Leading Republican Brent Scowcroft lambasts Bush

By Daniel Dombey

Financial Times

Published: October 13 2004

A leading Republican says President George W. Bush is "mesmerised" by Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, and that the Bush administration's recent co-operation with the United Nations and Nato in Afghanistan and Iraq is a desperate move to "rescue a failing venture".

Brent Scowcroft, a former national security adviser and close collaborator of former president George H. W. Bush, told the Financial Times that the US administration's "unilateralist" stance had contributed to the decline of the transatlantic relationship.

"It's in general bad," he said. "It's not really hostile but there's an edge to it."

Mr Scowcroft, who served as mentor to Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, has courted unpopularity with the administration before. In 2002 he warned Mr Bush against rushing into a war in Iraq.

But speaking to the FT, Mr Scowcroft, 79, went a step further in attacking some of the president's core foreign policies.

"Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger," Mr Scowcroft said. "I think the president is mesmerised."

"When there is a suicide attack [followed by a reprisal] Sharon calls the president and says, 'I'm on the front line of terrorism', and the president says, 'Yes, you are. . . ' He [Mr Sharon] has been nothing but trouble."

Mr Scowcroft also cast doubt on Mr Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, which last week Dov Weisglass, a leading Israeli adviser, said was intended to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state.

"When I first heard Sharon was getting out of Gaza I was having dinner with Condi [Rice] and she said: 'At least that's good news.' And I said: 'That's terrible news . . . Sharon will say: 'I want to get out of Gaza, finish the wall [the Israelis' security fence] and say I'm done'."

Mr Scowcroft said the US's initial failure to take up Nato offers of assistance in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 was a "severe rebuff". "We had gotten contemptuous of Europeans and their weaknesses," he said. "We had really turned unilateral."

He added that US unilateralism had diminished to some extent but that fundamentally little had changed. He said US engagement with the UN and Nato in Afghanistan and Iraq was "as much an act of desperation as anything else . . . to rescue a failing venture".

"There has been some pulling back of the extremes of neo-cons scoffing at multilateral organisations," he said.

Mr Scowcroft said he hoped that if Mr Bush were re-elected he would change course more fundamentally.

"This is a man who's really driven to seek re-election and done a lot of things with that in mind," he said. "I have something of a hunch that the second administration will be quite different from the first."

He said the US had to turn to Europe to deal with the world's problems.

"We might never get back to the closeness we had in the depths of the cold war because the world is a different place. But it seems to me that our fundamental differences are very, very small."