by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
of State Colin Powell must be feeling very frustrated.
For much of the past year, he has been trying to reassure the two Koreas that Washington really did support South Korean President Kim Dae Jung's "sunshine" policy toward the North despite President George W. Bush's blunt and humiliating public attack on the North's leader, Kim Jong Il, last March.
That attack put a six-year reconciliation process into the deep freeze and raised tensions along the world's most heavily militarized borders.
Powell has also devoted a lot of effort to encouraging rapprochement with Iran, a process that, as with North Korea, was already well underway by the time Bush was sworn in as president one year ago. Last month, he conspicuously praised Teheran's role during Washington's anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan.
Both initiatives are now a smoking ruin, obliterated as if by one of those precision-guided bombs that destroyed so many suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda targets. Only this one didn't come from U.S. warplanes; it came instead directly from the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., where Bush was making his first State of the Union address.
By grouping Iran and North Korea with Iraq as an "axis of evil," Bush appears not only to be preparing the ground for a major new expansion of his "war against terrorism;" he has also made Powell, the moderate, respectable face of U.S. foreign policy, look ever more irrelevant.
Any lingering doubt that U.S. foreign policy has been taken over by the ultra-hawks roosting at the top ranks of the Pentagon, around Vice President Dick Cheney, and increasingly on Bush's own national security staff should now be dispelled once and for all.
That was made even clearer as the week wore on, as Bush's rhetoric became even more heated and unnamed senior officials told reporters that the State Department had received no warning about the "axis of evil" phrase and the inclusion in it of Iran and North Korea.
And the day after Powell's hapless spokesman, Richard Boucher, insisted that the administration was still willing to talk with the North Koreans "at any time, any place," Bush contradicted him during a brief press appearance Friday with Jordan's King Abdullah.
"We would be more than happy to enter a dialogue with them," said Bush, if the North Koreans pulled back some of their conventional forces from the demilitarized zone and stopped exporting weapons to third countries - preconditions which Pyongyang has long rejected in the absence of a broader accord with Washington.
So now, like the Sisyphus character in Greek mythology who had to spend an eternity rolling a boulder up a hill only to see it roll down again, so Powell must now pick up the pieces and put the best face on a bad situation only three weeks before Bush travels to South Korea as part of a longer trip through Northeast Asia.
This appears more and more to be his fate as secretary of state, particularly in the aftermath of the military campaign in Afghanistan which resulted in a sharp rise in influence on the part of both Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Cheney, the two most hawkish figures in Bush's administration.
In just the past few months, Rumsfeld and Cheney have won major internal battles on two key strategic fronts, besides Iran and North Korea.
On the Middle East, the administration has aligned itself, over Powell's objections, to an unprecedented degree with the harsh policies of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the 17-month-old intifada. Washington has even shown reluctance to publicly denounce such tactics as the razing of Palestinian homes, targeted assassination of suspected Palestinian terrorists, and the routine invasion and re-occupation of areas previously handed over to the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo accords.
And on national missile defense, which Powell had opposed before entering the administration and tried to delay since becoming secretary of state, the hawks successfully persuaded Bush to formally withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, regarded by most experts, as well as Russia and China, as the cornerstone of the international arms-control regime.
remains a source of great contention within the administration between the Rumsfeld and Cheney hawks, who favor an Afghanistan-like operation that includes U.S. bombing, Special Forces, and a military force organized by the Iraqi National Congress (INC), and the State Department, the uniformed military, and the CIA, which believe that such plans are sheer folly.
When the State Department cut off U.S. funding for to the INC, citing financial irregularities, it appeared that Powell had won a major victory. But the aid has since been restored, and, taking its cue from Bush's speech, as well as encouragement from its patrons in the Pentagon, the INC is now openly calling for U.S. military assistance, a sign of increased confidence in the political atmosphere here.
"Iraq is what this speech was about," wrote Charles Krauthammer, a columnist in the Washington Post who reflects the views of Rumsfeld's and Cheney's top aides. "If there was a serious internal debate within the administration over what to do about Iraq, that debate is over."
While Powell may still have a few aces up his sleeve -- particularly the ever more worried expressions on the faces of West European leaders -- to prevent a precipitous new military engagement against Iraq, the balance of forces within the administration has moved decisively against him.
Nor is it just since the Afghan war that Powell has found himself on the losing side of issues which he obviously believes are important.
Bush overruled, and, in so doing, publicly humiliated Powell over Korea last March. He sided with the hawks against the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and utterly failed to follow through on a series of promises to offer its own alternatives to Kyoto.
Bush has also failed to add to the paltry $200 million he promised for the global fund to fight HIV/AIDS, an issue of special interest to Powell. He has undermined the President Andres Pastrana's peace process in Colombia despite Powell's repeated statements in its support.
And, while Bush is planning to ask for an increase of more than ten percent - the biggest rise in 20 years - in the Pentagon's budget in fiscal 2003, the State Department will have to make do with about the same amount of foreign aid as this year, despite a $300 million pledge for Afghanistan that will have to be taken from other accounts, most likely from Africa.
"I can think of some people who would have resigned by now," noted one former senior State Department official who stressed, however, that he did not expect Powell, a former four-star general, to bow out. "I think he's probably thinking, 'Where is the counter-balancing force going to from if I leave?'"
February 11, 2002 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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