The next generation seeks a more diplomatic US

By James Mann

Financial Times

Published: April 27 2005

During George W. Bush's first term, the president's foreign policy team was dominated by Republican officials whose outlook took shape during the 1970s, in the midst of the cold war and America's defeat in Vietnam. The principal concern of these men, including Dick Cheney, the vice-president, and Donald Rumsfeld, defence secretary, was military power and how it could be built and used to overcome challenges to US national security.

Now a new generation seems to be emerging within the foreign policy team put together for Bush's second term. Its views were formed in a different era - not during the cold war but in the years immediately after it ended. The Rumsfeld-Cheney generation of Republicans began working on foreign policy in the Nixon and Ford administrations; the members of the younger generation started during the late Reagan years and, particularly, during the administration of George H. W. Bush.

At the centre of this younger generation - and certainly its most visible member - is Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state. Yet Ms Rice is not alone; at the State Department she has begun to surround herself with others who had their formative foreign policy experiences between 1989 and 1992. They include Robert Zoellick, deputy secretary of state; Philip Zelikow, state department counsellor; and Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state. Eric Edelman, who has just been picked to become undersecretary of defence, was also closely involved with Ms Rice and the others in the Soviet and European diplomacy that followed the end of the cold war.

This generational transition is subtle but important. The hallmark of the cold war was a sense of limits, caution and pessimism about the possibilities for change; any disturbance to the status quo might lead to nuclear confrontation. But the period immediately after the end of the cold war was one of fluidity and optimism, when policymakers saw first-hand how the US could, through negotiations, bring about far-reaching changes. Those who became involved in foreign policy at that time could afford to take US military predominance for granted and rely on diplomacy to reshape the world.

When Mr Rumsfeld and Mr Cheney served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, diplomacy was what Henry Kissinger did, and they were mistrustful (sometimes for good reason) of his secretive work. Mr Rumsfeld's own direct experiences as a diplomat were less than happy. His service as ambassador to Nato in 1973-4 gave rise to his negative view of "old Europe". As Middle East peace envoy in 1983-4, he came face-to-face not just with Saddam Hussein but with the frustrations of American diplomacy in the region. Mr Cheney's diplomatic efforts have been mostly in the service of military goals; after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Mr Cheney, then defence secretary, led the successful mission to Saudi Arabia to persuade the kingdom to accept US forces on its soil.

The younger generation has had more positive experiences with diplomacy. Ms Rice and those around her were active in the negotiations with the Soviet Union during its dying years and were part of the successful American diplomatic campaign to bring about the unification of Germany. Mr Zelikow and Ms Rice wrote a book - Germany Reunited and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft - that adopts a glowing, almost heroic view of the virtues of diplomacy. In recent months, Ms Rice has begun to talk about the benefits of "transformational diplomacy", echoing her book title.

But exactly what might be the aims of their new diplomacy? A negotiated end to Iran and North Korea's nuclear programmes or some big step towards a peace settlement between Israel and Palestinians? Certainly one focus will be the Middle East. Ms Rice has been arguing for two years that the US should make a "generational commitment" to changing the Middle East, as America did in western Europe after the second world war.

The transformational diplomacy at the end of the cold war was also focused on Europe - and, indeed, the new foreign policy team Ms Rice has put together is heavy on European experience and much lighter on Asian experience. That could spell problems.

In the past, American policymakers without first-hand knowledge of Asia have tended to compensate by sweeping aside complexities and embracing what they usually claim is a "strategic" view of the importance of China. As George Shultz, former secretary of state, once pointed out, a fixation on China's strategic significance causes American officials to lose leverage (and perhaps make too many concessions) in dealing with Beijing.

Could the new administration split along generational lines? It is possible to envisage a smooth division of labour in which Mr Rumsfeld concentrates on military goals, such as "transforming" the defence department and stabilising Iraq, while Ms Rice and her aides seek to transform the rest of the world.

Still, if Ms Rice ever gets close to a negotiated deal - concerning Iran or North Korea, for example - it is hard to imagine Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld not wanting to weigh in; they will look sceptically at any solution that undercuts America's military position. Then, of course, it will be up to Mr Bush who, during his first term, sided with Mr Cheney and Mr Rumsfeld on many of the key issues. The president is certainly not a member of their cold war generation. But neither was Mr Bush closely involved in the heady diplomacy of his father's presidency.

Divisions could emerge within this younger generation, too. Ms Rice, Mr Zoellick and Mr Zelikow each aspire to a broad strategic vision. None is modest in ambition; in personal terms, the secretary of state is probably the humblest of the three. Mr Zoellick, who obtained cabinet rank in the first term as US trade representative, is already letting it be known inside and outside the government that he is more than just a deputy secretary of state. Mr Zelikow helped write the administration's National Security Strategy of 2002; he was also staff director of the congressional September 11 commission, which was severely critical of the administration.

There is no doubt Ms Rice and her colleagues will attempt to shift the emphasis of US foreign policy from military power to diplomacy. It remains unclear whether they will find the circumstances as opportune for diplomacy today as at the beginning of the 1990s.

The writer is author of Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet (Viking/Penguin). He is author-in-residence at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies