The general quality of Bush's second-term, non-Bolton/Wolfowitz appointments, is really a surprising development. Unlike Reagan, Bush hasn't been fighting a lonely intra-administration battle for a more conciliatory, peaceable approach to foreign policy. By all accounts, the neocons believed what Bush believes -- democracy promotion, sweeping vision, bellicosity, etc. And, in the eyes of Bush, conservatives, Marty Peretz*, and some Democrats, his approach has indeed been vindicated. Democratic reform is sweeping across continents. Iraq and Afghanistan have held elections. Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrzyrgstan, and, to some degree, Lebanon, have thrown their bastards out. Mubarak is letting other parties compete. Saudi Arabia is taking tentative steps towards electoral democracy. Israel and Palestine are doing better than any time in recent memory. What's not to like?
We can argue the degree to which those occurrences are, in fact, significant, for days. And the jury's certainly divided on whether or not they're Bush's fault. The point, however, is that Bush almost certainly thinks they're his doing, and as such, probably believes his radical emphasis on muscular democracy promotion an unmitigated success. So why's he turning out the people who ostensibly made it happen? Has he decided that the time for vision has ended and the time for competence begun? Does he believe he's got the visionary chops and just needs some adept career officials to carry out his plans? He's certainly not looking to avoid conflict, what with the nominations of Bolton and Wolfowitz. But even that conflict is being courted in service of pushing them out of the halls of (American) power. So why the purge of the very ideologues The New Republic is lauding?
Now don't get me wrong, I'm glad some reality-based candidates are finally getting hired. But it really is coming at a strange time. If Bush, like his backers, believes the neocon philosophy is finally paying out pots o' gold, his taste for throwing its backers out of office is a little strange. It makes sense under the Rumsfeld/Powell Rubric, in which failure creates job security and perceived success means ready your resume, but Bush doesn't really follow that.
** Does anybody else think the blogosphere's got too many Matt's? There's Yglesias, Singer, Stoller, etc. Kind of like the multipliticy of Jesse's, with Taylor, Lee and Berney all running around. We need to attach numerical markers to these guys so we can keep track of them...