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Who controls US foreign policy?



We have repeatedly asked: who controls US foreign policy? The answer seems to be neo-conservatives associated with the Pentagon, and more particularly with its Defense Policy Board. In his new biography of John F. Kennedy, Robert Dallek stresses that the president had formed a very low opinion of Pentagon intelligence and did all he could to keep the Pentagon out of foreign policy. The Bush administration is following the opposite course. A basic fact is that Washington controls foreign and domestic policy to a degree most Americans do not realize. There is in Washington a large number of "think tanks", most of which are conservative. Some are well-known: the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute are well-established. The Brookings Institution, which President Nixon viewed as the focus of opposition to him, is in fact moderate in its views. Is there a list of all these institutions in Washington?

There is one institution in Washington, DC which is of special interest to WAIS: the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies. The university campus is in Baltimore, so the School has considerable autonomy. Its director of strategic studies is Eliot Cohen, a man of undoubted competence, as his career shows. A Harvard Ph.D. in government, he taught there briefly before going to the US Naval War College. He then moved to the Johns Hopkins School, where he founded the Center for Strategic Education, which he directs. His books include Commandos and Politicians (1978), Citizens and Soldiers (1985), Military Misfortunes: the Anatomy of Failure in War (co-author, 1990), and most recently Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime. This is a study of four leaders, one of whom is David Ben Gurion, founder of the state of Israel. Cohen is a member of the Defense Policy Board, where he joins men like Wolfowitz and Perle. A special interest of his is the role of aviation The Air Force awarded him its highest civilian decoration. He undoubtedly played a role in the planning of the Iraq war, in which US aviation was decisive. Whatever one thinks of the Iraq war, the question remains: is President Bush receiving a balanced opinion on the Middle East? The general impression is that he is not.

We return to the role of Washington in formulating national policies. Because of its population, California has a large delegation in the House of Representatives, but that is about all. Under the American system, California has just two seats in the more powerful Senate. California's representation is a predominantly Democrat, so its influence on the Bush administration is very limited. In a country in which power is concentrated in Washington, there is a further concentration of power in the Pentagon. Today is Memorial Day io which we honor those who died in battle. There is the usual ceremony in Arlington Cemetery. However, I have been watching TV and the stress is not on this sorrow but on the progress of our military technology. The Hornet is being replaced by the Super Hornet. The name may be inappropriate, since the Middle East is the hornet's nest, so we do not need more hornets. All this may bore many people for whom Memorial Day is just another holiday like Christmas or Easter. May they enjoy it.

Ronald Hilton - 5/26/03


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