Jeffrey Goldberg has written a critique in The New Yorker of the Bush White House that equals Ron Suskind’s devastating critique of Bush before the last election titled “Without a Doubt.”
In “Breaking Ranks: What Turned Brent Scowcroft Against the Bush Administration?”, Jeffrey Goldberg coaxes Brent Scowcroft to delineate his differences with the foreign policy proclivities of George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Cheney, and others.
And in the piece, George H.W. Bush is interviewed about Scowcroft — and while Bush 41’s comments are more elliptical, he stands clearly by Scowcroft’s side in clear criticism of the decisions his son made.
This critique by Scowcroft hardens the foundation of critique that others have recently put in place — particularly from Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former State Department Chief of Staff under Colin Powell who spoke at the New America Foundation last Wednesday. Wilkerson’s remarks have swept like wildfire through the media and are the subject of a Richard Holbrooke article today in the New York Times and also a core column of discussion on this morning’s “Meet the Press.”
Jeffrey Goldberg’s article is a devastating, serious critique of George W. Bush’s foreign policy and national security team.
I have read the entire article — which I recommend that TWN readers access as quickly as possible. I don’t believe that The New Yorker provides links to articles, but buy this magazine. . .it’s way, way, way worth it.
I am going to provide some longish excerpts to give insight into some of the most intriguing and useful commentary.
From “Breaking Ranks: What Turned Brent Scowcroft Against the Bush Administration?”, Jeffrey Goldberg, The New Yorker, 31 October 2005
Scowcroft on Iraq and Neocon Idealism
A principal reason that the Bush Administration gave no thought to unseating Saddam was that Brent Scowcroft gave no thought to it. An American occupation of Iraq would be politically and militarily untenable, Scowcroft told Bush. And though the President had employed the rhetoric of moral necessity to make the case for war, Scowcroft said, he would not let his feelings about good and evil dictate the advice he gave the President.
It would have been no problem for America’s military to reach Baghdad, he said. The problems would have arisen when the Army entered the Iraqi capital. “At the minimum, we’d be an occupier in a hostile land,” he said. “Our forces would be sniped at by guerrillas, and, once we were there, how would we get out? What would be the rationale for leaving? I don’t like the term ‘exit strategy’ — but what do you do with Iraq once you own it?”
Scowcroft stopped for a moment. We were sitting in the offices of the Scowcroft Group, a consulting firm he heads, in downtown Washington. He appeared to be weighing the consequences of speaking his mind. His speech is generally calibrated not to give offense, especially to the senior Bush and the Bush family. He is eighty and, by most accounts, has been content to cede visibility to the larger personalities with whom he has worked.
James Baker told me that he and Scowcroft got along well in part because Scowcroft let Baker speak for the Administration. I learned from people who know Scowcroft that he finds it painful to be seen as critical of his best friendÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s son, but in the course of several interviews prudence several times gave way to impatience. “This is exactly where we are now,” he said of Iraq, with no apparent satisfaction. “We own it. And we can’t let go. We’re getting sniped at. Now, will we win? I think there’s a fairchance we’ll win. But look at the cost.”
The first Gulf War was a success, Scowcroft said, because the President knew better than to set unachievable goals. “I’m not a pacifist,” he said. “I believe in the use of force. But there has to be a good reason for using force. And you have to know when to stop using force.” Scowcroft does not believe that the promotion of American-style democracy abroad is a sufficiently good reason to use force.
“I thought we ought to make it our duty to help make the world friendlier for the growth of liberal regimes,” he said. “You encourage democracy over time, with assistance, and aid, the traditional way. Not how the neocons do it.”
The neoconservatives — the Republicans who argued most fervently for the second Gulf war — believe in the export of democracy, by violence if that is required, Scowcroft said. “How do the neocons bring democracy to Iraq? You invade, you threaten and pressure, you evangelize.” And now, Scowcroft said, America is suffering from the consequences of that brand of revolutionary utopianism. “This was said to be part of the war on terror, but Iraq feeds terrorism,” he said.
