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Context of 'Late March 1989 and After: Defense Secretary Cheney Advocates Enforced Regime Change in Soviet Union'

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Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson.Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson. [Source: US Congress]The recently formed neoconservatives, bound together by magazine publisher Irving Kristol (see 1965), react with horror to the ascendancy of the “McGovern liberals” in the Democratic Party, and turn to conservative senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-WA) for leadership. Jackson calls himself a “muscular Democrat”; others call him “the Senator from Boeing” for his strong support of the US defense industry. Jackson merges a strong support of labor and civil rights groups with a harsh Cold War opposition to the Soviet Union. Jackson assembles a staff of bright, young, ideologically homogeneous staffers who will later become some of the most influential and powerful neoconservatives of their generation, including Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, Elliott Abrams, Abram Shulsky, and Paul Wolfowitz. Jackson’s office—“the bunker,” to staffers—becomes a home for disaffected, ambitious young conservative ideologues with a missionary zeal for change. Jackson presides over the cadre in an almost fatherly fashion.
History of Two Dictators - Many of Jackson’s neoconservative disciples came of age either fighting two foreign dictators—Stalin and/or Hitler—or growing up with family members who fought against them. [Unger, 2007, pp. 35-41] Wolfowitz’s father’s family perished in the Holocaust; he will later say that what happened to European Jews during World War II “shaped a lot of my views.” [New York Times, 4/22/2002] Feith will tell the New Yorker in 2005, “[My] family got wiped out by Hitler, and… all this stuff about working things out—well, talking to Hitler to resolve the problem didn’t make any sense.” Most neoconservatives like Feith and Wolfowitz tend to look to military solutions as a first, not a last, resort. To them, compromise means appeasement, just as Britain’s Neville Chamberlain tried to appease Hitler. Stefan Halper, a White House and State Department official in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations, will say of the neoconservatives, “It is use force first and diplomacy down the line.”
Former Trotskyites - On the other hand, many neoconservatives come to the movement from the hardline, socialist left, often from organizations that supported Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky (see Late 1930s - 1950s). Trotskyites accused Stalin of betraying the purity of the Communist vision as declaimed by Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin. “I can see psychologically why it would not be difficult for them to become [conservative] hard-liners,” says Harvard Sovietologist Richard Pipes, himself a hardliner whose son, Daniel Pipes, will become an influential neoconservative. “It was in reaction to the betrayal.” Many neoconservatives like Stephen Schwartz, a writer for the Weekly Standard, still consider themselves to be loyal disciples of Trotsky. Richard Perle is a Trotskyite socialist when he joins Jackson’s staff, and will always practice what author Craig Unger calls “an insistent, uncompromising, hard-line Bolshevik style” of policy and politics. Like Trotsky, Unger writes, the neoconservatives pride themselves on being skilled bureaucratic infighters, and on trusting no one except a small cadre of like-minded believers. Disagreement is betrayal, and political struggles are always a matter of life and death. [Unger, 2007, pp. 35-41]

Entity Tags: Stefan Halper, Stephen Schwartz, Richard Pipes, Richard Perle, Neville Chamberlain, Abram Shulsky, Douglas Feith, Daniel Pipes, Craig Unger, Paul Wolfowitz, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Elliott Abrams, Leon Trotsky, Irving Kristol

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

As part of the resurgence of the Cold War promulgated by the Reagan administration, Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY), an obstinate enemy of the Soviet union and a relentless advocate of an expanded US nuclear arsenal (see 1981), is part of a delegation sent by Reagan officials to Moscow as part of the reopened arms negotiations between the two countries (see May 1982 and After). It is not Cheney’s first “codel,” or Congressional delegation, but this particular trip is memorable, and not just because it is the first time a House delegation has visited the Soviet Union since 1979.
No Negotiations on Arms - Cheney, the ranking Republican on the trip, meets with Soviet marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, the deputy chief of the Soviet general staff. The meeting is also attended by Cheney’s House colleague, Thomas Downey (D-NY). Akhromeyev astonishes Downey by proposing that the Soviets would consider reopening discussion of mutual weapons cuts in Europe, and accept a one-year testing ban on testing its new SS24 ballistic missile, if the US would ban testing the MX. Downey is elated. In his mind, the proposal is clear evidence of a thaw in US-Soviet relations, and a signal that the Soviets want to move forward with strategic arms talks. Akhromeyev says, according to Downey, “If such a proposal is put forth, it would be considered at the negotiations” between the two governments’ most senior negotiators. But Cheney refuses to listen. “Cheney did not want to allow the Russians to appear in any way reasonable,” Downey later recalls. “He doesn’t believe in negotiations. He’s completely rigid, states his position, and concedes nothing. There could be no negotiations when his position was: It’s my way or the highway.” Cheney later denies that Akhromeyev even made such an offer. Downey, who considers Cheney a friend even though they disagree on virtually everything, recalls saying after the meeting: “I said, ‘You can’t expect them to accept all our terms? You can’t expect them to surrender?’ He said, ‘Yeah, yes I can.’”
'Standing at Ground Zero' - Downey recalls one chilling Moscow moment with Cheney. The two are strolling in Red Square one evening. Downey later recalls: “It was a spectacular night and we walked over to Red Square. There were just the two of us and I asked him what he was thinking. He said, ‘I think we’re standing at Ground Zero.’” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 52-53]

