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US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's opinion of Russian President Vladimir Putin seems directly correlated to his hostility toward America. The more hostility he shows, the more she seems to like him. In this vein, Rice defends her support for Russian inclusion in the G-7, (now G-8), by arguing that it enables the club of industrial democracies to "influence" Putin.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, former world chess champion and current leader of Putin's liberal political opposition Gary Kasparov responded ironically to Rice's notion. "Occasionally you have to look at the results of your brilliant theories," he said.
But as the date of her departure from office approaches, Rice's unwillingness to examine the results of any of her brilliant theories only increases. Take North Korea for example.
On Thursday, a delegation of American nuclear inspectors traveled to North Korea to inspect the "disablement" of the nuclear installation at Yangbyon. Speaking of their mission and of the status of US-North Korean relations to the press on Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who serves as the chief negotiator with North Korea, said that aside from some technical matters, the US has no outstanding issues with the Stalinist dictatorship in Pyongyang. In his words, "I don't think there is anything to be resolved. There will be technical issues, but I don't think we have any political issues."
This US position on North Korea is disconcerting. From 1994 until the present, the North Koreans have breached every single agreement they have made with the Americans. Indeed, according to the agreement that Hill himself reached with them in February, they were supposed to dismantle their nuclear complex at Yangbyon seven months ago.
Rather than abide by their word, the North Koreans, as is their wont, ignored it and demanded and received further concessions from the Americans after they signed the deal. Among other things, they were supposed to dismantle the Yangbyon installation. Now, due to their post-agreement brinkmanship, they are only supposed to disable it - whatever that means.
Given the North Koreans' abysmal track record, it is far from clear why Hill thinks they can be trusted now. But beyond that, it isn't even clear that dismantling or disabling Yangbyon today will make much difference. As former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton wrote in August, Yangbyon ceased to be the central component of North Korea's nuclear weapons program several years ago. In recent years Pyongyang scattered its nuclear program to secret sites both inside and outside the country. And those sites are overlooked in Hill's agreement.
This again returns us to his statement on Wednesday. How can the State Department's point man on North Korea claim that the US has no "political issues" with North Korea less than two months after Israel reportedly destroyed a North Korean nuclear installation in Syria modeled after the Yangbyon complex? Given North Korea's apparent nuclear collaboration with Syria and its well-documented nuclear collaboration with Iran, to claim that the US has no political issues to discuss with North Korea is to suspend disbelief.
So Rice's State Department insists on moving forward toward implementing an agreement predicated on a denial of reality. Perhaps worst of all, it is an agreement which leaves Japan, America's most important Asian ally and North Korea's most vulnerable target, high and dry.
AS WITH Japan in Asia so with Israel in the Middle East. Rice's interest in establishing a Palestinian state rises in tandem with Palestinian extremism. US-backed Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas recently asserted that he will only sign a "peace" treaty with Israel that includes an Israeli commitment to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines and accept unlimited numbers of foreign-born Arabs, otherwise known as "Palestinian refugees," as citizens within its truncated borders.
Rather than accept that this position sinks any possibility of reaching any deal, Rice's response to Abbas's extremism was to announce that the US will give an additional $450 million to his Israeli-backed Fatah enclave in Judea and Samaria. More than $100m. is earmarked for Abbas's office.
And rather than condemn Fatah for its terrorist activities (such as its security forces members' plot to assassinate Prime Minister Ehud Olmert), the State Department announced plans to hire private security contractors to train Fatah forces. Moreover, rather than demand explanations for statements by Fatah leaders indicating that they will renew negotiations with Hamas after Rice's planned summit at Annapolis, the State Department has increased its pressure on Israel to destroy all the Israeli communities built in Judea and Samaria since 2001 and to prevent Jews from building anything beyond the 1949 cease-fire lines.
All of these machinations inevitably raise the question: Why is Rice acting as she is? What prompts her to harm American security interests and weaken US allies? An answer to these questions begins with a comparison of the contrasting fortunes of former US policy makers who based their policies on delusion to those of policy makers who crafted policies grounded in reality.
Take Joseph Cirincione for instance. Cirincione is a former professional congressional staffer who dealt with arms control issues. He is considered an expert on nuclear proliferation and is widely interviewed by the media and consulted by politicians. Cirincione's status as an expert is a clear indication that to be considered an expert it is not necessary to actually know what you are talking about.