Scowcroft on Iraq & Israel
In August of 2002, seven months before George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq, Scowcroft upset the White House with an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal. The headline read, “DON’T ATTACK SADDAM.” Scowcroft would have preferred something more nuanced, he told me, but the words accurately reflected his message.
In the article, he argued that an invasion of Iraq would deflect American attention from the war on terrorism, and that it would do nothing to solve the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, which he has long believed is the primary source of unhappiness in the Middle East. Unlike the current Bush Administration, which is unambiguously pro-Israel, Scowcroft, James Baker, and others associated with the elder George Bush believe that Israel’s settlement policies arouse Arab anger, and that American foreign policy should reflect the fact that there are far more Arabs than Israelis in the world.
“The obsession of the region . . . is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Scowcroft wrote in the Journal. “If we were seen to be turning our back on that bitter conflict — which the region, rightly or wrongly, perceives to be clearly within our power to resolve — in order to go after Iraq, there would be an explosion of outrage against us.” Scowcroft went on to say that the United States was capable of defeating Saddam’s military. “But it would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive — with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy — and could as well be bloody. In fact, Saddam would be likely to conclude he had nothing left to lose, leading him to unleash whatever weapons of mass destruction he possesses.”
Scowcroft’s Frustration Communicating with Bush 43
Like nearly everyone else in Washington, Scowcroft believed that Saddam maintained stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, but he wrote that a strong inspections program would have kept him at bay. “There may have come a time when we would have needed to take Saddam out,” he told me. “But he wasn’t really a threat. His Army was weak, and the country hadn’t recovered from sanctions.” Scowcroft’s colleagues told me that he would have preferred to deliver his analysis privately to the White House. But Scowcroft, the apotheosis of a Washington insider, was by then definitively on the outside, and there was no one in the White House who would listen to him. On the face of it, this is remarkable: Scowcroft’s best friend’s son is the President; his friend Dick Cheney is the Vice-President; Condoleezza Rice, who was the national-security adviser, and is now the Secretary of State, was once a Scowcroft protege; and the current national-security adviser, Stephen Hadley, is another protege and a former principal at the Scowcroft Group.
Scowcroft on Cheney: “The Real Anomaly”
“The real anomaly in the Administration is Cheney,” Scowcroft said. “I consider Cheney a good friend — I’ve known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don’t know anymore.” He went on, “I don’t think Dick Cheney is a neocon, but allied to the core of neocons is that bunch who thought we made a mistake in the first Gulf War, that we should have finished the job. There was another bunch who were traumatized by 9/11, and who thought, ‘The world’s going to hell and we’ve got to show we’re not going to take this, and we’ve got to respond, and Afghanistan is O.K., but it’s not sufficient.'” Scowcroft supported the invasion of Afghanistan as a “direct response”
On George W. Bush Not Hearing Dissent or Considering Alternative Views — With A Nudge from Bush 41
A common criticism of the Administration of George W. Bush is that it ignores ideas that conflict with its aims. “We always made sure the President was hearing all the possibilities,” John Sununu, who served as chief of staff to George H. W. Bush, said. “That’s one of the differences between the first Bush Administration and this Bush Administration.”
I asked Colin Powell if he thought, in retrospect, that the Administration should have paid attention to Scowcroft’s arguments about Iraq. Powell, who is widely believed to have been far less influential in policymaking than either Cheney or the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, said, pointedly, “I always listen to him. He’s a very analytic and thoughtful individual, he’s powerful in argument, and I’ve never worked with a better friend and colleague.”
When, in an e-mail, I asked George H.W. Bush about Scowcroft’s most useful qualities as a national-security adviser, he replied that Scowcroft “was very good about making sure that we did not simply consider the ‘best case,’ but instead considered what it would mean if things went our way, and also if they did not.”
