Will Bush Be More Aggressive after His Disillusion with Europe?

The reelected President George W. Bush might be expected to follow his hard-won victory over Democratic Senator John Kerry with serious consideration of his opponent’s advice to re-engage Europe for the sake of broadening support for the war in Iraq and the struggle against global terror.

America could certainly do with more troops in Iraq. Adding German, French and Russian forces to his coalition might do the trick.

But too much has happened in the last few months to make this proposition appealing or even feasible. The European media flaunted their contempt for Bush in the course of his campaign for reelection. It reached the point where it is hard to imagine the German and French governments agreeing to commit troops to Iraq, even within a NATO framework. Russian president Vladimir Putin was more supportive. He might be the only European leader willing to send military forces to help the Americans out in Iraq. But he would set a steep price: Moscow would want to be cut in on Iraqi oil wealth and demand US aid to modernize the Russian army. Putin would have to convince his stiffly negative military and intelligence chiefs that the deal with Washington is exceptionally good for Russia otherwise they would be capable of turning it around as a pretext for unseating him.

The US president could of course make an extreme effort to mollify the Europeans by watering down the policies on which he and the Europeans are poles apart. Speculation that he might adopt this course has led many political analysts to predict that his second term will be quite different from his first. But if he does, he will be obliged to set aside his fight-to-the-death stance on international terror and al Qaeda in particular, a vow he took in the 9/11 aftershock to America, and embrace the European position which favors simultaneous dialogues with all the arms of his “axis of evil.”

The Europeans have never bought into the Bush doctrine for bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East, the ideological mainspring for the US invasion of Iraq. They also insist on engaging rather than fighting Iran and North Korea on their nuclear weapons programs – and have allowed their positions to be consistently whittled down by compromise.

Bush’s new hard-edged team

Still, in the face of stinging personal snubs, Bush in recent months appeared to shift ground in an effort to work through problems in conjunction with European powers. He gave the UK, France and Germany his virtual power of attorney for negotiations with Iran on the suspension of uranium enrichment; he met them halfway on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the roadmap and he co-opted France to steps for ending Syria’s occupation of Lebanon.

The first to break ranks was France. Very soon, Jacques Chirac, instead of working with the Bush administration as he had promised, was discovered exploiting their cooperation to shoot ahead with diplomatic offensives in the unilateral French interest, the while undercutting US policy on the Syria-Lebanon and Iranian nuclear issues. A week ago, Paris pointedly welcomed Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian terrorist chief ostracized by the Bush administration. He was transported by a French presidential aircraft to a French military hospital.

(See separate item on the political mileage France gained from its “hospitality.”)

Bush’s disenchantment with Europe may well be reflected in his second-term cabinet turnover. Instead of the search for common ground, DEBKA-Net-Weekly predicts he will sharpen his transatlantic claws. To this end, as our sources in Washington have reported more than once in the past year, Bush’s tough national security adviser Condoleezza Rice will take over from Colin Powell, the committed diplomat, as secretary of state.

The candidates for replacing defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is believed to be on his way out, are dedicated neocons. One is the hawkish deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz, whose appointment would signal the president’s determination to stay the course in Iraq and persevere in his drive to spread democracy through the Middle East, a doctrine Wolfowitz fathered.

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, vice president Dick Cheney‘s chief of staff and a close associate of Wolfowitz, is tipped as Rice’s successor as national security adviser. So is her deputy, Stephen Hadley. A third contestant for the high-powered White House job is the former US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer.

Bremer has kept a low profile since he returned to Washington earlier this year. He has been working in Bush’s campaign in the hope of landing a plum job in the second-term administration.

Libby’s appointment as national security adviser would seal the already tight circle of close Bush and Cheney aides working to advance the president’s vision for Iraq and the Middle East. A founding member of the Project for the New American Century, Libby was four years ago one of the authors of the PNAC’s recommendations for rebuilding America’s defenses.

Before that, in 1992, Libby, a lawyer by profession, co-produced a report with Wolfowitz called “Defense Planning Guidance”, for then-defense secretary Dick Cheney. The document advocated preemptive action against countries developing weapons of mass destruction. It was criticized at the time as dangerous and reckless.

In the post-9/11 era, this doctrine has become Bush administration policy.

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