The Bad Egg

Posted January 2, 2007

Categories: Articles

For the last six years, Dick Cheney has been the whiff of sulfur emanating from the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Although the vice president’s office has largely been a ceremonial post, Cheney was never one to stand on ceremony. He took advantage of serving a president with little knowledge of global affairs to create a new center of power—in the very branch of U.S. government that he now denies inhabiting.

The obscurity of the vice president’s office ideally suited Cheney’s preference for working behind the scenes. In the aftermath of September 11, Cheney was instrumental in pushing for the war against Iraq. He undercut potential negotiations with Iran and helped undermine an existing agreement with North Korea. And he worked with lawyers to change how the United States defines torture, which has allowed army interrogators to use techniques like “waterboarding”—nearly drowning detainees—that the United States previously prosecuted as a war crime.

Cheney not only hid most of this from the U.S. public, he also worked behind the backs of his own colleagues. Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice found out about the infamous “torture memo” that redefined interrogation techniques two years after the fact from a Washington Post article.

Six years is a long time to keep secrets in Washington, especially when they concern someone as universally disliked as Dick Cheney. And things are just not going well for the VP these days. The Iraq War is a disaster. Al-Qaida is alive and well. Don Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz can no longer deflect enemy fire. And Cheney’s loyal associate Scooter Libby, convicted of lying and obstructing an investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, was only a few footsteps from prison when President Bush commuted his sentence.

The layers of the onion are slowly being removed, and Dick Cheney stands a good deal more exposed. The Washington Post published four revealing articles last week, which coincided with Cheney’s refusal to provide information about how his office classifies and declassifies information. Cheney’s declaration that his office is not part of the executive branch was rich fodder for the press and the satirists. Maureen Dowd in The New York Times scored another hit in her anti-Cheney crusade by comparing the vice president to Voldemort, the force of evil in the Harry Potter series. And on the Daily Show, Jon Stewart did an incomparable riff on Cheney’s tortured logic (the administration doesn’t torture logic, Stewart reminds us, it just sends logic on an unmarked plane to Bulgaria).

What does this all mean for U.S. foreign policy? Chris Hill, chief U.S. point person on negotiations with North Korea, just returned from Pyongyang last week. At his press conference, where Hill talked about North Korea’s decision to move forward on nuclear disarmament, a reporter asked whether Cheney approved Hill’s trip. Hill responded that he had the permission of Secretary of State Rice and she had President’s Bush’s permission. What happened to Cheney? In order to cut a deal with North Korea, the administration had to cut Cheney, who famously declared that the United States “doesn’t negotiate with evil,” out of the loop.

As it heads toward the 2008 elections, the Bush administration may well be trying to put all of its bad eggs into one basket. Scooter Libby was the fall guy for all the lying and deceit that the Bush administration used to get us into the Iraq War. Perhaps Dick Cheney will be the fall guy for everything else: the extraordinary renditions, the torture, the corruptions of Halliburton, the excesses of U.S. energy policy, and so on. George W. Bush will be loath to turn on his trusted adviser. But the Republican Party may not be so loyal. It will try to persuade the American public that there were only a couple bad eggs in the administration.

The Bush revolution in foreign policy has already devoured two of its young—Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. Perhaps Dick Cheney, the baddest egg of them all, will be next.

Ban Ki Whom?

Even though UN-hater John Bolton is no longer the U.S. representative, the Bush administration still treats the premier multilateral organization in the world as though it were a failed state. Enter Ban Ki-Moon, the new secretary general. He’s been in office for six months and faces numerous challenges. According to Parade magazine, which put Ban on a recent cover, the secretary general “has only one chance to get it right.” This is a rather ominous conclusion. Why only one chance? And what does “get it right” really mean? Given Parade‘s rather conservative tendencies, “get it right” means doing the U.S. bidding.

FPIF contributor Ian Williams sees it differently. In Ban Ki Whom? he writes that “u nlike its predecessors, Ban’s team seems unaware that maintaining some distance from Washington—especially when it is scoffing at the UN Charter and International Law—is essential to keep the rest of its membership happy.” At the same time, Ban is not simply in the U.S. pocket. ” Ban is a person of principles: if he panders to the United States and Israel, it’s because he has chosen to, not because he is a trained poodle,” Williams writes. “He has publicly supported a global moratorium on the death penalty and supported the International Criminal Court and the Responsibility to Protect, which certainly are not playing to the Texan gallery in Washington.”

Heading to the World Bank, meanwhile, is a different manner of beast. Robert Zoellick is the handpicked U.S. successor to Paul Wolfowitz as the head of the Bank. “Leaving aside the question of whether Zoellick is the right man for the job,” writes FPIF contributor Sameer Dossani, “the selection process is something more like a Roman emperor choosing a regent than anything resembling transparency or democracy.” What will Zoellick do in his new position? Check out Dossani’s essay, Zoellick’s World Bank Coronation, to see what questions we should be asking the new regent. And keep an eye out for an upcoming analysis of last week’s surprise resignation by the head of the International Monetary Fund, Rodrigo de Rato.

Eyeless in Gaza

So, let’s see if this makes sense. The Unites States supports democracy. The Palestinians in Gaza hold an election. In a free and fair contest in January 2006, Hamas wins 44% of the vote and forms a government. The United States then says, oops, we support democracy, but not that kind of democracy. Because Hamas has an armed wing and doesn’t support Israel’s right to exist, the United States refuses to recognize the election results and pressures Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, to do likewise.

As FPIF contributor Stephen Zunes explains in The Rise of Hamas, “the United States tried from the outset to undermine the Hamas government. It was largely due to U.S. pressure that Abbas refused Hamas’ initial invitation to form a national unity government that would include Fatah and from which some of the more hardline Hamas leaders would have presumably been marginalized. The Bush administration pressured the Canadians, Europeans, and others in the international community to impose stiff sanctions on the Palestine Authority, though a limited amount of aid continued to flow to government offices controlled by President Abbas.”

The conflict between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority has recently escalated. In June, Abbas dissolved the Hamas government and declared a state of emergency. Denied its victory at the ballot box, Hamas then seized power by force in Gaza. As Zunes points out in The U.S. Role in the Gaza Tragedy, ordinary Palestinians are disgusted with the power play between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which must shoulder much of the blame for the current tragedy. However, both the United States and Israel must share some of the responsibility as well.

“Even prior to the Hamas victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections last year, the Israeli government not only severely restricted—as is its right—entry from the Gaza Strip into Israel, but also controlled passage through the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt as well,” Zunes writes. “Israel also refused to allow the Palestinians to open their airport or seaport. This not only led to periodic shortages of basic necessities imported through Egypt but resulted in the widespread wasting of perishable exports—such as fruits, vegetables, and cut flowers—vital to the territory’s economy. Furthermore, Gaza residents were cut off from family members and compatriots in the West Bank and elsewhere in what many have referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison.”

Just Security

For those who have difficulty digesting long reports, we’re publishing the different chapters of our Just Security document as separate essays. First up is Just Climate Policy, which introduces you to the story of Topon Mondal, a Bangladeshi farmer who can no longer grow vegetables because of global warming. And next is Just Nuclear Disarmament, which explains why arms control is not enough.

FPIF, July 2, 2007

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