June 7, 2007

Of continuity and predictable parameters of policy

Is anyone really entertaining the thought that we can expect fundamental and sweeping changes to U.S. Foreign Policy post January 20, 2009?

It was a typical gathering of friends following a rather busy week. Good food and wine (a rich bodied South Australian Cabernet Sauvignon) dominated a discussion early on that is, until we were all too full to even think about let alone talk of cuisines and/or fitting reds. As we usually did, the conversation steered toward general current affairs issues including climate change, The Palestinian conflict, and world markets before finally being bogged down on Iraq question and American foreign policies. The comment was made that sometime soon - suggestive of a Republican loss following the next U.S. election – there will blanket changes. Blanket? I think to myself, now there's some mistaken conjecture ...

I could not help but argue that, apart from the fact that we cannot yet determine who may win in 2008, we should not expect any radical changes to the U.S. position in relation to Iraq or foreign policy regardless of which political party wins.

Now I feel compelled to add that this blog does not favour any specific political forces nor do I claim sufficient knowledge about America’s internal domestic issues to adjudicate accurately at any rate. Ultimately, nations and commentators should refrain from attempting to read into U.S. policy particularly so, in relation to their domestic debate about Iraq as a way of pre-empting there own policies. In the absence of any specific scholarly qualifications however, I firmly believe that the American population would not endorse a precipitous withdrawal that may lead to chaos in Iraq. Even if my acquaintances were correct about a changes in government, there will not be any radical differences to U.S. policy apart from changes to foreign policy and military personnel who may be predisposed to being traditionalists (as opposed to transformationalists), pragmatists (as opposed to neocons) and internationalists (as opposed to unilateralists). Incidentally, the latter may occur in spite of which political forces seize power.

Once again, even with the inclusion of “national security realists”, can we really expect fundamental change? NO! If anything, for reasons of continuity within the U.S. political system and administrations. Has it occurred to anyone that, in terms of foreign policy staff, just about every administration since the seventies has contributed to every succeeding administration and including that of the current one under George W. Bush?

Consider that Gerald Ford’s chief of staff was Donald Rumsfeld who in turn hired Dick Cheney to be his assistant. Ford’s Director of Central Intelligence was George Bush Senior and, as part of the team, there was Brent Scowcroft who would one day become Condoleezza Rice’s mentor. Then there was a certain Stephen Hadley who also worked for Scowcroft and interestingly, Hadley would eventually succeed Condoleezza Rice as national security advisor. Ronald Reagan presidency elevated the career of a rising military talent in Colin Powell who would eventually become the 65th U.S. Secretary of State under George W. Bush. Now turning back to George Bush senior we note a team that included names as Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, Powell, Rice, and Richard Haass. It is also interesting to note that Scowcroft and Hadley take us back even further to the days of Henry Kissinger, as did a certain Anthony Lake, who would one day be national security advisor to Bill Clinton. Finally, by mentioning Kissinger we evoke the memory of Richard Nixon who appointed him as both national security advisor and secretary of state.

Is all this continuity of personnel a good or bad thing? There are probably two competing schools of thought, on one hand they are highly seasoned and talented individuals which is to the benefit of the U.S. and the world; would we really want the running of America to be left to untried inexperienced personnel? However, it does almost guarantee a sense of permanence and broad continuity of rhetoric, policy, and practice and this my friends, dispels any notion of fundamental change following a change of administration.

What do you think?

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