Rifts Widen in Bush's Foreign Policy Team ; Backers of Powell's Multilateralism Clash with Go-It-Alone Conservatives over the Administration's Direction

By Howard LaFranchi writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 17, 2004 | Go to article overview

Rifts Widen in Bush's Foreign Policy Team ; Backers of Powell's Multilateralism Clash with Go-It-Alone Conservatives over the Administration's Direction


Howard LaFranchi writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


When it comes to Iraq, the Bush administration's foreign policy team is speaking with one voice: All the players are saying that despite faulty prewar intelligence, the president's decision to go to war was right.

But behind the unanimity is dissonance in tones and forcefulness that suggests the deeper differences that have been part of the Bush foreign policy since the beginning. The failure to see eye to eye extends to the so-called Bush doctrine of preemptive war - one of the administration's defining policies - and reaches to the president's top foreign-policy players.

The continuing differences have only added to President Bush's woes as the White House has grappled with questions of whether what the administration knew about Iraq justified a war. But the bigger issue, some experts say, is what the differences suggest about the administration's ability to confront continuing problems, like North Korea and Iran, especially as Bush enters a battle for reelection.

With key members of the Bush foreign policy team expected to leave their posts at the end of the term - including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell - some are trying to set the record straight on the role they've played. They are also, clearly, trying to shape the direction things might go in a second term.

"Perhaps a second term would resolve things, but right now there continues to be a very fundamental disagreement," says Karl Inderfurth, a Clinton administration State Department official now at George Washington University. The highly visible rift is between elements "led by the vice-president, the secretary of defense, and his deputy, who hold to a notion of America's unique right to unfettered action, and others, allied with Secretary Powell, who continue to argue for an emphasis on what he has called a 'strategy of partnership' with the international community."

Mr. Inderfurth says that two recent comments typify the internal differences. At a closely watched security conference in Munich last week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in a spirited defense of the administration's national security strategy that "the higher the risk and the danger, the lower the threshold for action."

Also in recent days, Mr. Powell - who revealed in a Washington Post interview that he might have recommended differently on going to war with Iraq if he knew a year ago what's known now - has preferred to stress that Bush is not looking to respond to threats with force "if there are other ways to solve the problem."

"Here you have the two most prominent cabinet officials," says Inderfurth, "one hyping preemptive action and the other playing it down."

Some observers say the differences, played out in public, hurt the president - especially with Americans paying more attention to foreign-policy questions because of the 100,000 US soldiers in Iraq. …

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