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Return of the Reaganites
Published on Wednesday, February 14, 2001 in the Guardian of London
Return of the Reaganites
Bush fills foreign and defence ranks with cold war veterans
by Martin Kettle in Washington
 
President George Bush is rapidly putting his own stamp on the US presidency, but his recent lower-level appointments show that the substance of the new team in Washington is overwhelmingly from of the era of his father and Ronald Reagan.

The return of the Reaganites is particularly evident in the areas of foreign and defence policy, where Mr Bush has just appointed Richard Armitage deputy secretary of state under Colin Powell. Mr Armitage is a Pentagon veteran of the Reagan and Bush Sr era, during which he played a key role as a Middle East policy expert.

His role in the Iran-contra arms smuggling scandal was sufficiently important to force George Bush Sr to withdraw his the nomination as army secretary in 1989.

Mr Armitage worked closely with Colonel Oliver North in the secret Reagan White House effort to trade arms to Iran and syphon some of the profits to Nicaraguan contra rebels in defiance of an arms ban.

Last week Mr Bush appointed another Reagan era veteran, Paul Wolfowitz, to the number two job in the defence department under Donald Rumsfeld.

Mr Wolfowitz was a key policymaker at the state department during the Reagan years and is the administration's most senior Asian policy expert. He is expected to be the arbiter of any attempts to place deploy US missile defences in Japan, South Korea or Taiwan.

Other appointments of cold war era officials have included Dov Zakheim as under-secretary of defence, a more senior version of the departmental planning role he played at the Pentagon in the Reagan years.

Mr Bush has also brought back Richard Haass as head of policy planning at the state department. Last week he put Grant Green, a Reagan national security council official, in charge of management policy in the state department.

The appointments replicate the pattern of continuity that was striking in Mr Bush's cabinet choices for foreign and defence posts.

With Mr Powell already at the state department and Mr Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, the new administration's foreign policy is indisputably in the grip of experienced experts who learned their trade in the final years of the cold war.

So far there has only been one appointment in the foreign policy field which does not fit the pattern, that of the career diplomat Marc Grossman as head of political affairs at the state department.

As the administration takes shape, the key man in both domestic and foreign policy is still clearly the vice-president, Dick Cheney.

This week he was reported to be trying to tighten his conservative grip on foreign policymaking by taking charge of the White House's "principals" committee, in which cabinet members hammer out policy options to be put to the president.

In the past this role has been played by the national security adviser, a post now held by Condoleezza Rice, who tutored Mr Bush on foreign policy during the election campaign.

Newsweek magazine alleged this week that Mr Cheney waspressing his claim to chair the committee, and trying to push Ms Rice aside.

In addition, he was reported to be hiring his own team of foreign policy staff and to be building "the nucleus of an alternative national security committee".

To many observers the crucial question in the early weeks of the administration is the extent to which the more liberal Mr Powell will be able to get his way in the event of a policy disagreement with the more conservative Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld.

Mr Powell has distanced himself from Mr Bush's decision to cut off US funding to international bodies which provide or support abortion services, and has adopted a more favourable stance than Mr Rumsfeld towards EU for plans for a military rapid response force.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001

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