Bush’s hawks edged out of the nest

Although still united in pushing for confrontation with Iran, the coalition of hawks that propelled US troops toward Baghdad three years ago appears to have finally run out of steam. Demoralised by the quagmire in Iraq, as well as President Bush’s still falling approval and credibility ratings, the coalition of aggressive nationalists, neo-conservatives, and the Christian Right that promoted the belligerent, neo-imperial trajectory in US foreign policy has lost both its coherence and its power to dominate the political agenda.

As a result, realists under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and in the military have steadily gained control over the administration’s policy. Within the increasingly fractious Republican Party, more xenophobic forces appear to be on the rise, as evidenced by recent and ongoing controversies surrounding immigration and foreign control of US ports.

Evidence of a decisive shift is not hard to find, beginning with the latest edition of the “The National Security Strategy of the US”, released earlier this month. The new version puts a greater emphasis on diplomacy and development, tending alliances, and other realist themes, even as it continued the administration’s defence of pre-emptive military action with Iran squarely in mind.

Rice’s constant travel not only demonstrates the priority the administration has placed on cultivating allies and even states more sceptical of US benevolence. It also suggests that the State Department is more confident of its power within the administration.

Except for a brief period from Bush’s November 2004 re-election and very early in 2005, the hawks have steadily lost power to the realists led by Rice whose neo-conservative rhetoric has masked the shift back to the cautious approach of Bush’s father.

The return to realism has been helped by the disappearance over the past year of key players from the administration like Wolfowitz. The hawks’ network has also suffered serious losses in Congress, most particularly the resignation after his indictment by a Texas grand jury last year of the unusually powerful House Majority Leader, Rep. Tom DeLay. An outspoken champion of Israel’s settler movement, “The Hammer”, as he is known, imposed iron discipline on Republicans in the lower chamber on behalf of the 25-year-old alliance between the Christian Right and pro-Likud neo-conservatives.

But, aside from these losses, the coalition has been set back by internal divisions that seem only to grow deeper with time. With a few hardline exceptions, neo-conservatives, such as Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, have been attacking Rumsfeld for failing to deploy many more troops to Iraq and crush all resistance virtually since US forces invaded. More recently, they have taken advantage of the growing calls for a comprehensive shake-up in the administration to renew their demands for Rumsfeld’s resignation.

Neo-conservatives have also suffered internal divisions that have weakened their political potency. The most important has been their reaction to Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and the Kadima Party’s plans to dismantle settlements in the West Bank. The coalition of hawks is also increasingly threatened by growing disillusionment over the effects of Bush’s administration’s democracy crusade across the Middle East. — IPS