Bush may be sincere.
But one is known by the company one keeps...
THE RATPACK IS BACK
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has completed her European reconnaissance patrol, and now President George W. Bush is leading the main attack on Europeans reluctant to follow American leadership. Both Ms. Rice and Mr. Bush urge their European counterparts to put their differences on Iraq behind them and, relying on their common Western heritage, join the crusade to spread freedom and democracy throughout the world.
Polite applause has greeted their appearances, and there has been, of course, unanimity on the desirability of freedom and democracy for all. Who can be against something as trans-Atlantic as motherhood, apple pie and "freedom fries"?
It is undeniable that the re-elected Bush is, if not exactly humbled by the way his Iraq adventure has played out, came to Europe somewhat chastened. No longer the ultimate unilateralist, he acknowledges that the US cannot go it alone. Sure, we have differences on such matters as Iran's nuclear power program and arms sales to China, but America needs Europe; we need each other. Such noises are, of course, pleasant to the ears of French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who not many months ago were being denigrated by members of the Bush administration in most undiplomatic terms. But that was then, Rice and Bush protest, and this is now. Forgive, forget, and move on.
Leaving aside the question of to what specific destinations the chastened Americans and forgiving Europeans should move on and how they should get there, surely European leaders and their men and women in the street (some of them there protesting Bush's presence) must have noticed that for all the talk of change and new relationships, there has been little change of personnel in the Bush administration. Rumsfeld remains as Secretary of Defense, as truculent as ever. Colin Powell, regarded by Europeans as one of the few relatively sane American foreign policy leaders, has been replaced by Ms. Rice, whose tenure as National Security Advisor, was not remarkable for much besides ignoring 9/11 intelligence warnings, dissembling about that, and whole-hearted support for the most extreme neocon foreign policy positions. Since leopards do not easily change spots, one cannot blame the Europeans if they take the new Bush pronouncements with a few grains of salt.
Certainly, Europeans, as well as American citizens, who have opposed the direction and style of US foreign policy since Bush entered the White House, have more reason to doubt that there will be any amelioration when they consider the prominence in the Bush administration of individuals who played key roles in the Iran-contra scandal of the 1980s. These are John D. Negroponte, US ambassador to Iraq and prior to that US ambassador to the United Nations, who has just been nominated to the newly created post of National Director of Intelligence; Otto Reich, Cuban-American activist, who, in the 1980s, headed the Office of Public Diplomacy, an illegal domestic propaganda unit in the Department of State, resigned as Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs but remains close to the administration, and Elliott Abrams who held Reich's post in the 1980s and was convicted of lying about his illegal contra money-raising. Abrams is a leading neocon supporter of Israel and promoter of US opposition to Islamic nations. Since 2002 he has been the National Security Council Director of Near East and North African Affairs and recently Bush named him head of the Global Democracy Strategy Office.
All three are known public prevaricators. Negroponte, ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s has consistently denied the existence of government death squads in that country. At the UN he delivered false evidence to discredit UN weapons inspectors and justify the invasion. In Iraq he bears responsibility for US misinformation activities, arguably forgivable as wartime tactics. While veracity is not his strong suit, subservience to executive policy demands apparently is.
Europeans, skeptical about the honesty of US intelligence since the failure to find Iraq's WMDs or the Saddam-al Quaeda connection, are disturbed by Negroponte's selection. Indeed, Americans looking for an intelligence system that will "speak truth to power" and not merely provide rationalization for policy decisions are also dismayed..
As to Otto Reich, the US ringmaster of the Venezuelan golpe de estado that briefly toppled the elected government of populist Hugo Chavez in 2003, what does his continuing influence say about Bush's crusade for global freedom and democracy?
This question is even more pertinent when considering the designation of Abrams as head of the Global Democracy Strategy Office.
Bush may be sincere, but one is known by the company one keeps. The return of the Iran-contra ratpack does give one pause.
A notice for our German readers: