Moves Cement Hard-Line Stance On
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
By accepting Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's resignation, President
Bush appears to have taken a decisive turn in his approach to foreign
Powell's departure -- and Bush's intention to name his confidante,
national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, as Powell's replacement --
would mark the triumph of a hard-edged approach to diplomacy espoused by
Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Powell's
brand of moderate realism was often overridden in the administration's
councils of power, but Powell's presence ensured that the president
heard divergent views on how to proceed on key foreign policy issues.
But, with Powell out of the picture, the long-running struggle over key
foreign policy issues is likely to be less intense. Powell has pressed
for working with the Europeans on ending Iran's nuclear program,
pursuing diplomatic talks with North Korea over its nuclear ambitions
and taking a tougher approach with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Now, the policy toward Iran and North Korea may turn decidedly sharper,
with a bigger push for sanctions rather than diplomacy. On Middle East
peace, the burden for progress will remain largely with the
Moreover, in elevating Rice, Bush is signaling that he is comfortable
with the direction of the past four years and sees little need to
dramatically shift course. Powell has had conversations for six months
with Bush about the need for a "new team" in foreign policy, a senior
State Department official said. But in the end only the key official who
did not mesh well with the others -- Powell -- is leaving.
"My impression is that the president broadly believes his direction is
correct," said former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
Rice sometimes backed Powell in his confrontations with Cheney and
Rumsfeld, but more often than not she allowed the vice president and the
defense secretary to have enormous influence over key diplomatic issues.
More to the point, she is deeply familiar with the president's thinking
on foreign policy -- and can be expected to ride herd on a State
Department bureaucracy that some conservatives have viewed as openly
hostile to the president's policies. The departures of Powell and his
deputy, Richard L. Armitage, could trigger a wholesale reshuffling of
top State Department officials.
"Condi knows what the president wants to accomplish and agrees with it,"
said Gary Schmitt, director of the Project for the New American Century,
a think tank that frequently reflects the views of hard-liners in the
administration. "One of Powell's weaknesses is that even when he signed
on to the president's policy, he was not effective in managing the
building to follow the policy as well."
Of course, senior officials often become advocates of the bureaucracies
they head. For decades, there has been an institutional split between
the State and Defense departments -- though many say the battles in
Bush's first term were especially intense -- and so ultimately Rice may
find herself in conflict with her Cabinet colleagues over the best
Danielle Pletka, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute,
said she doubts the battles will end, even if the top officials are less
divided on ideology. "This has nothing to do with Colin Powell or Don
Rumsfeld or Condi Rice," she said. "This is a time of real turmoil, a
crossroads in history, and figuring out how to deal with these things is
not a smooth plot where everything unrolls easily from beginning to
For the rest of the world, Powell was considered a sympathetic ear in an
administration that often appeared tone-deaf to other nations' concerns.
There will be "teeth-gnashing" over Powell's departure by many foreign
officials, said Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, national security adviser in
President Bill Clinton's second term. "Colin was the side door they
could get into when they could not get through the front door."
"The president ultimately set the course," Berger added. "Colin has had
a hard hand to play over the last several years in selling policies not
popular to allies."
Powell had long indicated he planned to leave when Bush's first term
ended. But with Rumsfeld under fire for his handling of the Iraq war,
particularly the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, and new opportunities for
peacemaking in the Middle East after the death of Palestinian leader
Yasser Arafat, some people close to Powell detected hints he might
consider staying for a period of time in the second term -- in part to
burnish his legacy.
Powell has had a mixed and frustrating tenure as secretary of state,
with his most memorable moment -- his 2003 speech to the United Nations
making the case that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that
were later never found -- arguably also his lowest point. The U.N.
speech tarnished Powell's legacy, even though his personal popularity
remains high -- both among the public and inside the State Department.
Much of Powell's tenure was marked by fierce battles with his
bureaucratic foes and by few lasting achievements in key foreign policy
areas. Under his watch, North Korea added to its arsenal of nuclear
weapons and Iran has advanced dramatically in building a nuclear weapon.
The invasion of Iraq was ordered by Bush despite Powell's misgivings,
and Powell was often frustrated as he tried to steer U.S. policy on the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Powell did, however, champion a new
approach to development aid, tied to whether a country advances in
building political and economic institutions.
A senior State Department official said that Powell's resignation was
almost a foregone conclusion given the tension Powell had with the
president, Cheney and Rumsfeld. Powell just never fit: Bush had to ask
for reassurance that Powell would be with him in the Iraq war, Powell
believed Cheney had a "fever" about al Qaeda and Iraq, and Powell felt
Rumsfeld was never straightforward, practicing his "rubber gloves"
approach of never taking a stand in the inner council, this official
The bad blood between Cheney and Powell dates to the 1991 Persian Gulf
War, when Cheney, then the defense secretary, felt that Powell sometimes
failed to keep him informed, and even tried to exclude him from some
aspects of war planning. In his 1996 autobiography, "My American
Journey," Powell expressed some puzzlement about Cheney's character. As
a leader of congressional Republicans, he wrote, Cheney "preferred
losing on principle to winning through further compromise."
Staff writer Thomas E. Ricks contributed to this report
Source: The Washington Post
Tuesday, November 16, 2004