HomeAbout Think TankAbout Ben WattenbergPrevious ShowsWhere to WatchSpecials


Watch Videos and Listen to Podcasts at ThinkTankTV.com

  « Back to Vulcan Policy main page
TranscriptsGuestsRelated ProgramsFeedback

Transcript for:

Vulcan Policy

TTBW 1212 Vulcan Policy
PBS air date 4/29/2004

Funding for Think Tank is provided by:

At Pfizer weíre spending over five billion dollars looking for the cures of the future. We have twelve thousand scientists and health experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion. Pfizer. Life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

(opening animation)

Ben WATTENBERG: Hello, Iím Ben Wattenberg. By Washington standards, President George W. Bush was a relative novice about foreign policy when he campaigned for the presidency IN 2000. To level the playing field, Bush gathered together a group of top advisors from a generation shaped by the Cold War and Vietnam, by Desert Storm and the foreign policy of President Bill Clinton. They are: Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz, and Condoleezza Rice. They call themselves 'the Vulcans.' Sometimes they quarrel among themselves. But they have been instrumental in creating a new American foreign policy that has changed America, and the world. Not everyone is happy about it. To learn more, Think Tank welcomes James Mann, writer-in-residence at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, former correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, and the author of 'Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bushís War Cabinet. The topic before the house: Vulcan Policy, this week on Think Tank.

(music break)

Ben WATTENBERG: Jim Mann, thank you for joining us on Think Tank. Let me just tell our viewers. Your book, Rise of the Vulcans, is a terrific book. It literally kept me up at night reading, which is not a good thing, but itís a terrific book. Itís very fascinating. Iím interested in foreign policy, but itís not only about American foreign policy itís about six Americans and it sort of blends the two. Why donít we start out and give us a little thumbnail sketch of the players you deal with. I guess we ought to do it in rank order, which would mean starting with Dick Cheney, the vice president, and then Secretary of State and whoever...

James MANN: Well the book is a history of the last thirty years of American foreign policy as told through the eyes of, as a portrait of, these six individuals whoíve served in several different Republican administrations. So Dick Cheney, the first person you mentioned first appears in the book in the late 1960s when heís a graduate student in Washington looking for jobs and manages somehow to hook on to this Congressman, Don Rumsfeld and when Don Rumsfeld gets his first job in the executive branch of government as head of the Antipoverty Agency, Dick Cheney becomes his top administrative assistant.

Ben WATTENBERG: The Antipoverty Agency was the Office of Economic Opportunity. I worked for President Johnson. I remember that. It got us into a lot of trouble. But anyway...

James MANN: Right. What was interesting about Rumsfeld and Cheney working with him is that President Nixon had been skeptical about the value of the antipoverty program and remained so all through his time in office but Rumsfeld who headed it for two years ended up fighting very hard for it.

Ben WATTENBERG: Cheney is what kind of a guy?

James MANN: The Secret Service - this is in the Ford administration, gave him the name 'backseat'. I think it was one of the most apt codenames that they ever gave anyone. Very self-effacing, very quiet, laconic, discreet. It was because he was so discreet - He was doing things like fixing the White House plumbing; working on getting a headrest for Betty Ford. Very, very ordinary - keeping the White House working. And then because heís so hardworking and discreet they start giving him intelligence things to work on. Deeply conservative. Once when he was in Congress came out and told his press secretary, 'Go call the Washington Post. Tell them Iím not a moderate; Iím a conservative.'

Ben WATTENBERG: Okay. Number two is Secretary of State Colin Powell.

James MANN: Obviously long military career. Always considered these days something of a dove. Thatís not quite correct. Over his long career he has at various times been the leader in the American military intervention in Panama for example. Very complex views on the use of force.

Ben WATTENBERG: And if Iím not mistaken either the most popular man in America or very close to it.

James MANN: Very close. Polls always show that. And yet faces the dilemma that he thought of running for president, didnít, and therefore has to accommodate to some other president, or not.

Ben WATTENBERG: Correct. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

James MANN: Probably the most talented bureaucrat, with the possible exception of Henry Kissinger, thatís worked in U.S. government over the last thirty years. One of his Republican colleagues told me the thing that Republicans keep in mind about Don Rumsfeld is he never loses. Heís a bureaucratic warrior. He fights these battles within the bureaucracy, comes right at people. He was that way as a Chief Executive in business, too.

Ben WATTENBERG: Okay. Now, the person in the foreign policy establishment whoís supposed to get all these views linked together is the NSA - the National Security Advisor and itís Condoleezza Rice - Condie Rice.

James MANN: Right. Her main skill is at bridging the longstanding divisions with the Republican Party. She seems to always have in mind the fact that several Republican presidents have had to deal with splits on foreign policy within the party, and she has been skillful at overcoming them. Where she hasnít been so skillful is working out a unified position between State Department and Defense Department.

Ben WATTENBERG: In the administration of George H. W. Bush she was in charge of the Russia portfolio, wasnít she?

James MANN: Right.

Ben WATTENBERG: Soviet Union. Right.

James MANN: She did that for two years.


James MANN: She was very good at it. I found typically with Condoleezza Rice in interviewing for this book - this is twelve or fourteen years later - I found the hawks within the first Bush administration saying you know, in all these debates about Soviet policy, Condie Rice was with us. And the doves said, you know, she was really with us. Sheís very skillful at persuading all sides of a debate that sheís kind of with them.

Ben WATTENBERG: Okay. Not a bad skill to have for that job. Now, Powellís deputy is Richard Armitage.

James MANN: Right.

WATTENBERG: Tell me something about Richard Armitage.

James MANN: A Vietnam Veteran who served and served and served and served, and served several tours in Vietnam, then later rose to a position of prominence in Ronald Reaganís Pentagon. And while he was there became very close to Colin Powell, and each one is the othersí closest friend.

Ben WATTENBERG: All right. And the last of the six is Rumsfeldís number two - Paul Wolfowitz.

James MANN: Right. Really the theoretician of the administration. Someone who came out of an academic background, has ties to the neoconservative movement, really began quite close to Senator Henry Jackson, didnít become a Republican until the Reagan administration.

Ben WATTENBERG: So we got these six people. What in your judgment characterizes them? They quarrel a lot. We read about that, but state and defense and the NSA - theyíre always quarreling... every administration. What do these people agree on?

James MANN: I try in the book to lay out four or five different things that they all have in common despite all these fights that everybody reads about between - and theyíre real - between Rumsfeld and Powell and so on. But over the last thirty years of history there are several things they have in common. One: they all have backgrounds in the Defense Department. All served in the Defense Department. Itís sort of the founding institution of their careers. They all tend to believe in the importance of American military power. Thatís number one. Number two: thereís a skepticism about the value of accommodations with other countries. This starts with the debates over detente with the Soviet Union. Number three: they all believe that Americaís a force for good around the world. In contrast to say the democrats in Congress in the í70s who thought otherwise. And then there is the fourth thing and thatís quite important. Just separate from liberal or conservative, good or bad their own views of American power are quite expansive so when you get debates about whether the United States is in decline or not for example in the late 1980s, all these people are of the sort - they tend to believe that the United States is more powerful than the pessimists think.

Ben WATTENBERG: To put it simply and as bluntly as I can, they all think Americaís number one and we ought to stay number one and thatís good for the world.

James MANN: Yes.

Ben WATTENBERG: And they think that America ought to be the exemplar of spreading liberty and democracy around the world.

James MANN: Yes. Exactly.

Ben WATTENBERG: Thatís really what theyíre up to.

James MANN: Yep. But also that America should closely protect its strategic interests. So when you get into things like the Persian Gulf, itís hard to separate out Americaís a force for goodness and also the importance of oil reserves in the Persian Gulf.

Ben WATTENBERG: Yes, I found something interesting when I read your book. When the United States first went into Iraq some of the 'anti' people said ah, itís a war for oil. And I thought oh thatís ridiculous; itís not a war for oil. But when you think about it - I mean the reason that Americaís so interested in the Middle East is because they have so much oil there.

James MANN: Right.

Ben WATTENBERG: I mean it was not a war, quote, 'for oil,' but oil is why the Middle East is important.

James MANN: Well sometimes when some people talk about a war for oil theyíre talking about private oil companies. In the minds of some of these people weíre talking about the geopolitical importance of oil and specifically I tell the story in the book of Paul Wolfowitz who in the late 1970s does a study for the Pentagon. Heís asked to look at where the United States might need to use force around the world and he takes a look at the Persian Gulf. He starts out doing something thatís quite, you know, what anybody would do. He looks at well, what if the Soviet Union was to invade the Middle East, and everybodyís on board with that. And then he takes it one step further and he says well, if weíre worried about the oil fields of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait what about Iraq? And no one had really looked at this before. Itís the first time that anyone looked at Iraq as a possible threat to oil reserves.

Ben WATTENBERG: As probably the most powerful military force in the Middle East. You said that these Vulcans are prepared to act unilaterally. My sense, again reading your book, was they are prepared to act unilaterally when they have to. Like anybody else, theyíd much prefer to have allies.

James MANN: Yes. Except that unilateralism if thatís what weíre going to call it, didnít start on January 20th, 2001. That this is an outgrowth of the end of the Cold War. That no one remembers it now but in the late 1990s there were charges from Europe regularly that the Clinton administration was unilateral when it did things like reject the landmine treaty or the international criminal court. Now the Bush administration took it further but this isnít something that just started one day.

Ben WATTENBERG: Well, when you call America a hegemon, or a super number one, or an omnipower, or whatever it is you call it, you can act unilaterally if you have to.

James MANN: Well you have the power to, and the United States has really since the mid 90s. You know, you remember the 1998 bombing of Iraq with only Britain as an ally. Yes.

Ben WATTENBERG: How much does the United States spend now on the defense budget?

James MANN: About four hundred billion dollars.

Ben WATTENBERG: And President George W. Bush has asked for a big increase in that.

James MANN: Yes.

Ben WATTENBERG: For what, about another fifty, sixty billion dollars?

James MANN: Thatís right. Yes.

Ben WATTENBERG: Now of course, President Bush has his own very unique perch. Where does he fit in? I mean originally we heard Cheneyís making the calls. You donít hear so much of that. I mean, President Bush is making the calls now.

James MANN: I think that he, as time goes on over this four-year period, he becomes more and more important and has more and more views of his own. I think at first he came in, you know, he hadnít dealt with foreign policy before and itís still true throughout this administration from beginning to end he gets his options from these Vulcans, he gets his information from them, opinions are formulated by them. He is the decision-maker.

Ben WATTENBERG: Now some commentators have sort of tended to write about and think about these Vulcans as sort of some kind of a cabal. Itís doing things, making things happen that wouldnít have happened otherwise or going around the president, through the president, around Condeleezza Rice, whatever. You buy that?

James MANN: No, I donít. I donít buy that. In the first place these six Vulcans donít all think alike at all. They have different views. Certainly itís hard to imagine Colin Powell and Dick Cheney participating so closely that theyíre conspiring. Sometimes I hear the idea that they reflect some conspiracy outside the administration and I donít see that either. I mean Iíve heard this is a neoconservative conspiracy expect the neoconservatives didnít support Bush for president. They support John McCain. Iíve heard itís a Skull and Bones conspiracy. I guess thatís George Bush...

Ben WATTENBERG: I heard that it was a Jewish conspiracy out of the neoconservative movement.

James MANN: I think I added up eight or nine different conspiracies and my answerís really none of the above.

Ben WATTENBERG: Why do you think these Vulcans have become so controversial?

James MANN: Well I think their policies are controversial. The intervention in Iraq was controversial so thatís the first answer. The second is though, is that theyíve been pursuing different policies from either the Clinton administration or the first Bush administration since the first months in office. Theyíve pushed very hard for missile defense. They took different policies on North Korea. I try to explore in the book the 1990s when the republicans are out of office but some of them are sort of gathering together and talking ideas and the Republican Party begins to change during the 1990s and it becomes more hawkish, if you will, than the first Bush administration.

Ben WATTENBERG: When does the idea first surface of getting Saddam Hussein and getting Iraq? When does that come up?

James MANN: Letís distinguish between two different things. Getting or overthrowing Saddam Hussein, which goes back to about 1998, or actually planning an invasion. The first, as late as 1996 and 7, some of the leading Vulcans including Paul Wolfowitz, whoís usually regarded as the hawk, are still saying 'boy, we were right not to go to Baghdad during the first Gulf War.' It would have led to a permanent occupation of the country. It would have been very difficult. By the late í90s they begin to see the argument for overthrowing Saddam Hussein. And so does the Clinton administration, which adopts that as a formal policy.

Ben WATTENBERG: Yes, but the Clinton administration sent in a few missiles at night and they hit the cleaning women. I mean they didnít really go after the principles.

James MANN: Right and the second Bush administration takes office in 2001 and they donít immediately go after Saddam Hussein either. They talk about it. Theyíre more eager to do it than the Clinton administration but on the other hand their policy for eight or nine months is whatís called smart sanctions. Itís an economic approach. It isnít ítil after September 11th and then gradual - I mean really quite quickly they begin to talk about acting against Iraq and by early 2002 I find the military is engaged in actually planning a military invasion, which is the key thing.

Ben WATTENBERG: These Vulcans, theyíre characterized by something else which is interesting in the diplomatic sphere, especially these days, which is their apparent lack of interest in economics and international trade which is normally a pretty heavy part of both the State Department and the National Security Advisor, necessarily so.

James MANN: Right. They tend to - itís not that theyíre not interested. I mean Donald Rumsfeld was a business executive for a good while but their view tends to be well, let private companies deal with that. Theyíre really not that interested in international economic policy. You know, the economic team is really separate from all this. In the Clinton administration the economic team is sort of running the whole show.

Ben WATTENBERG: What your really fine book brings to mind is the book that I guess Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas did about another generation right after World War II that sort of shaped and reshaped and formed American foreign policy and it lasted for half a century and it included of course Dean Atchison and Averell Harriman and George Kennon. Who am I missing? John McCloy.

James MANN: Right. Robert Lovett.

Ben WATTENBERG: Robert Lovett. I mean these...

James MANN: Yes.

Ben WATTENBERG: And these were people who sort of came from wealth and privilege.

James MANN: Right. Very much Princeton, Yale and Harvard. Very East Coast and so in background this group is different first of all. You know, weíre talking about people who went to University of Denver, Naval Academy and so on. But the other thing thatís different - that group which is called in that book The Wise Man, that group from the 1940s, they tended to come from investment banking, big law firms. Very different kind of background and they were interested in building new institutions, which they did. This group of people, really their common institution is the Pentagon - is the military that they all served in. And theyíre interested in military power more than in institution building.

Ben WATTENBERG: Is this group, led certainly now by George W. Bush, are they going to stick it out if the going gets really tough?

James MANN: Well the tip-off that they plan to stick it out is the phrases that they began to use. Condoleezza Rice - a generational commitment to the Middle East. I mean sheís comparing this group of people to the Atchison generation where they essentially took on Europe as a commitment for the United States in the í40s. Sheís now saying weíre going to remake the Middle East. Thatís extraordinarily ambitious. But again with this administration thereís a streak that they donít acknowledge of what I would call old-fashioned realism. There are some real exceptions on there like China, the biggest one. I donít find that this administration is particularly pushing hard for democracy in China.

Ben WATTENBERG: Where do you think weíre going to be ten years from now?

James MANN: I think that we will be more restrained in the use of military force than we have been in the last couple of years. I think we will be emphasizing different kinds of approaches to dealing with the world. I think that these last couple of years have been a unique phase which history will show was a response to the horrible attacks of September 11th. But that that emphasis on military force of the last couple of years will begin to evolve into different kinds of approaches, both to dealing with terrorism and to dealing with the world in general.

Ben WATTENBERG: Every once in awhile the Wegman cliché is right and 9/11 they said it changed everything. It really did change everything, didnít it?

James MANN: The phrase that Richard Armitage used, you know, within 48 hours after September 11th the administration called in the Pakistani intelligence chief who happened to be in town. And they called him in for a reason and the reason was that they wanted Pakistan to let the United States - to act against the Taliban on its own and to help the United States in acting against Taliban in Afghanistan.

Ben WATTENBERG: In Afghanistan. Right.

James MANN: And Armitage begins to ask this and the Pakistani intelligence chief begins to go into a long, long explanation of you have to understand our relations with the Taliban evolved this way and Armitage finally cuts him short and he says, 'Look. History starts today.' And those three words summarize the way this administration looked at things after September 11th. That nothing that happened before counts. For the Vulcans - the whole thrust and message of this book is history counted; you canít look at these six guys, you canít look at the Bush administration without knowing where theyíve been over the last thirty years.

Ben WATTENBERG: Okay, good luck and thank you very much for joining us, Jim Mann. And thank you, please remember to send us your comments via e-mail. It helps us make our program better. For Think Tank, Iím Ben Wattenberg.


We at Think Tank depend on your views to make our show better. Please send your questions and comments to New River Media, 1219 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036. Or e-mail us at thinktank@pbs.org.

To learn more about Think Tank, visit PBS on line at www.pbs.org, and, please, let us know where you watch Think Tank.

Funding for this program is provided by:

At Pfizer weíre spending over five billion dollars looking for the cures of the future. We have twelve thousand scientists and health experts who firmly believe the only thing incurable is our passion. Pfizer. Life is our lifeís work.

Additional funding is provided by the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

We are PBS.

Back to top

Think Tank is made possible by generous support from the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Donner Canadian Foundation, the Dodge Jones Foundation, and Pfizer, Inc.

©Copyright Think Tank. All rights reserved.
BJW, Inc.  New River Media 

Web development by Bean Creative.