Richard Wolffe

Stories by Richard Wolffe

  • Diplomatic Diary: Same Old, Same Old

    President George W. Bush recently quipped that Saddam's game with the weapons inspectors looked like a bad old movie. But Bush's own foreign policy has often taken on that same re-run quality. Call it America sticking to its guns. Or call America running into an international brick wall. Either way, the results look like Groundhog Day diplomacy.Again and again, the U.S. has asked its allies, friends and its enemies for the same things. Again and again, those allies, friends and enemies have said the same things in response. Few minds are likely to change at this late stage.In the case of Iraq, the United States is more than ready to use military force. That may well prove the most effective way to change international opinion about the war in Iraq--provided the war is swift and smooth.But with the world's other weapons crisis, in North Korea, winning international support is not some obstruction to U.S. policy--it is the policy itself. President Bush has repeatedly insisted that...
  • Diplomatic Diary: How To Beat France

    This weekend, NATO's great crisis was averted with a cunning old trick: keep your opponents out of the room. In a deal struck in Brussels, the Americans won NATO support for beefing up Turkey's defenses--including providing NATO surveillance planes, Patriot missiles and chemical and biological units. So the transatlantic alliance survives-and Turkey can plan its defenses before war begins in neighboring Iraq-thanks to a simple sidestep around the French. Of course, there was also snowstorm of political pressure dumped on the heads of the last holdouts--mighty Belgium, notably--and some finessing of the final public statements. Yet the real genius behind the weekend's talks was to move the debate to a venue where France has no seat--the arcanely-titled Defense Planning Committee.France has excluded itself from the main task of NATO--military defense--since 1966. It's useful to recall those heady days to understand a little better just what's going on with France right now. (It's also...
  • Judging The Case

    New Threats From Al Qaeda Lead To A High-Threat Alert As Powell Lays Out The Evidence For A War Against Iraq. The Proof-And What's Ahead
  • Diplomatic Diary: Hidden Agenda?

    What is France up to? Why is Paris trying so hard to derail Washington's war? Where did all those secret French diplomatic plans come from? And just what is President Jacques Chirac's game?From the Bush administration's point of view, those questions are among the most perplexing--and surprising--in the final weeks of its diplomacy before war in Iraq. France has emerged to play more than just its traditional role of thorn-in-the-American-side. Over the last month, France has become the commander-in-chief of the Global Alliance against President George W. Bush, actively agitating to block the U.S. president's best-laid plans for war.That has come as a rude awakening for the Bush administration. Over the last year, senior officials have taken a largely generous view of French tactics. Chirac was the first foreign leader to meet with President-elect Bush in Washington (at a private meeting in the French Embassy), and Bush's aides always hoped for a close relationship with a fellow...
  • Diplomatic Diary: Lukewarm Response

    It wasn't exactly the response Colin Powell was hoping for. After an exhaustive account of Iraq's weapons programs, the U.S. secretary of State sat back to let the world digest his indictment of Saddam Hussein's regime.But instead of the cheers of approval--or even a few murmurs of acknowledgement--Powell's much-hyped presentation met with a stubborn inertia inside the luxurious chamber of the United Nations Security Council today. Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, urged the U.N. to "double or triple" the number of weapons inspectors in Iraq. China, the first to respond to Powell's presentation, was even clearer, speaking of the "universal desire of the international community to see a political solution" to the crisis in Iraq.Indeed, the seating plan of the Security Council chamber made the politics of the moment crystal clear.China was sitting next to France, which was in turn placed next to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who sat alongside Germany. All four...
  • War And Consequences

    The Evidence Against Iraq Is Scanty, The Global Opposition To An Attack Growing More Vocal. But The Bush Team's Biggest Dove Has Now Grown Talons. Will War Make Us More--Or Less--Secure?
  • Diplomatic Diary: A Dialogue Of The Deaf

    It's not their fault, said the senior administration official. Going to war is a tough decision, he explained. Many countries need a little help before doing life's difficult things.That was the Bush administration's analysis of the world's nervousness about going to war in Iraq. And what's interesting is not just the sense of parental concern that lies behind it ("One day they'll grow up and see just how dangerous the world is.") It's the driving sense of leadership--a duty to lead--that represents this president's conviction politics.For the Bush White House, it's an endless loop of self-justification: The more our allies are nervous, the greater the need for our leadership. And for those weak-willed Europeans, it's another endless loop of denial: The more America tells us what to do, the more nervous we get. It's a dialogue of the deaf--both sides are speaking to themselves, not to one another."There are different views about the point where everybody should say: Time has run out...
  • A Gathering Storm

    George W. Bush has a clear picture in mind of an ideal world leader and ally. Soon after his Inauguration, Bush asked the British Embassy in Washington for a bust of Winston Churchill. And when it came to staging his first meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush chose a humble wooden cabin called Holly at Camp David--the scene of talks between Churchill and Roosevelt as they planned the Allied invasion of Nazi-held Europe. "He really kind of went after it in a way that seemed like a Texan to me," Bush said of Churchill, as he promised to place the bronze bust under his favorite west Texas painting in the Oval Office. "He wasn't afraid of public-opinion polls. He charged ahead, and the world is better for it."Since that first Camp David session with Blair, and particularly since September 11, Bush has repeatedly invoked the memory of Churchill. But now that Bush is charging ahead against Saddam Hussein, the British prime minister isn't acting quite like The Last Lion....
  • Diplomatic Diary: Friends Through Thick And Thin?