Bush 41 Unable to Mend Fences Between Bush 43 and Scowcroft
According to friends of the elder Bush, the estrangement of his son and his best friend has been an abiding source of unhappiness, not only for Bush but for Barbara Bush as well. George Bush, the forty-first President, has tried several times to arrange meetings between his son, “Forty-three,” and his former national-security adviser to no avail, according to people with knowledge of these intertwined relationships. “There have been occasions when Forty-one has engineered meetings in which Forty-three and Scowcroft are in the same place at the same time, but they were social settings that weren’t conducive to talking about substantive issues,” a Scowcroft confidant said.
Few Areas of Foreign Policy Agreement Between Scowcroft and George W. Bush
When I asked Scowcroft if the son was different from the father, he said, “I don’t want to go there,” but his dissatisfaction
with the son’s agenda could not have been clearer. When I asked him to name issues on which he agrees with the younger Bush, he said, “Afghanistan.” He paused for twelve seconds. Finally, he said, “I think we’re doing well on Europe,” and left it at that.
Scowcroft’s Deteriorarting Relationship with Condoleeza Rice
The disintegrating relationship between Scowcroft and Condoleezza Rice has not escaped the notice of their colleagues from the first Bush Administration. She was a political-science professor at Stanford when, in 1989, Scowcroft hired her to serve as a Soviet expert on the National Security Council.
Scowcroft found her bright — “brighter than I was” — and personable, and he brought her all the way inside, to the Bush family circle. When Scowcroft published his Wall Street Journal article, Rice telephoned him, according to several people with knowledge of the call. “She said, ‘How could you do this to us?'” a Scowcroft friend recalled. “What bothered Brent more than Condi yelling at him was the fact that here she is, the national-security adviser, and she’s not interested in hearing what a former national-security adviser had to say.”
Scowcroft on Rice’s Foreign Policy Deficits & Israel Policy
Scowcroft told me that he still has a high regard for Rice. He did note, however, that her “expertise is in the former Soviet Union and Europe. Less on the Middle East.” Rice, through a spokesman, said, “Sure, we’ve had some differences, and that’s understandable. But he’s a good friend and is going to stay a good friend.”
Yet the two do not see each other much anymore. According to friends of Scowcroft, Rice has asked him to call her to set up a dinner, but he has not, apparently, pursued the invitation. The last time the two had dinner, nearly two years ago, it ended unhappily, Scowcroft acknowledged.
“We were having dinner just when Sharon said he was going to pull out of Gaza,” at the end of 2003. “She said, ‘At least there’s some good news,’ and I said, ‘That’s terrible news.’ She said, ‘What do you mean?’ And I said that for Sharon this is not the first move, this is the last move. He’s getting out of Gaza because he can’t sustain eight thousand settlers with half his Army protecting them. Then, when he’s out, he will have an Israel that he can control and a Palestinian state atomized enough that it canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be a problem.” Scowcroft added, “We had a terrible fight on that.”
They also argued about Iraq. “She says we’re going to democratize Iraq, and I said, ‘Condi, you’re not going to democratize Iraq,’ and she said, ‘You know, you’re just stuck in the old days,’ and she comes back to this thing that we’ve tolerated an autocratic Middle East for fifty years and so on and so forth,” he said. Then a barely perceptible note of satisfaction entered his voice, and he said, “But we’ve had fifty years of peace.”
Scowcroft’s Realism on the Middle East
Scowcroft is unmoved by the stirrings of democracy movements in the Middle East. He does not believe, for instance, that the signs of a democratic awakening in Lebanon are related to the Iraq war. He sees the recent evacuation of the Syrian Army from Lebanon not as a victory for self-government but as a foreshadowing of civil war. “I think it’s something we have to worry about — the sectarian emotions that were there when the Syrians went in aren’t gone.”
Scowcroft and those who share his views believe that the reality of life in Iraq at the moment is undermining the neoconservative agenda. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served as Colin Powell’s chief policy planner during the first Bush Administration (and who was Scowcroft’s Middle East expert on the National Security Council during the first Gulf War) said that the days of armed idealism are over. “We’ve seen the ideological high-water mark,” he said. “I mean wars of choice, and unilateralism, and by that I mean an emphasis, almost to the point of exclusion of everything else, on regime change as opposed to diplomacy aimed at policy change.”
