Why Zelikow Departure is Really Bad


I’m rushing, but I wanted to share this email I scribbled out this morning. It’s a bit blunt, says more than I perhaps should at this point — but Philip Zelikow‘s departure as Condi Rice’s Counselor is very bad for those hoping for a more enlightened Bush administration foreign policy course.
This email was a response to one from a prominent social leader asking me if Zelikow was forced outi:

I do not believe Zelikow was forced out. At some level, he probably does have legitimate expenses related to his family, but my hunch as to the real reason that he is leaving is that he is fed up with having all the reasonable/constructive ideas in the administration and having little clout to implement them with “Cheney’s gang” shutting him and the Rice-team down so frequently.
This is not good news for our side. Zelikow leaving indicates a few things — Cheney still has significant power; regional deal-making in Middle East is still more fantasy than real (despite Olmert’s recent moves); and our ‘chances’ of finding a third option between bombing and acquiescing to Iran diminish significantly with Zelikow’s departure (my take anyway).
Zelikow had faults as we all do — but he really was the only master strategist left who might have played a historic role in reshaping the US’s foreign policy future. I think Rice really needed him.
Stephen Krasner is very smart and would be a cool 21st century Kennan type, but he doesn’t dominate the bureaucratic process in a way that can keep the State Department’s efforts from being so regularly choked to death. This leaves John Bellinger who is terrific in my view — but more of a legal strategist and architect than a foreign policy grand strategist. Nick Burns is also great — but doesn’t have Cheney’s confidence. Condi’s power depends on her one-on-ones with President Bush but that cannot get her where one needs to go on every issue, every hour, every day.
This departure, and the administration’s obsession with John Bolton say something — and that is that while Bush is flirting with Baker-Hamilton, the interest from the White House is extremely thin.
I just can’t believe Zelikow would leave if he knew there was a genuine chance of being the architect or leading deliverer of a new and healthier equilibrium of interests in the region.
I have to write about this — and do so in a constructive way about Zelikow — but it’s very, very hard not to be very depressed by his departure.

More later — from Vienna.
— Steve Clemons


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