see this as part of the general restructuring of the administration which will take place between November and January, if Bush is re-elected.

The international policy team consists of powerful individuals operating a robust management structure, but it is likely, nonetheless, that there will be changes. It is almost unheard of for any Secretary of State to serve two full terms, and Powell has already hinted that he is planning to move on from Foggy Bottom. Critics have called for Dick Cheney to be replaced, though conservatives love him. Most commentators assume that Condoleeza Rice will be promoted.

Republicans have already invested a lot in the Bush-Cheney brand, and there would be costs in replacing the veep at this fairly late stage. Democrats would claim they had won his scalp and that Bush was running scared. Conservatives could be left disillusioned by any move which seemed to downgrade their hero. On the other hand, the strength which Cheney brought to the ticket in 2000 – Washington experience to balance the then governor’s weakness – is no longer needed. And Cheney’s name has little value in pulling in swing voters.

Legitimate questions have also been raised about Cheney’s health. There is no doubt that he is fit enough to continue in a key role in the administration and it is certain that he will do so. But the Vice-Presidency is a commitment for four years, and he might well prefer a role that allowed an easier exit, a few years down the line, if his health demanded it. Whatever post he occupies, he is sure to continue to be the principal spokesman for the neo-conservative view and will keep exercising considerable influence with the President.

The best role for him is undoubtedly Director of the CIA. The Agency’s recent failings show it is in urgent need of reform. To carry through such changes, the new Director will need, the confidence of the President, as well as a strong background in both executive and legislative branches. Dick Cheney is that man.

That would enable the President’s most trusted advisor – Dr Rice – to move up to the Vice-Presidency. Such a shuffle, especially if kept secret until the last minute, would add a great deal of zest and excitement to what otherwise promises to be a rather tedious convention. The presence on the Republican ticket of a strong and articulate African-American voice would undermine the Democrat scare-mongering among minority communities. It would also, finally, get John Edwards to shut up about what a tough life he had growing up in South Carolina. At least he got to go to the white school.

Democrat strength right across the south depends on stirring up scare stories about “racists” in the Party of Lincoln. In most southern states around half Al Gore’s votes came from African-Americans, who turned out in record numbers in response to his deceptive, race-baiting, campaign.

To mobilise such an overwhelming proportion of the African-American vote, and to repeat that record turnout, in the face of the first credible ticket with an African-American on it would be beyond the propaganda powers of even the Democrats and their surrogate groups like the NAACP. Any significant dent in the Democrat lock on the black vote would hamstring the party’s chances in Florida, Ohio, Missouri and Arkansas, while moving it clearly onto the defensive in Pennsylvania and Michigan.

If Rice and Cheney move to different posts, they will continue to perform the same roles: Cheney the leading neo-con advocate, and Rice, the President’s most trusted policy analyst. But what of the other leading figures in the international team: Powell and Rumsfeld?

If, as expected, Powell departs from State, then a high quality candidate to replace him would be Senator Zell Miller, who is leaving the Senate in January. Rumsfeld may not serve through to 2009, but it would be better to keep him in post until things are more settled in Iraq. Which leaves a vacancy for National Security Advisor. The President likes to hear different viewpoints before selecting his strategy, and with Powell gone there will need to be someone else making the internationalist case. For that reason Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage would be a very strong contender for this post.

Copyright © Quentin Langley 24 July 2004

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