Joel Mowbray

While most of Washington was preoccupied with playing the Plame game in late October, the Bush Administration took an apparent turn toward appeasement—or as its advocates would call it, “nuance” and “realism”—in Iraq and Afghanistan with the appointment of a high-level National Security Council official whose worldview more resembles that of the former President Bush than the current one.

As Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was winding down the investigation that resulted in the indictment of former Cheney Chief of Staff Scooter Libby on Oct. 28, Meghan O’Sullivan was elevated to the lofty position of Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan.  This makes O’Sullivan equal in rank to fellow NSC staffer Elliott Abrams, and arguably gives her more influence than many assistant secretaries.

The timing of the promotion was particularly curious, as it came just weeks after the president made a bold step in the direction of moral clarity when articulating on October 6—for the first time—that the enemy we face is not just terrorism, but radical Islam.  Yet if O’Sullivan’s career is defined by anything, it is a worldview colored with thousands of shades of gray, with barely a hint of black and white.

Before the Iraq war, O’Sullivan was the co-creator of the so-called “smart sanctions” that Saddam easily manipulated time and again, and after his regime fell, she was one of the most passionate defenders of senior Baathists.  At other points in recent years, she has tacitly supported Islamists’ attempted takeover of the post-Saddam Iraqi education system, and she is widely seen as a leading advocate for engaging the Iranian mullahs.

That O’Sullivan does not see the world as President Bush does should come as little surprise, considering that her mentor is Richard Haass, currently the head of the Council on Foreign Relations and who was State Department policy director under Powell until 2003.  She followed Haass from the left-leaning Brookings Institute in 2001, and while at Foggy Bottom, she echoed his calls for building warmer relations with the mullah-ocracy in Tehran.

At a July 2000 Brookings press conference moderated by Haass, O’Sullivan noted her sharp distaste for the “rogue regimes” designation because it was “pejorative,” and she complained that the rogue label suggested that countries that sponsor terrorism “were beyond rehabilitation and that the policy options (were limited) to only punitive ones.”

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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