The architects of Bush's war

April 05, 2004|By Jules Witcover

WASHINGTON - When George W. Bush began assembling his administration more than three years ago, the first impression was that the new president was simply calling in old warriors from his father's inner circle.

After all, the new vice president, Dick Cheney, had been the senior Mr. Bush's secretary of defense. And other featured players in the junior Mr. Bush's new lineup, such as Donald H. Rumsfeld, the new defense secretary, and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, had also toiled in high positions under his father.

The assumption at the outset was that the second Bush presidency would be much like the first in both composition and tone, especially with a new president advertising himself as a compassionate conservative, a label his father might well have used had he thought of it.

Such thinking was dizzyingly off the mark. To better understand why it was, and to grasp how the George W. Bush presidency came to be what it is, a new book - Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet - is a must-read.

The author, James Mann, a former foreign policy writer for the Los Angeles Times, chronicles the longtime synergetic relationship among six members of the junior Mr. Bush's war council that is at the core of his administration's radical new policy for America in the world community.

The six - Mr. Cheney, Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Wolfowitz, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage - collectively have been its architects, powered essentially by the nation's raw military supremacy since the end of the Cold War.

They emerge in the book as the prime force charting this new course for an intellectually disadvantaged, or at least uninterested, president, who came into office with little or no concept of where he wanted to take the country in foreign policy.

With a basic foreign policy document by a Wolfowitz aide that was written more than a decade ago serving as the blueprint - and with Mr. Cheney as the chief driving force in crafting what is now inappropriately known as the Bush Doctrine - this determined band of brothers and a sister have deliberately turned Uncle Sam into a muscle-flexing global bully.

The transformation is seen in many ways, but it is most conspicuous in the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq.

The name "Vulcans," according to Mr. Mann, was selected by the candidate's chief campaign advisers in 2000, after "the Roman god of fire, the forge and metalwork," a statue of whom towered over Ms. Rice's hometown of Birmingham, Ala., a steel-making center.

The group's official and ideological relationships, and those of other like-minded neo-conservatives, actually went back in some cases to the Nixon administration. Mr. Mann calls them "the military generation," whose "wellspring, the common institution in their careers, was the Pentagon."

With the end of the Cold War, Mr. Mann notes, the strategy of containing communism that had governed U.S. foreign policy for more than half a century had achieved its objective, and the Vulcans moved to fill the vacuum. "They represented an epochal change," he writes, "the flowering of a new view of America's status and role in the world. The vision was that of an unchallengeable America, a United States whose military power was so awesome that it no longer needed to make compromises or accommodations ... with any other nation or groups of countries."

Mr. Mann's book is chilling in the ways it describes the personal connections as well as the conflicts among the Vulcans as they conspired to recast American foreign policy from one of international cooperation to one of jingoistic dominance.

Of the six, the one who comes closest in the book to being the odd man out is Mr. Powell, whose uncommon temperament for conciliation and diplomacy as a military man has suited his new role but has made him the least trusted and perhaps even least liked member among his fellow Vulcans.

This fascinating book, tracing how key Cabinet members provided the ideological premises and energy for an extreme new foreign policy, could just as well be subtitled "The Co-opting of a President."

Jules Witcover writes from The Sun's Washington bureau. His column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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