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Where Have You Gone, Richard Armitage?
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Where Have You Gone, Richard Armitage?

Richard Armitage, ex-Deputy Secretary of State, Colin Powell’s right-hand man, a voice for moderation and caution in foreign affairs, is out of government service right now.

But he’s left the door open to come back.

He didn’t rejoin his old consulting firm. Instead, he set up a new business, just to peddle speaking engagements, so he can parachute right back into government without conflicts of interests.

He recently made a high-profile trip to Asia, pontificating on the roles of China, Japan, and Taiwan.

At this point in his career, he apparently wants to report directly to the president, or nobody. Certainly not Condi Rice.

So there are only a few slots available.

His name was bruited about as National Intelligence Director before John Negroponte got that job.

Now the rumor mill, presumably with his encouragement, is touting Armitage as successor to his despised rival, Donald Rumsfeld, as Secretary of Defence.

What to think?

Well, here’s what I think.

As a reward for Condi Rice’s loyalty to George W. Bush—and because the U.S. military is bogged down in Iraq—she’s been given a few months of initiative and political cover in her new position of Secretary of State to make conventional diplomacy work again, mainly against Iran.

At the same time, Donald Rumsfeld is in the doghouse, reportedly for having concealed the extent of the Iraq insurgency and Abu Grahib from President Bush.

I can imagine the President slamming his fist on the table in frustration: “Why wasn’t I told?”

The true source of his anger and dismay is probably the fact that we have been unable to extricate significant numbers of troops from Iraq. Quite the contrary. Instead of putting an overpowering threat on Iran’s doorstep, we’ve given Teheran a front-row seat to an exhibition of how to bog down U.S. forces in a bloody Middle Eastern quagmire.

Therefore, any military threat against Iran is less credible and, if we choose to double down in order to prove Iraq has not compromised our ability to fight a second war, a lot more risky.

If some magic combination of Condi’s skill, European cooperation, and Iranian concessions—and the Iraqi insurgency–extract a diplomatic solution from the Iran mess, then there’s a chance that the neocons will be purged and the old-school diplomats and warmakers will be put in charge again.

And Richard Armitage could become Secretary of Defense.

If, on the other hand, the DoD civilian leadership persuades Bush that our campaigns in western Iraq have put paid to those nasty outside agitators and deadenders; the White House decides that the perception of America’s inexhaustible reserves of will and power would be fatally compromised if we shrink from a military confrontation with Iran; Condi gets steamrollered by Dick Cheney; and it looks like the insufferable Don Rumsfeld is the only man to squeeze another war out of America’s overstretched and resentful military…

…then Richard Armitage stays on the sidelines.

What does this have to do with China?

Richard Armitage is one of the foreign policy elders of the Republican Party, and has held a Pacific/Asia brief ever since the Reagan administration.

He’s not just a Foggy Bottom bureaucrat.

Armitage is a pedigreed CIA spook via the U.S. Navy, did all sorts of special envoy work in Asia and the Middle East for Bush I, received the highest decoration of the Pakistan government given to foreigners for doing god knows what, and is alleged to have tried to weaken the Communists in Indo-China in the 1970s by encouraging the heroin trade there.

His power and influence is presumably multiplied by the activities of Armitage Associates.

In one of those “doing well while doing good” things that we Beltway outsiders find so confusing, Armitage founded a consulting company, Armitage Associates, that provides services to the likes of JP Morgan Chase and Halliburton, and seems to be a revolving door for deserving members of the foreign policy establishment as well as politically useful individuals like Dick Cheney’s daughter (no, the other one).

So, consider Armitage a Bush I Jedi master of the foreign policy game as well as godfather of America’s current, even-handed approach to China.

He ran the China show at State and, even more importantly, brought in Richard Lawless, another old-school ex-CIA great power Asianist with Bush I links, to run East Asia matters in the Pentagon.

According to Spencer Ackerman, Armitage abhors ideology and presumably abhors ideology-driven neo-con foreign policy.

His current speaker’s profile contains the soothing statement

…the coming Asian Century need not be one which distresses us, however. Richard Armitage, former deputy secretary of state, addresses why we shouldn’t worry about the emergence of China and India, and points to our own success in the regions China and India are believe to dominate.

If Richard Armitage returns to Washington, that’s a good sign the grown-ups are in charge of China policy.

If, on the other hand, Condi Rice fails and the neo-cons regain their previous sway, then we’re in the Decade of Living Dangerously as far as China is concerned.

There is an apparatus of foreign policy adventurers in the Pentagon, at think tanks, and on Capitol Hill, known as the Blue Team, who have placed their bets on conflict with China as a driver for policy, prestige, and careers and would welcome the opportunity to ratchet up tensions with the PRC.

Recent events indicate that anti-China hardliners are taking advantage of the power vacuum left by Powell and Armitage’s departures, and are pushing a more overtly confrontational line against the PRC. The diplomatic effort led by John Bolton to maintain the EU arms embargo against China, critical CIA and DoD assessments of the Chinese military threat, and Tokyo’s willingness to publicly identify the Taiwan Straits as a shared security concern of the United States and Japan have put the PRC on notice that moderation and circumspection are no longer the status quo in U.S. China policy.

If China policy turns into a football for reckless, callow, and callous ideologues, we may all be singing…

Where have you gone, Richard Armitage?

The nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

(Republished from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy 
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