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January 07, 2005

Robert Zoellick as Deputy Secretary of State

It could be a lot worse:

TAPPED: January 2005 Archives: THE NEOCONS LOSE A ROUND. Rather than get his much-rumored promotion to Deputy Secretary of State, Undersecretary of State John Bolton will be leaving the administration, and good riddance. Instead, Condoleezza Rice will be bringing U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick on board as number two, with various other experienced professionals rumored to be taking on the lower-level portfolios. This all has to be regarded as at least mildly good news, indicating that the "neocons run amok" scenario that looked very likely in November probably won't come to fruition.

Zoellick's one of those guys who is, as they say in Washington, "well respected," but it's a bit hard to get a read on what he actually thinks. His previous jobs have almost all been in the realm of international economics. That's a dimension that's largely been missing from Bush's foreign policy thus far, so it's probably reasonable. But it gives us little guide to his views on the meat-and-potatoes military and political aspects of State Department work. His past associates are mostly moderates, but he was one of the original regime changers on Iraq. His job in the first Bush term was dealing with international trade issues, but even here reports conflict as to what was going on. I've heard it said that he's a principled free trader who's just happened to lose a lot of internal battles with the White House political team, but I've also heard it said that he's a committed mercantilist whose views have made it hard for the White House economic team to get a proper hearing for their views.

For the record, I have heard neither of these things said. What I've heard said is that Zoellick was relatively ineffective as USTR, and in meetings was more interested in figuring out what the High Politicians wished to hear than in giving good counsel.

Posted by DeLong at January 7, 2005 08:28 AM


Well, it would be pretty uncharacteristic of any prominent Bushie to put themselves through the stress of listening to things they'd rather not hear.

So I'm guessing what you heard abou Zoellick is true.

Posted by: Susie from Philly at January 7, 2005 08:33 AM

We sure didn't get a FTAA. Instead, we got a lot of bilateral trade deals.

Posted by: praktike at January 7, 2005 09:05 AM

How depressing. I didn't know that stuff about Zoellick.

Posted by: s at January 7, 2005 09:24 AM

'This all has to be regarded as at least mildly good news, indicating that the "neocons run amok" scenario that looked very likely in November probably won't come to fruition.'

Sorry to disappoint, but this is NOT the first time that this particular meme popped up. That was with Powell named 'Sec. of State'-to-be, and we know how that turned out.

Posted by: linnen at January 7, 2005 10:45 AM

Politics has all to do with what's possible, yes? So if Zoellick, who has worked as State Department Counselor, and in international positions at Treasury, as well as at USTR, tends to be a non-dogmatic yes-man, well what more could you really hope for? He has the experience that Condi lacks - econ and financial stuff, rather than great power strategic stuff. He isn't Bolton. That's two for two. You had to know he wasn't going to be a Democrat, so his having no particular theological ax to grind is a blessing. If Condi surrounds herself with other non-dogmatic also-rans who try to talk to the professionals at Main State, at least she won't be completely cut off from advice.

Zoellick ineffective at USTR? He agrees, I think. He couldn't get any multilateral trade deals done, and was quite frustrated. There is no saying it was his fault. Sounds similar to the problem in the late Clinton administration, with Bush bashing our trade and defense partners as a cherry on top. The fact that Zoellick has agreed to a number 2 slot, when he had a number 1 slot, makes me think that he ain't a complete goon.

Posted by: kharris at January 7, 2005 11:01 AM

While everyone is wondering about Robert Zoellick's political views, they might dip into the letter he signed from the Project for the New American Century to President Clinton on January 28, 1998.

The subject was Iraq. The letter concluded:

"If you act now to end the threat of weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. or its allies, you will be acting in the most fundamental national security interests of the country. If we accept a course of weakness and drift, we put our interests and our future at risk."

John Bolton was one of the many neocon luminaries who joined Zoellick in signing this letter.

The Daniel Drezner post linked to above includes the following approving words about Zoellick from PNAC president Gary Schmitt. "Zoellick is one tough nut". Well, Bolton is simply a nut, so I suppose that's progress. But seeing this as a defeat for the neocons shows just how limited our foreign policy personnel choices have become.


Posted by: No Preference at January 7, 2005 03:07 PM

"[Zoellick} was more interested in figuring out what the High Politicians wished to hear than in giving good counsel"

That of course is the secret of his success. Putting it more kindly, he strikes me as like the classic Westminster civil servant who genuinely thinks it improper to push views of his own rather than his elected masters'.

My guess is that now he's in a job where his personal worldview counts he'll make a mess of it - he's been promoted one level beyond his competence.

Posted by: derrida derider at January 7, 2005 04:02 PM

Well, seeing that his sole job is going to be as Rice's enforcer, his professional experience is probably bad news. I'd say he's in about the same position as Porter Goss is and as Alberto Gonzalez will be (and always has been), independence-wise.

It seems to me that the real institutional story of bush's administrations is that he's managing to completely wipe out the balance of powers and replace it with executive prerogative.

We once revolted because the mother country worked like that.

Posted by: Altoid at January 7, 2005 04:49 PM