Friday, February 10, 2006

Bush Administration's Return To Cold-War Rhetoric Raises Eyebrows

By Rebecca Christie, Dow Jones Newswires
Wall Street Journal
February 9, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Almost seventeen years after the Berlin Wall fell, the White House has returned to Cold War rhetoric to justify its political and military goals.

President George W. Bush, whose father oversaw the fall of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of the Berlin Wall on Nov. 9, 1989, described a generational struggle in his 2006 State of the Union speech. The U.S. is in "a long war against a determined enemy," Bush said, harkening back to Ronald Reagan's 1983 description of "the aggressive impulses of an evil empire."

Senior officials have played up the Cold War comparison. In budget testimony this week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld invoked President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Cold War comments "that seem to have resonance today."

Analysts say the new rhetoric distorts current conditions. The al-Qaeda network isn't a Soviet-style major economy spanning 12 time zones, said defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a Washington-area think tank.

"Since it's actually a handful of nuts with no real resources at their command, it's a little hard to see why such imagery is appropriate," Thompson said.

Even so, the imagery may be a political winner. The Brookings Institute's Michael O'Hanlon said national security is once again a political wedge issue, in a way that was less prevalent during the 1990s.

"I tend to think it's actually more common now for Republicans to be using very much the old rhetoric and for Democrats to be reverting more to post-Cold War approaches still, where things like civil liberties and union rights are given a higher importance," O'Hanlon said.

"I think [this trend] is ultimately to the Democrats' detriment in most of these debates," he said.

After six years of the Bush administration, Rumsfeld's Pentagon still lacks support for some of its most ambitious weapons systems. Congress has consistently cut requested funding for behemoth, communications-oriented programs like the $19 billion Transformational Satellite Communications System, or TSAT, led by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT), and the Army's $161 billion Future Combat Systems modernization initiative, led by Boeing Co. (BA) and Science Applications International Corp. (SAP.XX).

Defense officials have offered the long struggle against terrorism as the latest reason why their technology efforts deserve funding, despite technical setbacks and lengthy development schedules. The 2006 quadrennial defense review offers a "top level" overview of why the Pentagon's plans make sense, said Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary for policy, at a Defense Writer's Group breakfast this week.

"If you look at this long war we're engaged in, and we think of it relative to the Cold War, we're kind of still in the Truman administration," Henry said.

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