Fleeing the Coop: Does the Departure of a Recent Pentagon Hawk Foreshadow a
November 8, 2003
First Published in Foreign Policy in Focus
falling poll numbers and renewed initiatives at engagement from both Iran and
North Korea, the harder edges of the Bush administration's hawkish foreign
policy is seen as a growing liability for next year's election. Further
speculation along this line has deepened as a major Pentagon hawk has abruptly
resigned his post. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security
Policy, J.D. Crouch II, resigned effective Friday, October 31, in order to
return to his academic post at Southwest Missouri State University (SMSU).
the announcement did not give a reason for his departure or the suddenness with
which it is taking place. Nor was anyone named to replace him.
officials stressed that Crouch, who has a long association with many of the key
figures who have promoted military pre-eminence as U.S. post-cold war strategy,
was leaving voluntarily, some sources said his resignation reflected a loss of
influence on the part of right-wing and neoconservative hawks concentrated in
the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney's office.
not being fired, but they're starting to move people around," said one
knowledgeable source. "It's all about (Bush's) re-election and how to get
rid of the loonies without look like they screwed up."
assistant secretary, Crouch reported to Undersecretary of Defense for Policy
Douglas Feith, whose office has been responsible for post-war strategy in Iraq.
Feith also oversaw the work of the now-disbanded Office of Special Plans (OSP),
which has been charged by retired intelligence and State Department officials
with "cherry-picking" intelligence that bolstered the case for going
to war and sending it directly to Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Cheney's
office without having it vetted by professional analysts for credibility.
a result, Feith's office has become a major target of critics of both the war
and the post-war situation which, given its rising cost in money and the lives
of U.S. soldiers, is being blamed for Bush's plummeting poll numbers.
an arms-control specialist, had very little to do with the preparation for war
against Iraq. But he has long taken what have been regarded as extreme and
extremely unilateralist positions on a number of key issues.
champion of U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty,
Crouch has supported military action against Cuba; defended the development of
offensive chemical weapons; opposed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and
the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); and advocated the development
of new nuclear weapons for such purposes as destroying underground facilities
his appointment in 2001, he also strongly criticized the previous Bush
administration's decision to withdraw nuclear weapons from South Korea and
called for Washington to unilaterally destroy suspected nuclear and missile
installations in North Korea unless Pyongyang complied with an ultimatum to
departure is the latest in a series of developments that have suggested to some
analysts here that a significant foreign policy shift is underway.
hints began with the announcement by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
earlier this month of a new interagency committee to coordinate Iraq policy in
the National Security Council. Rumsfeld's unusually tetchy reaction to the
announcement suggested that the move was more than cosmetic.
next shoe that dropped came during Bush's recent trip to Asia where he
repeatedly stressed his willingness to sign a five-nation security guarantee if
North Korea agreed to fully and verifiably dismantle its nuclear program.
this did not go as far as Pyongyang's demand for bilateral non-aggression pact,
it was a more flexible offer than what Bush had previously put on the table,
prompting Donald Gregg, the chairman of the Korea Society and a former top aide
to George H.W. Bush, to assert that "a corner has been turned and the
administration's pragmatists are in charge."
just the past week, a number of other developments suggested that the White
House was tacking to the middle, away from right-wingers and neoconservatives
like Crouch and Feith.
before Congress Tuesday, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage affirmed
that Washington was not seeking "regime change" in Iran and indeed
expected to engage Teheran in a dialogue over its nuclear program and other
issues shortly. His remarks, which appeared to align the administration behind
a recent European initiative on Iran's nuclear program, also included an
unusually strong denunciation of the Pentagon's decision to negotiate a
cease-fire with an Iraq-based Iranian rebel group during the Iraq war. "We
shouldn't have been signing a cease-fire with a foreign terrorist
organization," he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Pentagon
hawks had reportedly favored keeping the group, the Mujahadin e Khalq (MeK),
intact for possible use as leverage against Teheran. "Armitage is always
blunt," said one congressional aide, "but he must have had a lot of
confidence in his position to say what he said."
Bush's decision Wednesday to "drop by" a meeting between visiting
Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Cao Gangchuan and Rice was considered
particularly disappointing to hawks who had lobbied hard against such an
none of these developments by themselves would warrant the conclusion that the
hawks are in decline, the totality suggests that they may be more than mere
straws in the wind. "This could be the beginning of a change,"
according to Charles Kupchan, a foreign policy analyst at the Council on
Foreign Relations. "What's new is that Bush's poll numbers are nosediving,
and he's scared."
sources say that Robert Blackwill, the administration's former ambassador to
India who was taken on as a senior aide by Rice last month, may be most
responsible for the shifts. Blackwill, who was Rice's boss in the National
Security Council during the first Bush administration, is a savvy Republican
operator with friends and proteges in key posts in the national security
bureaucracy and on Capitol Hill. While considered on the right, he reportedly
shares the first Bush's distrust of neoconservatives, in particular.
Crouch is not considered a neoconservative, he has long been closely associated
with them. A former member of the board of advisers of the Center for Security
Policy, he worked for former Republican Sen. Malcolm Wallop, a far-right
Republican from Cheney's home state of Wyoming before joining the Pentagon as
the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security
in the first Bush administration.
that capacity, he worked under then-Undersecretary for Policy Paul Wolfowitz
for whom he reportedly helped prepare the controversial 1992 Defense Planning
Guidance (DPG) draft which called for, among other things, Washington to pursue
military dominance in and around Eurasia; carry out pre-emptive attacks against
potential threats; and to rely more on ad hoc alliances than multilateral
mechanisms, like the UN or NATO, to promote U.S. interests.
the paper was leaked to the New York Times that spring, it was repudiated by
the administration, and Wolfowitz, the current deputy defense secretary and
Feith's superior, and a close aide, I. Lewis Libby (currently Cheney's chief of
staff and national security adviser) were reportedly almost fired. Crouch himself
left the Pentagon in July, 1992, just three months after the draft DPG was
exposed. The current administration's September 2002 National Security
Strategy, however, was based largely on the DPG developed under Wolfowitz,
Libby, and Crouch ten years before.
is a long-time protege of William van Cleave, a nuclear-arms specialist who
played a key role in the mid-1970s in derailing détente with the Soviet Union,
in part by working with Rumsfeld and neoconservative hawks in derailing
then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's efforts to reach a major strategic
arms agreement with the Soviet Union.
Cleave, who heads the SMSU department of defense and strategic studies to which
Crouch will be returning, has been a major, if low-key, champion of U.S.
military dominance and of developing new nuclear weapons that can be used in
conventional warfare. Van Cleave also serves on the boards of advisers of the
CSP and two Israel-based institutions closely tied to the right-wing Likud
Party--the Ariel Center for Policy Research and the Institute for Advanced
Strategic and Political Studies.
Lobe is a political analyst with Foreign Policy in Focus (online
at www.fpif.org), where this essay first
appeared. He also writes regularly for Inter Press Service. He can be reached