Entity Tags: Reagan administration, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Sergei Akhromeyev, Thomas Downey

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Dick Cheney’s official photo as Secretary of Defense.Dick Cheney’s official photo as Secretary of Defense. [Source: US Department of Defense]Former Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) becomes secretary of defense under President George H. W. Bush. [US Department of Defense, 11/24/2005] Cheney is the second choice; Bush’s first consideration, former Texas senator John Tower, lost key Senate support when details of his licentious lifestyle and possible alcoholism became known. Cheney was the choice of, among others, Vice President Dan Quayle and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who both feel that Bush needs someone in the position fast, and the best way to have someone move through the confirmation process is to have someone from Congress. Although Cheney never served in the military, and managed to dodge service during the Vietnam War with five student deferments, he has no skeletons in his closet like Tower’s, and he has the support of Congressional hawks. His confirmation hearings are little more than a formality.
Cheney Leaves the House, Gingrich Steps In - Cheney’s House colleague, Republican Mickey Edwards, later reflects, “The whole world we live in would be totally different if Dick Cheney had not been plucked from the House to take the place of John Tower.” Cheney was “in line to become the [GOP’s] leader in the House and ultimately the majority leader and speaker,” Edwards will say. “If that [had] happened, the whole Gingrich era wouldn’t have happened.” Edwards is referring to Newt Gingrich (R-GA), the future speaker of the House who, in authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein’s own reflections, “ushered in fifteen years of rancorous, polarized politics.” While Cheney is as partisan as Gingrich, he is not the kind of confrontational, scorched-earth politician Gingrich is. According to Edwards, no one can envision Cheney moving down the same road as Gingrich will.
Successful Tenure - As the Pentagon’s civilian chief, many will reflect on Cheney’s tenure as perhaps his finest hour as a public servant. “I saw him for four years as [defense secretary]. He was one of the best executives the Department of Defense had ever seen,” later says Larry Wilkerson, who will serve in the Bush-Cheney administration as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. “He made decisions. Contrast that with the other one I saw [Clinton Secretary of Defense Lester Aspin], who couldn’t make a decision if it slapped him in the face.” Cheney will preside over a gradual reduction in forces stationed abroad—a reduction skillfully managed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell.
Bringing Aboard the Neoconservatives - Cheney asks one of Tower’s putative hires, Paul Wolfowitz, to stay; Wolfowitz, with fellow Pentagon neoconservatives Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Zalmay Khalilzad, will draft the Pentagon’s 1992 Defense Planning Guide (DPG) (see February 18, 1992), a harshly neoconservative proposal that envisions the US as the world’s strongman, dominating every other country and locking down the Middle East oil reserves for its own use. Though the DPG is denounced by President Bush, Cheney supports it wholeheartedly, even issuing it under his own name. “He took ownership in it,” Khalilzad recalls. Cheney also brings in his aide from the Iran-Contra hearings, David Addington (see Mid-March through Early April, 1987), another neoconservative who shares Cheney’s view of almost unlimited executive power at the expense of the judicial and legislative branches. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 87-95]

Entity Tags: Lester Aspin, George Herbert Walker Bush, David S. Addington, Dan Quayle, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, Jake Bernstein, Lawrence Wilkerson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Tower, Newt Gingrich, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Mickey Edwards, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Lou Dubose, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: US Military

