Rice's Hiring of Neocon Leaves Observers Puzzled
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's hiring this month of the prominent and prolific neoconservative analyst Eliot Cohen has Washington foreign policy watchers puzzling more than usual over what it may signal.
Cohen, named as counselor to the State Department, was an ardent advocate of going to war with Saddam Hussein as part of a wider war on terrorism and militant Islamwhat he has argued constitutes "World War IV." In December 2001, he wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "After Afghanistan, what? Iraq is the big prize." He was a founding member of the Project for the New American Centurya group that helped lay the intellectual groundwork for the attack on Iraq as well as efforts to weaken Yasser Arafat as head of the Palestinian Authority. He has urged regime change in Iran. Yet Cohen has also criticized the administration for what he has called "incompetent execution and insufficient resources" in dealing with post-invasion Iraqa complaint he has leveled with some emotion as he is the father of a young Army officer who served in Iraq. Last December, he castigated the bipartisan Iraq Study Groupwhich recommended a diplomatic opening to Iran and Syriaas a "fatuous process" in an op-ed in the Journal.
Deciphering personnel moves, particularly in an administration staffed from across the widely differing hues of the conservative political spectrum, can be very difficult. Riceit's no secrethas not emerged as a favorite of neoconservatives. Since her arrival at the State Department from her post as the president's national security adviser, Rice's moves to soften previously hard-line negotiating stands on the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea have stirred unhappiness and worry among many of those who have stood by President Bush in his approach to the war on terrorism. Indeed, under Rice, the center of gravity on both issues has shifted toward negotiationsthat is, easing policy enough to permit practical bargaining (in the case of North Korea) or at least a plausible offer to begin talks (in the case of Iran).
And the advisers Rice has tapped to take leading roles in policy on North Korea and Iran Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, and Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairsare widely seen as diplomatic pragmatists more interested in cutting satisfactory deals than promoting regime change. As such, they are in disfavor with many neoconservatives as well. As Rice has executed this unspoken shift, key bearers of the conservative foreign policy torch that shaped Bush's first termincluding Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, and Robert Joseph, State Department under secretary for arms control and international securityhave been leaving the administration.
So Rice's selection of Cohen to become a key adviser seems to cut against the direction of events at Foggy Bottomand has prompted considerable speculation about her motives. In the new position, says State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, Cohen will provide "an intellectual sounding board" for Rice. Cohen, a military historian and professor at Washington's Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, is expected, at least initially, to focus on Iraq and Afghanistan.
In any case, the clout of a State Department counselor depends solely on his or her relationship with the secretary of state. Rice's predecessor, Colin Powell, chose not to fill the job.
Cohen declined an interview request by U.S. News. Rice is said to have asked him not to talk with the news media for now.
One of the more intriguing theories is that Cohen's selection may reflect Rice's tactical pragmatism: It could give her greater political cover with increasingly skeptical conservatives in the office of Vice President Dick Cheney and at the Pentagon and National Security Council. Cohen, that thinking goes, could facilitate a more receptive hearing for Rice's diplomatic moves among hard-liners in the administration. Rice, writes Steven Clemons of the New America Foundation in his http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/ The Washington Note blog, "views personnel appointments as a way to inoculate herself and her efforts against sabotage from the Cheney team."
Whether that theory holds water should become evident after Cohen joins Rice's staff full time, likely in April.