August 04, 2003

Powell to Go The WaPo

Powell to Go

The WaPo is reporting that Colin Powell (along with his deputy and best friend Richard Armitage) plans to step down at the commencement of Dubya's prospective second term. Rumors center on Condi Rice or Paul Wolfowitz as possible replacements.

Let me briefly explain why, in my view, either would probably be a poor choice to replace Powell.

First, Wolfowitz. To begin with, assuming Rumsfeld stays on, it is not an arrangement that lends itself to having a Secretary of State that can square off effectively with the Secretary of Defense and provide significantly different policy counsel.

Of course, Wolfowitz will no longer be Rummy's deputy. And he is likely the brightest high-level administration figure currently serving who, once he is heading his own department, would grow into the role and ably throw his weight around. Further, there is a built-in bureaucratic predisposition for State and Defense to frequently be at odds and clash.

So there are a lot of factors that would argue that Wolfowitz wouldn't be viewed as an ineffective counterweight to Rummy. On top of all of this, Wolfowitz has served, with distinction, in diplomatic roles such as Ambassador to Indonesia in the past. He knows Foggy Bottom well already.

And yet Wolfowitz is just too closely associated with a hawkish foreign policy stance that, fairly or not, is viewed as too similar in nature to Rumsfeld's worldview. It would spook allies (and I'm not just talking about the French and Germans) and perhaps limit presentation of diverse policy options to Dubya to have Rummy at the Pentagon and Wolfowitz at State.

Of course, the reality is more complex. Rumsfeld (and Cheney) are hardened realpolitik style American nationalists. Nation-building, even in the post 9/11 era when failed states are considered a major threat to the U.S. because they are often terror breeding grounds, is not what they like doing.

Wolfowitz, on the other hand, can dream almost as much as a Shimon Peres (albeit from a very different intellectual vantage point) about a "new" Middle East that democraticizes at a rapid clip post-securitization and democratization of Iraq.

But the bottom line is that a Wolfy/Rummy State/Defense combo would likely limit the diversity of policy options presented to the President, not provide a real counterweight to a "hawkish" tendency in Dubya's foreign policy, and likely not end up proving the most judicious or efficacious foreign policy team. (BTW, might it not be time for Rummy to go in a hypothetical Bush II and let Wolfowitz become Defense Secretary?)

Regarding Condi Rice, I have mixed feelings on this one. Like many, I see her as a capable, devoted policy processor that the President is comfortable being around and digesting complex foreign policy issues from. This is not to sound patronizing. She is more than Dubya's foreign policy nanny. She is shrewd, smart and a capable bureaucratic player.

But I wonder if she would really provide a strong, independent foreign policy advisory voice to the President. Being Secretary of State is far removed from National Security Advisor. You've got a sprawling bureaucracy stretched worldwide to oversee and myriad interests to protect. Defense is always clawing at you. A slew of Under Secretaries and Assistant Secretaries have strong views on policy matters (see John Bolton on NoKo operating, ostensibly, under Powell).

Sure, her appointment must look attractive to Bush on a variety of levels. He likes Condi a lot and he's very comfortable around her. She has broadened her Soviet expertise by making forays to vital regions like the Middle East to deepen her knowledge of other key areas. Bill Clinton appointing the first female SecState? How about Bush appointing the first African-American female Secretary of State?

Still, Dubya has ample time to pick a successor and he should also look at people like Dick Lugar very seriously before settling on a Condi Rice. Lugar will bring decades of experience thinking soberly and methodically about foreign policy issues including (before such initiatives were really in vogue) crucial 9/11 related policy areas like WMD.

Bush should also look at sometime Adminstration foreign policy critic Chuck "We Need Friends" Hagel as a potential SecState. And, if he were willing, a John McCain as well. All this to say, no reason to rush to tap current Administration figures for the key post.

As for Powell, I don't buy that this announcement of his early exit resulted simply because Alma Powell didn't want him to serve another term. His wife is the reason he didn't go for the Presidency. Recall the rumors that Alma Powell had feared, that as America's first prospective African-American President, her husband would be too tempting a target for assassination. She might not be overjoyed at the prospect of Powell facing another four years of grueling schedules. But there is more to this story, I suspect, than merely a wife's retinence to having her husband serve a second term.

Note too that Powell's hero and role model was less general turned to politics Eisenhower but rather general turned to top diplomat George Marshall, ie. he's wanted this job for a long time. And by signaling his early departure Powell risks becoming somewhat of a lame duck. This in an Administration where the more hawkish national security figures already enjoyed a stronger hand--even before 9/11.

I'll have more on other reasons why he is likely stepping down soon.

UPDATE: State is denying the story:

"But the No. 2 spokesman at the State Department vigorously denied the story on Monday.

"There's no basis to the story at all,'' said Philip T. Reeker. "There was no such conversation. It must be August.''

Witty aside regarding the dog days of summer, but not convincing.

Meanwhile, CNN's version of the story mentions that only George Schultz, among Secretaries of State serving in recent administrations, stayed on the second term. But who doubts that Jim Baker would have stayed on if Herbert Walker had beaten Clinton in '92? I simply don't buy the spin that Powell's decision not to stay on is somehow the norm.

Posted by Gregory at August 4, 2003 08:40 AM
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