James Baker sets off to
negotiate Iraqi debt forgiveness with our estranged allies. And at that very
moment the deputy secretary of defense releases a "Determination and
Findings" on reconstruction contracts that not only excludes those allies
from bidding, but does so with highly offensive language. What's going on?
Maybe I'm giving Paul
Wolfowitz too much credit, but I don't think this was mere incompetence. I think
the administration's hard-liners are deliberately sabotaging reconciliation.
Surely this wasn't just
about reserving contracts for administration cronies. Yes, Halliburton is
But I've always found
claims that profiteering was the motive for the
Mr. Wolfowitz's official
rationale for the contract policy is astonishingly cynical: "Limiting
competition for prime contracts will encourage the expansion of international
But I doubt whether even
Mr. Wolfowitz believes that. The last year, from the failure to get U.N.
approval for the war to the retreat over the steel tariff, has been one long
lesson in the limits of
If the contracts don't
provide useful leverage, however, why torpedo a potential reconciliation between
These are tough times for
the architects of the "Bush doctrine" of unilateralism and preventive
war. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their fellow Project for a New American
Century alumni viewed
Instead, the venture has
turned sour — and many insiders see Mr. Baker's mission as part of an effort
by veterans of the first Bush administration to extricate George W. Bush from
the hard-liners' clutches. If the mission collapses amid acrimony over contracts,
that's a good thing from the hard-liners' point of view.
Bear in mind that there is
plenty of evidence of policy freebooting by administration hawks, such as the
clandestine meetings last summer between Pentagon officials working for Douglas
Feith, under secretary of defense for policy and planning — and a key player
in the misrepresentation of the Iraqi threat — and Iranians of dubious repute.
Remember also that blowups by the hard-liners, just when the conciliators seem
to be getting somewhere, have been a pattern.
There was a striking
example in August. It seemed that Colin Powell had finally convinced President
Bush that if we aren't planning a war with
In short, this week's
diplomatic debacle probably reflects an internal power struggle, with hawks
using the contracts issue as a way to prevent Republican grown-ups from
regaining control of
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