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The New Order of Battle

What the cabinet shake-up means for Bush's continuing war efforts.

11:00 PM, Nov 17, 2004 • By THOMAS DONNELLY
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WITH THE NOMINATIONS of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of State and Stephen Hadley to replace her as National Security adviser, the shape of the supreme command of Bush II is pretty clear: Rumsfeld is staying; Bush II will be like Bush I, only more so.

It's not that the neocon cabal is preparing for the next invasion or that the "hardliners have won." In some sense, the hardliners "won" in the moment of the president's immediate reaction to the September 11 attacks. And the true neocons remain largely outside the administration. But President Bush has at last decided to try to take charge of his foreign policy bureaucracy.

The resignation of Colin Powell has been a moment to reflect on a man of near-mythic stature in Washington, a dedicated public servant both in uniform and out. He remains immensely popular, an image to Americans of the fundamental decency of our society. He's also been physically courageous, not least in the past year as he has battled disease, and is yet perpetually a public gentleman. He's been a major figure for 20 years even though he is just 67-years-old.

At the same time he has been a reflection of the failing conventional wisdom of the Cold War era. To be sure, Powell has been more alert to changing international circumstances than some of his peers--think Brent Scowcroft--but his failures have not simply been bureaucratic--they have been genuinely strategic. A creature of the status quo, his isolation in the administration was a measure not so much of his lack of ideology, but a lack of imagination. The Bush Doctrine may bear the imprint of the deepest traditions of American strategic culture, but it bears few of Powell's fingerprints.

Nor can it be said that he ran his department all that well. It is one thing to debate policy and to disagree, quite another to tell all to Bob Woodward, even as part of a conscious effort to spin the Washington establishment. More importantly, Powell's example encouraged his subordinates to undercut the president in the press. Pundits are now bemoaning the loss of "independence" at the State Department--but the Constitution's separation of powers aren't meant to extend to the executive branch.

So it's reasonable to expect the same quality of complaint we now see under Porter Goss at the CIA (though perhaps with less intensity) once Dr. Rice takes charge at Foggy Bottom. By naming his closest confidant to be his chief diplomat, President Bush has told the foreign service professionals that he's now paying attention and keeping score.

The dog that hasn't barked in this transition--and by all "rumint" isn't going to bark any time soon--is the ousting of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Given that the Pentagon's management of the Iraq war was President Bush's greatest campaign liability, there's at least a paradox in Rumsfeld's retention.

On the other hand, the Pentagon's sins have been of omission and misjudgment, not of commission and obstructionism, as at State and the CIA. Moreover, the war in Iraq is perhaps at a decisive crossroads--if the campaign in the Sunni heartland continues after a successful start in Falluja, and elections happen more or less on schedule in January. It's a moment for continuity and certainty of command. Finally, Rumsfeld's greatest shortcoming--his failure to fully and rapidly adapt his program of transformation to post-September 11, post-Iraq realities--can only be fixed by the White House in the form of an expansion of U.S. ground forces and increasing the baseline defense budget. It's above the secretary's pay grade.

In sum, although Rumsfeld has been part of the problem, he can still be part of the solution in ways that Powell could not. If the Pentagon has been slow to reshape itself to new missions in the Middle East, it's in part because it's got a lot of other worries: like rogue nuclear states and China. Besides, it's a Washington tradition to reward failures with a larger budget.

Tom Donnelly is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard.