Cheney, Gates, and the Great Game

Posted by Cutler on December 12, 2006
Iran, Russia

The signs of Bush administration resistance to the Baker Iraq Study Group plan grow ever more obvious.

I have been arguing that this represents a battle between two figures–Cheney and Baker–neither of whom are accurately described as Right Zionists or Neocons and both of whom are usually thought of as close to the Saudis.

So what gives?

I have proposed (here and here) that the split is over Iran and, in a larger sense, differences about Russia.

Baker favors diplomatic “engagement” with Iran and Russia. Cheney, I propose, looks at Iran through the lens of Great Power Rivalry for influence and sees the Iranian-Russian alliance as a threat to US efforts to grab influence in the regions around the former Soviet Union.

One small piece of a larger puzzle in this regard:

The administration of Bush Sr. is usually considered to have avoided or controlled much of the factional conflicts that have ravaged the current Bush administration. One exception concerns US responses to the breakup of the Soviet Union.

On this issue, a factional split developed featuring Cheney and Robert Gates on one side and Bush Sr, Scowcroft, and Baker on the other.

Here is one way way Bush Sr. and Scowcroft describe the split in their memoir A World Transformed (page 541):

The next day there was a long NSC meeting over future strategy toward the Soviet Union, focusing on whether we should support a breakup…

Cheney called for a more ‘aggressive’ approach. He argued that we had more leverage than we thought and if we simply reacted we could miss opportunities… He suggested we pick up one of Bob Gates’ ideas to establish consulates in all the republics… ‘We ought to lead and shape the events.’ This, of course, would have been a thinly disguised effort to encourage the breakup of the USSR. Scowcroft countered that our aid program was premised on a strong center… ‘That’s an example of old thinking,’ protested Cheney. Baker urged we continue to try to prop up the center…

‘But what should we be doing now to engage Ukraine?’ asked Cheney. ‘We are reacting.’ Scowcroft observed that Cheney’s premise was that we would be dealing with fifteen or sixteen independent countries. ‘The voluntary breakup of the Soviet Union is in our interest,’ argued Cheney.

For figures like Cheney, the problem with the Soviet Union was not merely “Communism.” It was Russian Empire. The axiomatic premise is not Cold War ideology but the “Great Game” of Great Power Rivalry.

Cheney has been playing it that way. Not so Baker.

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