    How close is too close to power? Normally that would be an easy question to answer: there's no such thing. But when that power involves the life-and-death decision of going to war, maybe you can get too a little too close for comfort. ...
  • Diplomatic Diary: Are We Being Naive?

    What is the function of the weapons inspectors in Iraq? This is not a trick question. What exactly are they supposed to do? As we close in on the first serious deadline for the United Nations investigators on Jan. 27, that question is going to be crucially, vitally important in deciding whether we should go to war.So let me give you some options. Are inspectors supposed to:A. Discover Saddam's hidden weapons of mass destruction?B. Supervise Saddam's voluntary dismantling of those hidden weapons?C. Gather intelligence for more accurate military strikes by the U.S. and its allies?D. Justify war or peace?Most people probably believe a combination of D--to justify war or peace--with perhaps a touch of A. We all want the inspectors to make the hardest decision for us. Is it really worth the loss of life in Iraq? Maybe the inspectors can give us some facts to help us out of our moral maze.So everyone is waiting for the inspectors to uncover something-anything--that will prove that either...
  • Who Is The Bigger Threat?

    Bush Has To Make His Case To An Increasingly Skeptical World, And Win Allies In The Process
  • Diplomatic Diary: Hawks Vs. Wimps

    At some point, foreign policy always boils down to sheer machismo: who has the biggest army, the biggest economy, the biggest allies or the biggest bluff. You can dance around with diplomatic niceties, but there is also something much more basic behind the scenes of international affairs. ...
  • Diplomatic Diary: Missing In Action

    Washington has a new favorite parlor game this holiday season. Its name: Where's Otto?--a spin-off on the children's classic "Where's Waldo?" Its aim: to guess the fate of the fiery official who has been leading U.S. foreign policy from Canada to Argentina.Otto Reich once reigned supreme in the State Department, heading up its regional bureau for the western hemisphere. There he maintained the Bush administration's hard-line opposition to Cuba's Fidel Castro. And it was there that he kept close contact with the leaders of Venezuela's abortive coup against President Hugo Chavez in April.Now, as Venezuela suffers another political crisis--in the form of a two-week-old strike designed to oust Chavez yet again--Reich is caught in a twilight zone. Sitting in a small office, five floors below his old digs, he has no bureau to control and Congress and the White House have yet to decide his future.It's not just Reich who is missing in action. For Latin American diplomats, Reich's murky...
  • Bush Cleans House

    They had met more than two decades ago, in the Ford White House, and Dick Cheney wanted to be the one to deliver the bad news to his old friend. After all, it was the veep himself, Bush's headhunter in chief, who had pressed Paul O'Neill to leave a lucrative career and come back to Washington. But after two years of off-message, sometimes bizarre utterances that regularly roiled markets--like declaring Social Security all but obsolete, or inadvertently talking down the dollar--it was clear the Treasury secretary had become a major millstone around George W. Bush's neck. The nation's economy was "just bumping along," Bush had told audiences last month. "It's not as strong as it should be." O'Neill, the self-styled maverick, had to go. The only question was how and when.The plan was to time O'Neill's resignation perfectly. It would be a mere blip in the holiday season, coming after the GOP's big November election win, but before the Bush team starts selling its economic-stimulus plan...
  • Diplomatic Diary: Public Relations War Games

    Inside the West Wing, the Roosevelt Room occupies a special place in Bush family history. There, in December 1990, almost 12 years to the day, Barbara Bush met with the families of recently freed American hostages from Iraq who told of atrocities they suffered and of their happiness at being reunited with their loved ones. Later, they joined President Bush and the First Lady to watch them light the White House Christmas tree.So when this current Bush White House made the unusual move of calling reporters to the Roosevelt Room Friday to discuss Iraq, it was hard to get past the symbolism.This time around, though, it was the foreign-policy advisers who were determined to tell their own Iraqi horror stories of sorts. You might consider it a pre-emptive strike against Iraqi propaganda. Or you might consider it a critical insight into the Bush administration's approach to the United Nations weapons inspections that are continuing in Iraq.Either way, the senior administration officials...
  • The Right Priorities?

    The first time Colin Powell was scheduled to visit Bogota as U.S. secretary of State was on September 11, 2001. It took more than a year to reschedule his trip to the Colombian capital to see for himself what was once the biggest battleground in what the Bush administration sees as a different type of war on terror: narcoterror.Of course, that conflict has changed fundamentally in the last 15 months--which is precisely why Powell took so long to arrive in Bogota. But where does Colombia's long-running battle against drug-trafficking and antigovernment groups now fit into the global terror war?"The President, since 9-11, has increased the attention we have given to terrorism of all forms," Powell told reporters as he flew from Washington this week, "even if they may not be all in the form of Al Qaeda. We can see that these connections start to take place, organizations start to deal with each other, work with each other."Powell was talking about a new breed of international terrorist...

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