Appointments with Disaster

American diplomacy is about to take a step into the past. That's because George W. Bush is constructing a foreign policy clique that sees the military as a sacrosanct group and views American involvement in world affairs through the narrow lens of self-interest, markets and strategic power.

American military might, under the Bush regime, would be reserved only for those fights in which we stand to gain, and especially those in which little sacrifice is required. Moral issues would be only window dressing and the power unleashed would be savage and unbridled. Humanitarian intervention and the notion of "nation-building" would be out, especially if it meant working with the United Nations.

The models for the future are the Gulf War and Panama's Operation Just Cause, actions based on narrow interests (oil in the Persian Gulf and the demonstration of American control of the hemisphere in Panama) sold to the American public as moral crusades, in which the use of force was swift, massive and unremitting.

And where past administrations have backed dictatorial regimes because they offered opposition to the Soviet Union, Bush and his team are likely to back dictators -- such as the Chinese communists -- who promise access to markets.

That's because the Bush foreign policy clique -- led by Vice President Dick Cheney and retired US Army Gen. Colin Powell -- is an inside-the-Beltway bunch tied to corporate America and the military establishment.

Cheney, the former Bush defense secretary, and Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believe in a big military with plenty of hardware and a budget to match based on the notion that the American armed forces should be prepared to fight two Gulf War-sized wars simultaneously.

Powell, of course, is a product of the military, a man who rose through the ranks to become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That military background is being pointed to as his chief qualification.

But, as Christopher Hitchens pointed out in a column in the Toronto Globe & Mail, Powell "shows a consistent adherence to the preservation of 'the military' as a separate caste within American society and -- more to the point -- within American politics." His approach to the use of military force seems to be: Using force is wrong, unless we know we can win without sacrifice. His approach is not based on a moral judgment. When he has backed military intervention, it has been in circumstances -- Grenada and Panama, for instance -- in which there was little threat to American military personnel. When he has opposed force -- in the former Yugoslavia, for instance -- he has done so because the operation posed too great a threat to American military personnel and not because he was morally opposed to NATO's unilateral intervention.

Donald H. Rumsfeld, the nominee for defense secretary, has served in Congress, was chief of staff and then defense secretary under Gerald Ford and has spent the better part of the last 25 years on a variety of corporate boards.

Most notably, however, he is one of the philosophical architects of the missile defense shield, which first came to prominence in 1983 when Rumsfeld was an advisor to Ronald Reagan. The idea behind the shield was that it would create an umbrella of protection above the United States and its allies, rendering the nuclear capabilities of America's enemies -- primarily the Soviet Union -- obsolete. But with the end of the Cold War, support for the shield waned.

Enter Rumsfeld, head of a government panel commissioned to research its necessity. Rumsfeld's commission endorsed the view held by the military wing of the Republican Party, saying in its 1998 report that a number of hostile nations like Iran and North Korea were close to developing nuclear weapons capability. The report's conclusions have been questioned by peace organizations and a number of Pentagon watchdog groups, and the viability of the missile defense plan have yet to be proven. Critics of the plan say the lone successful test was rigged and that real war-time conditions and the use of dummy targets would make it much more difficult to intercept the missile. Two other tests have been unsuccessful.

Despite this -- and complaints from Russia and China that the missile defense plan would lead to a new arms race -- Bush and Rumsfeld have made it a defense priority. In fact, the missile defense is only a part of Rumsfeld's high-tech vision for the future. He also is pushing for the US to "take control of outer space by developing technology to attack and defend satellites in orbit," according to the Washington Post. Other countries -- particularly Russia and China, but also many US allies -- oppose the US missile defense effort and warn that it could set off an international arms race in space.

The nominee for national security adviser, Condoleeza Rice, was Bush's closest adviser on foreign policy matters during the election. Her stamp is on every position Bush has taken over the last two years, including "organizing the team of foreign policy advisers who supply the Bush campaign with ideas, background and new policies and keeping the candidate up to date on world developments," according to the Post.

That means this administration is likely to focus primarily on the big players on the world stage, on letting them control the direction the world takes. It is an approach that harkens back to the Cold War, when the United States and Russia -- and to a lesser extent China -- used their influence, money and military power to pull strings across the globe.

Like Powell and the rest of the Bush team, she says America should not be unwilling to act as the police force for the rest of the world or to engage in humanitarian missions, though she is willing to send in the troops to defend US interests and to deal with "rogue regimes and hostile powers," provided that Americans are in it to win.

Of course, the only difference between those two positions is that one is based on self-interest -- i.e., corporate interests -- and the other on a moral sense of engagement with the world.

What those interests are, however, remains unclear. Those interests, however, do not include using American force -- that is, unless ill-defined "vital American interests" are at stake. It's a circular argument that leaves the Bush foreign policy hollow at its center, lacking a consistent ethical and moral approach to the world but clinging to corporate interests and committed only to preserving the shiny reputation of the American military.

Hank Kalet can be reached at

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