Conservative Anger Grows Over Bush's Foreign Policy
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
At a moment when his conservative coalition is already under strain over domestic policy, President Bush is facing a new and swiftly building backlash on the right over his handling of foreign affairs.
Conservative intellectuals and commentators who once lauded Bush for what they saw as a willingness to aggressively confront threats and advance U.S. interests said in interviews that they perceive timidity and confusion about long-standing problems including Iran and North Korea, as well as urgent new ones such as the latest crisis between Israel and Hezbollah.
"It is Topic A of every single conversation," said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has had strong influence in staffing the administration and shaping its ideas. "I don't have a friend in the administration, on Capitol Hill or any part of the conservative foreign policy establishment who is not beside themselves with fury at the administration."
Conservatives complain that the United States is hunkered down in Iraq without enough troops or a strategy to crush the insurgency. They see autocrats in Egypt and Russia cracking down on dissenters with scant comment from Washington, North Korea firing missiles without consequence, and Iran playing for time to develop nuclear weapons while the Bush administration engages in fruitless diplomacy with European allies. They believe that a perception that the administration is weak and without options is emboldening Syria and Iran and the Hezbollah radicals they help sponsor in Lebanon.
Most of the most scathing critiques of the administration from erstwhile supporters are being expressed within think tanks and in journals and op-ed pages followed by a foreign policy elite in Washington and New York.
But the Bush White House has always paid special attention to the conversation in these conservative circles. Many of the administration's signature ideas -- regime change in Iraq, and special emphasis on military "preemption" and democracy building around the globe -- first percolated within this intellectual community. In addition, these voices can be a leading indicator of how other conservatives from talk radio to Congress will react to policies.
As the White House listens to what one official called the "chattering classes," it hears a level of disdain from its own side of the ideological spectrum that would have been unthinkable a year ago. It is an odd irony for a president who has inflamed liberals and many allies around the world for what they see as an overly confrontational, go-it-alone approach. The discontent on the right could also color the 2008 presidential debate.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who is considering a bid for president, called the administration's latest moves abroad a form of appeasement. "We have accepted the lawyer-diplomatic fantasy that talking while North Korea builds bombs and missiles and talking while the Iranians build bombs and missiles is progress," he said in an interview. "Is the next stage for Condi to go dancing with Kim Jong Il?" he asked, referring to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the North Korean leader.
"I am utterly puzzled," Gingrich added.
Kenneth Adelman, a Reagan administration arms-control official who is close to Vice President Cheney, said he believes foreign policy innovation for White House ended with Bush's second inaugural address, a call to spread democracy throughout the world.
"What they are doing on North Korea or Iran is what [Sen. John F.] Kerry would do, what a normal middle-of-the-road president would do," he said. "This administration prided itself on molding history, not just reacting to events. Its a normal foreign policy right now. It's the triumph of Kerryism."
Not all conservatives subscribe to such views. Some prominent conservatives, including William F. Buckley Jr. and George Will, have been skeptical of the mission in Iraq and, in Will's case, much of the ability of America to build democracy abroad. In his syndicated column yesterday, Will referred to the neoconservative complaints in observing that the administration is "suddenly receiving some criticism so untethered from reality as to defy caricature."