When Dick Cheney becomes defense secretary (see March 20, 1989 and After), he brings into the Pentagon a core group of young, ideological staffers with largely academic (not military) backgrounds. Many of these staffers are neoconservatives who once congregated around Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (see Early 1970s). Cheney places them in the Pentagon’s policy directorate, under the supervision of Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, himself one of Jackson’s cadre. While most administrations leave the policy directorate to perform mundane tasks, Wolfowitz and his team have no interest in such. “They focused on geostrategic issues,” one of his Pentagon aides will recall. “They considered themselves conceptual.” Wolfowitz and his team are more than willing to reevaluate the most fundamental precepts of US foreign policy in their own terms, and in Cheney they have what reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman call “a like-minded patron.” In 1991, Wolfowitz will describe his relationship to Cheney: “Intellectually, we’re very much on similar wavelengths.”
A Different View of the Soviet Union - Cheney pairs with Wolfowitz and his neoconservatives to battle one issue in particular: the US’s dealings with the Soviet Union. Premier Mikhail Gorbachev has been in office for four years, and has built a strong reputation for himself in the West as a charismatic reformer. But Cheney, Wolfowitz, and the others see something far darker. Cheney opposes any dealings with the Soviets except on the most adversarial level (see 1983), and publicly discusses his skepticism of perestroika, Gorbachev’s restructing of the Soviet economy away from a communist paradigm. In April, Cheney tells a CNN news anchor that Gorbachev will “ultimately fail” and a leader “far more hostile” to the West will follow in his footsteps. Some of President Bush’s more “realistic” aides, including James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, and Condoleezza Rice, as well as Bush himself, have cast their lot with Gorbachev and reform; they have no use for Cheney’s public advocacy of using the USSR’s period of transitional turmoil to dismember the nation once and for all.
Cheney's Alternative Policy - Cheney turns to the neoconservatives under Wolfowitz for an alternative strategy. They meet on Saturday mornings in the Pentagon’s E ring, where they have one maverick Sovietologist after another propound his or her views. Almost all of these Sovietologists echo Cheney and Wolfowitz’s view—the USSR is on the brink of collapse, and the US should do what it can to hasten the process and destroy its enemy for good. They assert that what the Soviet Union needs is not a reformer guiding the country back into a papered-over totalitarianism, to emerge (with the US’s help) stronger and more dangerous than before. Instead, Cheney and his cadre advocate enforced regime change in the Soviet Union. Supporting the rebellious Ukraine will undermine the legitimacy of the central Soviet government, and supporting Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, will strike at the heart of the Gorbachev regime. Bush and his core advisers worry about instability, but Cheney says that the destruction of the Soviet Union is worth a little short-term disruption.
Failure - Bush will not adopt the position of his defense secretary, and will continue supporting Gorbachev through the Soviet Union’s painful transition and eventual dissolution. After Cheney goes public one time too many about his feelings about Gorbachev, Baker tells Scowcroft to “[d]ump on Dick” with all deliberate speed. During the final days of the Soviet Union, Cheney will find himself alone against Bush’s senior advisers and Cabinet members in their policy discussions. [New Republic, 11/20/2003]

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Brent Scowcroft, Boris Yeltsin, Franklin Foer, US Department of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James A. Baker, Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, Condoleezza Rice, Mikhail Gorbachev, Spencer Ackerman

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

In the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq, UN inspectors uncover evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program far more advanced than the US intelligence community had predicted. Disgusted by this and other intelligence failures (see Mid-1990 and Late December 1990), Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and his cadre of neoconservatives and hardliners in the Pentagon (see Late March 1989 and After) come to consider the intelligence community, and particularly the CIA, as, in the words of reporters Franklin Foer and Spencer Ackerman, “not only inept but lazy, unimaginative, and arrogant—‘a high priesthood’ in their derisive terminology.” [New Republic, 11/20/2003]

Entity Tags: Spencer Ackerman, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Franklin Foer

