I knew that the essential themes and players involved with the Bolton nomination had played out some time before. Sort of like a Shakespearean tragedy, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
All of this seemed all too familiar with Cheney pushing a questionable political candidate on Condi Rice who oddly acquiesced — even though it was not in here interest to do so.
The story was right under my nose all the time and takes me back to the very important article written by Sidney Blumenthal about Brent Scowcroft when the distinguished General was somewhat unceremoniously escorted out of the Bush administration’s center foreign policy circle. There has been some revisionism about what led to Scowcroft not being asked to continue as Chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, but that’s another topic for another day.
What matters is the story about another problematic “abuser”: Robert Blackwill. Cheney pushed Blackwill’s candidacy. Condi would not or could not say “no” despite serious abuse allegations by State Department staff about Blackwill’s behavior. And in the end, it was Richard Armitage and Colin Powell who sent the White House and Condoleeza Rice an unambiguous message that if they failed to discipline Blackwill, then the State Department would take action on its own.
Here are the key excerpts from the Blumenthal piece:
The transition to President Bush’s second term, filled with backstage betrayals, plots and pathologies, would make for an excellent chapter of I, Claudius. To begin with, Bush has unceremoniously and without public acknowledgement dumped Brent Scowcroft, his father’s closest associate and friend, as chairman of the foreign intelligence advisory board. The elder Bush’s national security adviser was the last remnant of traditional Republican realism permitted to exist within the administration.
At the same time the vice president, Dick Cheney, has imposed his authority over secretary of state designate Condoleezza Rice, in order to blackball Arnold Kanter, former under secretary of state to James Baker and partner in the Scowcroft Group, as a candidate for deputy secretary of state.
“Words like ‘incoherent’ come to mind,” one top state department official told me about Rice’s effort to organise her office. She is unable to assert herself against Cheney, her wobbliness a sign that the state department will mostly be sidelined as a power centre for the next four years.
Rice may have wanted to appoint as a deputy her old friend Robert Blackwill, whom she had put in charge of Iraq at the NSC. But Blackwill, a mercurial personality, allegedly assaulted a female US foreign service officer in Kuwait, and was forced to resign in November. Secretary of state Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, presented the evidence against Blackwill to Rice. “Condi only dismissed him after Powell and Armitage threatened to go public,” a state department source said.
Meanwhile, key senior state department professionals, such as Marc Grossman, assistant secretary of state for European affairs, have abruptly resigned. According to colleagues who have chosen to remain (at least for now), they foresee the damage that will be done as Rice is charged with whipping the state department into line with the White House and Pentagon neocons. Rice has pleaded with Armitage to stay on, but “he colourfully said he would not”, a state department official told me. Rice’s radio silence when her former mentor, Scowcroft, was defenestrated was taken by the state department professionals as a sign of things to come.
The Bolton story is the story that keeps on giving — to those who are opposing his nomination. It’s hard to understand the steadfastness of White House support despite Bolton now becoming a daily, major story in the national press.
But clearly, the White House has blinders when it comes to nominations like John Bolton or Robert Blackwill (who never got the formal nomination — but who was on his way to higher things).
And we should all be thankful that Colin Powell, through his alter-ego and long term aide-de-camp Richard Armitage, intervenes on behalf of the republic when the White House is unable to control its recklessness.
Given Powell’s phone conversations with Senators Chafee and Hagel, it is clear that Richard Armitage is again imposing on the White House a standard of decorum and accountability that the administration seems not to be able to manage on its own.
More to come.
— Steve Clemons