Bush’s Foreign Policy: Isolate Colin Powell

Let us hope that Colin Powell has the courage to insist on

his convictions, even if that should result some day in his resignation as

Secretary of State. Although unnamed “White House aides” reassuringly insist

that the former general’s public disagreements with Dick Cheney and Donald

Rumsfeld are nothing worse than an early policy shakeout, the truth is that Mr.

Powell holds an entirely different (and considerably saner) world view than

that of the Vice President and the Defense Secretary.

Were it not so, the embarrassing reversals suffered by Mr.

Powell in recent days, on matters ranging from Korea to Kosovo, would have been

avoided. After all-as we are constantly informed by the admiring Washington

press corps-this second Bush Presidency is a very, very tight ship indeed.

Preserving that image has always been among the highest priorities of George W.

Bush and his aides. So their repeated put-downs of Mr. Powell before the entire

world must have involved at least a degree of calculation.

Now the former warrior

appears to be quarantined politically. He finds himself under attack from

conservatives allied with the Cheney-Rumsfeld faction. Armchair militarists at The Weekly Standard warn that the

Secretary of State is a closet Clintonite, for example, while former fringe

Presidential candidate Gary Bauer suggests that any cabinet official, such as

Mr. Powell, who dares to dissent from right-wing orthodoxy might be “taken to

the woodshed.”

Interesting advice, but

who would take him out there-this callow President? A more incongruous scene is

hard to imagine. Actually, Mr. Bush seems intent on placating Mr. Powell with a

billion-dollar increase in the State Department budget.

Despite that fiscal consolation, however, there is already

ample reason for Mr. Powell to wonder why he took this job in the first place.

In fact, there have long been plenty of reasons to wonder why a man with his

moderate views should cling to a party that has veered so far rightward. The

current chill between him and his fellow Republicans echoes his scolding speech

at the G.O.P. convention in Philadelphia last summer. (He probably didn’t

appreciate the entertainment value of that strange event.)

As a Bronx native who earned his rank in combat and worked

his way up through the ranks, Mr. Powell has never fit in too well with

tough-talking cowboys, like Mr. Cheney, whose perennially hawkish views never

prevented them from wangling a draft deferment. It is the difference between

real toughness and its unreasonable facsimile that defines the debate between the Powell and Cheney factions.

Pseudo-toughness requires hard-line posturing rather than

prudent policy. The pseudo-tough position on North Korea is to repudiate former

President Clinton’s diplomatic efforts on the peninsula, even if that means

undermining the democratic government in South Korea. The pseudo-tough position

on Iraq is to continue the current sanctions despite their inhumanity and

ineffectiveness, while pretending that somebody is going to overthrow Saddam

Hussein someday. The pseudo-tough position on Kosovo is to promote conflict

rather than cooperation with our European allies, regardless of the damage to

important multilateral relationships. The pseudo-tough view of nuclear peril is

to insist on building an outrageously expensive “national missile defense”

which won’t work, casually wrecking the arms-control regime constructed with

immense difficulty over the past three decades.

The results are likely to

be bad news for everyone except Mr. Bush’s friends and contributors in the

defense industry. Pseudo-toughness encourages similar attitudes elsewhere, such

as the announcement by the Russians that they have stopped dismantling

strategic weapons as agreed under current treaties with the United States.

It was predictable that Mr. Powell would take exception to

this kind of contagious idiocy, if only because he has done so in the recent

past. He was among the few courageous Republicans to endorse the Comprehensive

Test Ban Treaty two years ago, when Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Bush were helping to

insure that the agreement was stymied by their friends in the Senate.

That was one of the grossest acts of irresponsible

isolationism committed in Washington since before World War II. It revealed

divergent perspectives about America’s role in the world that seem impossible to

reconcile, with Mr. Powell taking sides against nearly everyone who would later

become his colleagues (and antagonists) in this administration.

No doubt the Secretary of State has convinced himself that

his pragmatic internationalism will ultimately prevail. But his role within the

Republican Party has been less that of a leader than of a good soldier and

handsome object for display. Unless he is willing to speak out loudly and

often, he will finally be forced to harmonize with the hard-right choir.

It is Mr. Powell’s duty to himself and his country to avoid

that fate.