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

In a speech at the Nixon Center, neoconservative guru Richard Perle (see 1965 and Early 1970s) attempts to drastically rewrite the history of the Bush administration and his role in the invasion of Iraq. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes that listening to Perle gave him “a sense of falling down the rabbit hole.” Milbank notes: “In real life, Perle was the ideological architect of the Iraq war and of the Bush doctrine of preemptive attack (see 1987-2004, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, March, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 15, 2001, September 19-20, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 18-19, 2001, May 2002, August 16, 2002, November 20, 2002, January 9, 2003, February 25, 2003, and March 27, 2003). But at yesterday’s forum of foreign policy intellectuals, he created a fantastic world in which:
bullet Perle is not a neoconservative.
bullet Neoconservatives do not exist.
bullet Even if neoconservatives did exist, they certainly couldn’t be blamed for the disasters of the past eight years.” [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
Perle had previously advanced his arguments in an article for National Interest magazine. [National Interest, 1/21/2009]
'No Such Thing as a Neoconservative Foreign Policy' - Perle tells the gathering, hosted by National Interest: “There is no such thing as a neoconservative foreign policy. It is a left critique of what is believed by the commentator to be a right-wing policy.” Perle has shaped the nation’s foreign policy since 1974 (see August 15, 1974, Early 1976, 1976, and Early 1981). He was a key player in the Reagan administration’s early attempts to foment a nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union (see Early 1981 and After, 1981 and Beyond, September 1981 through November 1983, May 1982 and After, and October 11-12, 1986). Perle denies any real involvement with the 1996 “Clean Break” document, which Milbank notes “is widely seen as the cornerstone of neoconservative foreign policy” (see July 8, 1996 and March 2007). Perle explains: “My name was on it because I signed up for the study group. I didn’t approve it. I didn’t read it.” In reality, Perle wrote the bulk of the “Clean Break” report. Perle sidesteps questions about the letters he wrote (or helped write) to Presidents Clinton and Bush demanding the overthrow of Saddam Hussein (see January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, and September 20, 2001), saying, “I don’t have the letters in front of me.” He denies having any influence on President Bush’s National Security Strategy, which, as Milbank notes, “enshrin[ed] the neoconservative themes of preemptive war and using American power to spread freedom” (see May 1, 2001), saying: “I don’t know whether President Bush ever read any of those statements [he wrote]. My guess is he didn’t.” Instead, as Perle tells the audience: “I see a number of people here who believe and have expressed themselves abundantly that there is a neoconservative foreign policy and it was the policy that dominated the Bush administration, and they ascribe to it responsibility for the deplorable state of the world. None of that is true, of course.” Bush’s foreign policy had “no philosophical underpinnings and certainly nothing like the demonic influence of neoconservatives that is alleged.” And Perle claims that no neoconservative ever insisted that the US military should be used to spread democratic values (see 1965, Early 1970s, Summer 1972 and After, August 15, 1974, 1976, November 1976, Late November, 1976, 1977-1981, 1981 and Beyond, 1984, Late March 1989 and After, 1991-1997, March 8, 1992, July 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997, November 12, 1997, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, May 29, 1998, July 1998, February 1999, 2000, September 2000, November 1, 2000, January 2001, January 22, 2001 and After, March 12, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 24, 2001, September 25-26, 2001, October 29, 2001, October 29, 2001, November 14, 2001, November 20, 2001, November 29-30, 2001, December 7, 2001, February 2002, April 2002, April 23, 2002, August 6, 2002, September 4, 2002, November 2002-December 2002, November 12, 2002, February 2003, February 13, 2003, March 19, 2003, December 19, 2003, March 2007, September 24, 2007, and October 28, 2007), saying, “I can’t find a single example of a neoconservative supposed to have influence over the Bush administration arguing that we should impose democracy by force.” His strident calls for forcible regime change in Iran were not what they seemed, he says: “I’ve never advocated attacking Iran. Regime change does not imply military force, at least not when I use the term” (see July 8-10, 1996, Late Summer 1996, November 14, 2001, and January 24, 2004).
Challenged by Skeptics - Former Reagan administration official Richard Burt (see Early 1981 and After and May 1982 and After), who challenged Perle during his time in Washington, takes issue with what he calls the “argument that neoconservatism maybe actually doesn’t exist.” He reminds Perle of the longtime rift between foreign policy realists and neoconservative interventionists, and argues, “You’ve got to kind of acknowledge there is a neoconservative school of thought.” Perle replies, “I don’t accept the approach, not at all.” National Interest’s Jacob Heilbrunn asks Perle to justify his current position with the title of his 2003 book An End to Evil. Perle claims: “We had a publisher who chose the title. There’s hardly an ideology in that book.” (Milbank provides an excerpt from the book that reads: “There is no middle way for Americans: It is victory or holocaust. This book is a manual for victory.”) Perle blames the news media for “propagat[ing] this myth of neoconservative influence,” and says the term “neoconservative” itself is sometimes little more than an anti-Semitic slur. After the session, the moderator asks Perle how successful he has been in making his points. “I don’t know that I persuaded anyone,” he concedes. [Washington Post, 2/20/2009]
'Richard Perle Is a Liar' - Harvard professor Stephen Walt, a regular columnist for Foreign Policy magazine, writes flatly, “Richard Perle is a liar.” He continues: “[K]ey neoconservatives like Douglas Feith, I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and others [were] openly calling for regime change in Iraq since the late 1990s and… used their positions in the Bush administration to make the case for war after 9/11, aided by a chorus of sympathetic pundits at places like the American Enterprise Institute, and the Weekly Standard. The neocons were hardly some secret cabal or conspiracy, as they were making their case loudly and in public, and no serious scholar claims that they ‘bamboozled’ Bush and Cheney into a war. Rather, numerous accounts have documented that they had been openly pushing for war since 1998 and they continued to do so after 9/11.… The bottom line is simple: Richard Perle is lying. What is disturbing about this case is is not that a former official is trying to falsify the record in such a brazen fashion; Perle is hardly the first policymaker to kick up dust about his record and he certainly won’t be the last. The real cause for concern is that there are hardly any consequences for the critical role that Perle and the neoconservatives played for their pivotal role in causing one of the great foreign policy disasters in American history. If somebody can help engineer a foolish war and remain a respected Washington insider—as is the case with Perle—what harm is likely to befall them if they lie about it later?” [Foreign Policy, 2/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Jacob Heilbrunn, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, George W. Bush, Douglas Feith, Dana Milbank, Bush administration (43), Stephen Walt, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Burt

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

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