In 2003 he rejected the notion that Syria was interested in nuclear weapons. And on September 19, he called the press reports regarding the North Korean nuclear installation that Israel reportedly destroyed in Syria "nonsense." He further asserted that the reports stemmed from a plot hatched by "a small group of officials leaking cherry-picked, unvetted 'intelligence' to key reporters in order to promote a preexisting political agenda." After aerial photographs of the site in Syria were made public, Cirincione allowed that the photographic evidence "tilts toward a nuclear program." But still he insisted that even if this is the case, Syria constitutes no threat.
Cirincione is similarly unconcerned by the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs. In both cases he argues that America should conduct negotiations with no preconditions lest the US anger these non-threatening countries and provoke them to support terrorism and build nuclear weapons.
In recognition of Cirincione's wisdom and expertise, he has been ranked as one of the 500 most influential voices shaping American foreign policy.
Then there is former US Middle East mediator Dennis Ross. Throughout his long tenure, Ross conceived and implemented a strategy predicated on the assumption that peace would be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians through an extended process where Israel was forced to make concessions to Yassir Arafat. After the strategy and the assumptions on which it was based collapsed in 2000, Ross was honest enough to acknowledge his basic mistake. And yet, despite this, Ross has stubbornly adhered to that failed policy and the false assumptions on which it was predicated ever since. And for that he is trumpeted as an expert on Middle East affairs and regularly appears on television as an esteemed authority.
Finally there are the esteemed former national security advisers under presidents Carter and Bush Sr., Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. While it is impossible for anyone to always predict or fully grasp world events, while in office, both Brzezinski and Scowcroft distinguished themselves for their repeated inability to do either.
Brzezinski was surprised by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and he failed to come up with a coherent policy for contending with the failure of detente which the invasion signaled. Moreover, he supported Ayatollah Khomeini against the shah of Iran and encouraged the shah to negotiate with Khomeini, and so contributed to the success of the Islamic revolution. He then failed to note the inherent hostility of the Khomeini regime or to craft policies to contend with it, even after the takeover of the US embassy in Teheran in 1979.
Then there is Scowcroft. Scowcroft failed to foresee the breakup of the Soviet Union even as it occurred before his eyes. And after the USSR collapsed, together with former president Bush, he attempted to reconstitute it.
Beyond that, Scowcroft, Bush pere and former secretary of state James Baker are at least partially responsible for the violent internecine struggle that unfolded in Iraq after the fall of Saddam's regime. In 1992, after encouraging Iraq's Shi'ite majority to revolt, they turned their backs on the Shi'ites and let them be massacred by Saddam's forces. With that they destroyed US credibility with the Iraqi people.
Rather than be shunned as failures, since they left office at least one of them seems to be a member of every blue ribbon foreign policy panel. Then, too, the media routinely demands that administration officials respond to their "expert" advice and opinions on the issues of the day.
Actually, their opinions are not very different from Cirincione's or Ross's. Indeed, it seems that regardless of the issue at hand, Brzezinski and Scowcroft's advice is always the same: Pressure Israel to give away land or strategic arsenals and appease the tyrant du jour, be it Saddam Hussein, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jung Il, Bashar Assad, Pervez Musharraf, Saudi King Abdullah or Vladimir Putin. And don't do anything without UN Security Council approval.
CONTRAST THE fortunes of these men with that of men like Bolton or Richard Perle, to give two examples. In Bush's first term, as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, Bolton oversaw the establishment of the Proliferation Security Initiative. With nearly a 100 member nations, the PSI stands out as the most successful international counter-proliferation program the administration has undertaken.
As for Perle, as assistant secretary of defense for international security policy in the Reagan administration, he crafted many of the policies that fomented the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Yet Bolton is dismissed by the media as a "hawk" and a "hardliner." For his part, Perle is reviled as the "Prince of Darkness" and the godfather of the so-called "neoconservative conspiracy." And of course, they are not alone in their fate.
In Israel, where opinions among policy makers and the media are even more uniform, the situation is even more problematic. The fact that Shimon Peres, the father of the failed Oslo peace process with Arafat, is now the head of state shows clearly how Israel's elites regard the notion of contending with the results of "brilliant theories."
What all of this means is that in the current environment, former officials' status as experts is directly proportional to their willingness to champion "brilliant theories" after reality rejects them. For Rice to voluntarily alter her course, this environment will first have change.