Scowcroft on Wolfowitz
One day, I mentioned to Scowcroft an interview I had had with Paul Wolfowitz, when he was Donald Rumsfeld’s deputy. Wolfowitz was the leading neoconservative thinker in the senior ranks of the current Bush Administration. (He is now the president of the World Bank.) I asked him what he would think if previously autocratic Arab countries held free elections and then proceeded to vote Islamists into power. Wolfowitz answered, “Look, fifty per cent of the Arab world are women. Most of those women do not want to live in a theocratic state. The other fifty per cent are men. I know a lot of them. I don’t think they want to live in a theocratic tate.”
Scowcroft said of Wolfowitz, “He’s got a utopia out there. We’re going to transform the Middle East, and then there won’t be war anymore. He can make them democratic. He is a tough-minded idealist, but where he is truly an idealist is that he brushes away questions, says, ‘It won’t happen,’ whereas I would say, ‘It’s likely to happen and therefore you can’t take the chance.’ Paul’s idealism sweeps away doubts.”
Wolfowitz, for his part, said to me, “It’s absurdly unrealistic, demonstrably unrealistic, to ignore how strong the desire for freedom is.” Scowcroft said that he is equally concerned about Wolfowitz’s unwillingness to contemplate bad outcomes and Kagan’s willingness to embrace them on principle. “What the realist fears is the consequences of idealism,” he said. “The reason I part with the neocons is that I don’t think in any reasonable time frame the objective of democratizing the Middle East can be successful. If you can do it, fine, but I don’t think you can, and in the process of trying to do it you can make the Middle East a lot worse.”
He added, “I’m a realist in the sense that I’m a cynic about human nature.”
An Odd Exchange with Sharansky: Insight into Bush 43’s Views of his Father
In September, Sharansky was in Washington at the invitation of Condoleeza Rice; he gave the closing speech at a State Department conference on democratization. “Can you believe it?” he said to me just before the session. “Rice gave the opening speech and I give the closing?” Of his complicated relations with the Bush family, he said, “A few days after my book comes out, I get a call from the White House. ‘The President wants to see you.’ So I go to the White House and I see my book on his desk. It is open to page 210. He is really reading it. And we talk about democracy.
This President is very great on democracy. At the end of the conversation, I say, ‘Say hello to your mother and father.’ And he said, ‘My father?’ He looked very surprised I would say this.Ã¢â‚¬Â Sharansky went on, “So I say to the President, ‘I like your father. He is very good to my wife when I am in prison.’ And President Bush says, ‘But what about Chicken Kiev?'”
Sharansky smiled as he recounted this story. “The President looked around the room and said, ‘Who is responsible for that Chicken Kiev speech? Find out who wrote it. Who is responsible?’ Everyone laughed.” Sharansky paused, and looked at me intently. He had a broad grin. “I know who wrote Chicken Kiev speech,” he said. “It was Scowcroft!”
Scowcroft may have had a hand in the speech, but when I asked George H.W. Bush about it he answered as if it had been his own idea. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I got hammered on the Kiev speech by the right wing and some in the press, but in retrospect I think the Baltic countries understood that we were being cautious vis-a-vis the Soviet Union,” Bush said. “And their freedoms were established without a shot being fired.”
Jeffrey Goldberg does a masterful job of telling the Scowcroft story — and of getting into what makes him tick.
I happen to know that Scowcroft did not know that the article was coming out this week and would have preferred his views to air some time after a week of potential indictments by Patrick Fitzgerald of White House heavyweights.
Nonetheless, the article is out. Scowcroft has significant disdain for the negative consequences of Bush’s decisions on the nation’s well-being. Lawrence Wilkerson filled in many of the other pieces not covered here in his revelations about a “cabal” in the White House that cast away essential guidance from the 1947 National Security Act.
Get the full article.
— Steve Clemons