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Hardly a Dove Among Dems’ Brain Trusters

Anyone looking for a strongly dovish alternative to the foreign affairs and national security policymakers advising President Bush would be hard pressed to find it among the analysts and former diplomats advising the leading Democratic presidential hopefuls.

An informal survey of the top five contenders’ campaigns yielded a list representing the solid mainstream of the foreign policy establishment, with many proponents of an assertive use of American power and few critics of the use of force.

“It’s all high-level Clinton administration figures with a good deal of foreign policy experience at State and Defense,” a former ambassador to Turkey, Morton Abramowitz, said of the group. “It’s more the tough-minded Democratic side, not the softer side.”

The leading Democratic foreign policy voice appears to be Richard Holbrooke, a former ambassador to the United Nations who negotiated the end of the Yugoslavian civil war. The campaigns of the three top hopefuls — Missouri Rep. Richard Gephardt, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman — all named Holbrooke as an adviser; he was the only former diplomat to be cited that often. Given Holbrooke’s prominence in the candidates’ minds, he seems a likely choice for secretary of state if a Democrat ousts Bush from the White House.

Holbrooke, who was traveling and not available for comment, attacked Bush last month — from the right, as the conservative Wall Street Journal noted approvingly — for seeking one last U.N. Security Council resolution before going to war. The United States attacked Serbia in 1999 without a U.N. mandate, Holbrooke noted in a February 23 opinion article in The Washington Post, arguing that to seek another resolution “would leave the clear impression than any military action that follows is in violation of the Security Council’s will, rather than being derived logically from the long trail of Iraqi defiance.”

“The U.S. cannot and will not accept the U.N. as the sole legitimizer of force,” Holbrooke told a conference in Vietnam on the eve of the war, according to a Dow Jones wire report.

Gephardt’s campaign also listed as advisers former Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger; Clinton secretary of state Madeleine Albright; a Clinton deputy national security adviser, Jim Steinberg, who now works at the liberal Brookings Institution; Michael O’Hanlon, a defense policy analyst at Brookings, and Rudy DeLeon, an undersecretary of defense under Clinton who is now the Boeing Corporation’s vice president for government affairs.

Gephardt’s closest foreign policy adviser, however, is probably Brett O’Brien, currently with the Harbour Group in Washington, who was his foreign policy and national security adviser as House Democratic leader. O’Brien declined a request for comment.

Kerry’s campaign said his “brain trust” includes O’Hanlon; Harlan Ullman, a longtime naval officer and one of the developers of the doctrine of “shock and awe” being used in Iraq, and Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, the think tank associated with the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.

Other Kerry-watchers named a foreign policy aide on his Senate staff, Nancy Stetson, as a key adviser and possible contender for a top job in a Kerry administration.

Lieberman’s aides listed Berger; Ashton Carter, a former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, now at Harvard; Leon Fuerth, a professor of foreign policy who was national security adviser to former vice president Al Gore; Martin Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel; Kenneth Pollack, author of “The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq” and one of the most articulate spokesmen for the preemptive policy underlying the Iraq war; Kurt Campbell, director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; Eliot Cohen, a Johns Hopkins professor who penned “Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime”; Robert Kagan, who has emerged as a top neoconservative critic of Europe’s conduct in the Iraq crisis, and Andrew Krepinevich, a former Army officer who serves as executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense think tank.

The campaign of North Carolina Senator John Edwards did not respond to repeated requests for such a list.

Sue Allen, the campaign spokeswoman for former Vermont governor Howard Dean — who has positioned himself as the most anti-war of the leading contenders — declined to release the names of those who are advising her candidate.

“He doesn’t give them out,” Allen said of Dean, describing his advisers as “a variety of former Clinton administration defense and foreign policy people.”

“We’re not being cute about it,” she said. “These people advise us behind the scene. That’s how they prefer it and we prefer it.”

The campaigns that responded stressed that the advisers named do not maintain any formal connection to the campaigns, rendering their advice not to the candidates as such, but in their capacities as policymakers.

Abramowitz characterized Lieberman’s list as “the most interesting… because it combines Republicans and Democrats, or at least neoconservatives and Democrats.” He said it had “the greatest breadth” and was “much more hawkish,” while the lists of Kerry and Gephardt were “much more traditionally Democratic,” although Kerry’s list has “a heavy emphasis on defense types.”

The main critique coming from Democrats — as the candidates have articulated — centers on the president’s failure to bring the leading continental European nations into the coalition fighting in Iraq — or, in the shorthand of the day, Bush’s “unilateralism.” That criticism, however, speaks not to the necessity or advisability of war, but to the conduct of the diplomacy leading to it.

Fuerth, the former Gore adviser, thinks that the United States is “taking a lot of damage” internationally because of the president’s bald statements of American prerogatives and aims in speeches leading up to the war. He told the Forward that Bush’s doctrine of preemption is formulated in terms that are “really radical” and “so blunt and so raw that everyone else recoils.”

“Most Americans would [agree] that words do matter,” Fuerth continued. “How we describe ourselves and our purposes determines whether others are drawn to our side or repelled by what we stand for…. How do you build a peaceful world when the most powerful country says, ‘We are bound only by our own choices’?”

Marshall, who helped Kerry pen a major foreign policy address delivered recently at Georgetown University, also puts a critique of unilateralism front and center. The approach he has helped the candidate fashion “combines an appreciation of the role military strength and the credible use of force plays to back up America’s global leadership, but thinks it is in America’s strategic interest to work with alliances to advance common aims,” he told the Forward.

Abramowitz said he expected the Democratic field, which stayed criticism of the president as the war commenced, to seize on the issues of “destroyed alliances” and the reconstruction of Iraq once the fighting dies down.

According to foreign policy analyst Barry Rubin, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs, Bush’s unilateralism is an “easy” target for Democrats, but their critique of it does not constitute an alternative foreign policy on which to build a campaign. Such criticism also may be a political loser.

“Can the Dems run a campaign on the issue that the United States should be nicer to France?” Rubin asked rhetorically. “It’s a problem.”

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