Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush, was highly critical of the current president's handling of foreign policy in an interview published this week, saying that the current President Bush is "mesmerized" by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, that Iraq is a "failing venture" and that the administration's unilateralist approach has harmed relations between Europe and the United States.
Scowcroft's remarks, reported in London's Financial Times, are unusual coming from a leading Republican less than three weeks before a highly contested election. In the first Bush administration, Scowcroft was a mentor to Condoleezza Rice, the current national security adviser, and he is regarded as a close associate of the president's father.
Scowcroft declined a request for an interview yesterday. When asked if he had been quoted correctly, his office responded with a statement: "He has been and is a supporter of President Bush and thinks he is the best qualified to lead our country."
Scowcroft's remarks to the Financial Times reflect a sense of unease among some GOP foreign policy experts about the White House's handling of foreign policy -- especially those who, such as Scowcroft, are considered part of what is called the realist wing. Realists, in contrast to those who are called neoconservatives, prefer to deal with other nations on their own terms, whether they are democracies or not, and were skeptical that a war in Iraq would help make democracy blossom throughout the Middle East.
Generally, such concerns have been muted and voiced privately, but Scowcroft's interview was blunt, especially over Bush's handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
"Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger," Scowcroft told the Financial Times. "I think the president is mesmerized." He added: "When there is a suicide attack [followed by a reprisal] Sharon calls the president and says, 'I'm on the front line of terrorism,' and the president says, 'Yes, you are . . . ' He [Sharon] has been nothing but trouble."
Although both Bush and Kerry have been very supportive of Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, Scowcroft said he warned Rice that this is a ruse to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state.
"When I first heard Sharon was getting out of Gaza I was having dinner with Condi and she said: 'At least that's good news,' " Scowcroft recounted. "And I said: 'That's terrible news. . . . Sharon will say: 'I want to get out of Gaza, finish the wall [the Israeli security barrier] and say I'm done.' "
The White House did not respond to a request for comment. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, when asked about Scowcroft's remarks on Fox TV's "Your World," said that "I have the greatest respect for Brent Scowcroft" but that Bush had gotten Sharon to attend a summit in 2003 with the Palestinian prime minister, and that Sharon has said he is committed to the U.S.-backed peace plan known as the road map.
"Whatever reluctance Mr. Sharon had, he was there," Powell said. "And ever since, he has reaffirmed his commitment, notwithstanding statements by others."
Regarding U.S.-European relations, Scowcroft said the U.S. rejection of offers of assistance after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was a "severe rebuff. . . . We had gotten contemptuous of Europeans and their weaknesses. We had really turned unilateral."
He added that there has been "some pulling back of the extremes of neocons scoffing at multilateral organizations," but that fundamentally little has changed. He said U.S. engagement with the United Nations and NATO in Afghanistan and Iraq is "as much an act of desperation as anything else . . . to rescue a failing venture."
Scowcroft said that relations with Europe are "in general bad," but that the United States has to work with Europe to deal with the world's problems.
Powell responded: "This isn't an administration that is not working with our partners. We're spending a lot of time with our partners."