Bitter Ideological Split in Party Seen Closing : Conservatives Quiet on Bush’s Selection of Kissinger Allies
Thirteen years ago, when then-Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger appeared at the Republican National Convention, many of Ronald Reagan’s delegates stood up and booed at the man they considered an unwelcome symbol of foreign policy moderation. And eight years ago, when Reagan first entered the White House, Kissinger and many of his former aides were pointedly passed over when foreign policy appointments were made.
But times have changed. Two of the most important foreign policy jobs in the new Bush Administration have gone to former “Kissinger men,” with more reportedly to come. There has been hardly a peep of protest from the GOP’s right wing. And Kissinger himself, who sometimes criticized Reagan’s leadership in a tone approaching contempt, has nothing but compliments for the abilities of George Bush.
“I’m very enthusiastic about the new Administration,” the former secretary of state said in a recent telephone interview. “Very, very enthusiastic.”
Worked for Kissinger
Bush’s choice for national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, and deputy secretary of state, Lawrence S. Eagleburger, are not only former Kissinger aides; for the last five years they also have both been officers of Kissinger Associates, Kissinger’s private consulting firm.
Several other Kissinger acolytes are also in line for top jobs under Secretary of State-designate James A. Baker III, according to Reagan Administration officials and Bush transition aides: William G. Hyland, now editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, John D. Negroponte, a National Security Council aide, and Winston Lord, the U.S. ambassador to China.
In years past, a mere mention of their names would have prompted dire warnings from Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and other conservative stalwarts that Reagan’s foreign policy legacy was in danger of being sabotaged. But a call last week to Helms’ office produced only a private word of disparagement from an aide about “the Kissinger-Rockefeller types,” a reference to Kissinger’s original political patron, the late Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller.
Instead, the return of the Kissinger men--and the broad applause their reappointments have drawn--suggest that the bitter ideological differences which often divided not only the Republican Party but also the Reagan Cabinet as well are largely over.
Borrows Dukakis Line
“What we’re seeing, ironically, is a turn to competence rather than ideology,” said another former Kissinger aide, Helmut Sonnenfeldt (borrowing a line from Bush’s opponent, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, in the presidential campaign).
“The appointments, for the most part, have gone to the center of the spectrum,” he said. “What it says is that Bush is going to be that kind of President, and Baker is going to be that kind of secretary of state. . . . You’ll be getting professional people, pragmatic people.”
“A triumph of competence over ideology,” echoed Kenneth L. Adelman, Reagan’s former director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. “It’s a more standard Republican lot than the Reagan Administration started with, more the country club Republican set . . . a vanilla crowd.”
“It’s hard to find in this group what the drive will be, what the message will be,” Adelman added. “The Reagan Administration had SDI (the Strategic Defense Initiative), the Reagan Doctrine (of aid to anti-communist rebels in Nicaragua and elsewhere), the mission of revitalizing American strength. What are these guys going to do?”
But even Adelman agrees that the time is ripe for a more centrist approach. “This is a very different time from 1980,” he said. “Then the strategic momentum was with the Soviet Union, and the United States had to find a way to turn that around. Now everything’s coming up roses, and what we have to do is stay on a steady path.”
To be sure, Bush has not deserted the conservative tenets of Reagan’s foreign policy. The President-elect still supports SDI, aid for the Contras and the use of U.S. military power in the Persian Gulf and other trouble spots. And on one central issue, the U.S. attitude toward the Soviet Union, Bush has been markedly more skeptical than Reagan, who embraced the idea of a new understanding with Moscow as a major part of his legacy.
“The center of gravity has shifted a bit, but not that much,” argued a Bush aide. “Ronald Reagan’s appointments went way up into the 90 percents on a conservative scale. George Bush’s appointments have maybe scaled back from 90 to 85. They’re still conservatives.”
But Bush’s style has been noticeably different from Reagan’s already, even before his inauguration. His rhetoric has been less fiery; “He has a less emotional approach to the issues,” noted Sonnenfeldt. And his attitude toward Congress has been more conciliatory, both Democrats and Republicans say.
And the most ideological conservatives, the ones who struggled to keep the Reagan Administration’s anti-Soviet foreign policy “pure,” are noticeably absent from the lists of rumored appointees.
“Part of it is that the Reaganites just aren’t available any more. They’ve done their bit in government, and now they’re out doing other things,” the Bush aide said. “Part of it is ideological, sure. . . . But there’s stylistic stuff as well as ideology. George Bush likes people who solve problems. He doesn’t like people who are ideologically or personally aggressive, and the two traits often seem to go together.”
Faces Internal Debates
The Bush Administration still faces some internal foreign policy debates. On Nicaragua, for example, the President-elect has spoken strongly in favor of renewed U.S. military aid to the Contras in an attempt to push the leftist regime toward internal democracy. But some members of Congress have said that Baker seems skeptical about how effective the battered Contras can be; and associates say Eagleburger, like Kissinger, has long believed that the center of U.S. concern in Central America should be the threat of growing Soviet influence in the region rather than the quest for parliamentary democracy.
As for Kissinger, Bush aides say he may be asked to head special commissions on foreign policy problems, as he did for Reagan on Central America in 1983-1984. Asked about a possible role for him as a special negotiator in the Middle East or elsewhere, though, they sound uncertain.
“People would spend most of their time worrying about whether Henry was walking away with the store,” said one.
In any case, Kissinger himself says he is quite delighted to see his friends walk away with the Administration’s best jobs, and quite happy to remain in private life with the best contacts in Washington.
“I probably shouldn’t say this,” he mused. “But there probably isn’t a job there that I really want.”