The Magazine

Goodbye Colin, Hello Condi

From the November 29, 2004 issue: Regime change at the State Department.

Nov 29, 2004, Vol. 10, No. 11 • By FRED BARNES
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PRESIDENT BUSH always believed he would be reelected. So in the weeks before November 2, he repeatedly discussed with White House aides who should replace the departing cabinet members in his second term. And decisions were made, pre-Election Day. Alberto Gonzales, the president's legal counsel, would succeed John Ashcroft as attorney general, and Margaret Spellings, chief White House domestic adviser, would take over for Rod Paige as education secretary. Another decision: Those planning to leave the administration at their leisure over the coming months would be asked to depart immediately. When Secretary of State Colin Powell met with Bush on November 11, he requested to stay a few extra months to tie up loose ends at the State Department. Bush said no, and Powell's resignation was announced the following Monday. The next day, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was named as Powell's successor.

If anyone thought the president would relax after an arduous campaign--I certainly did--they were wrong. The three prior presidents to win reelection (Nixon, Reagan, Clinton) had relatively skimpy plans for their second terms, but Bush has a breathtakingly ambitious agenda. To achieve it, he wants full control over his administration. He wants cabinet members he knows and trusts. Thus, what an official calls "the Gonzales model" of dispatching White House aides or other loyalists to take over key agencies is being followed. The president also believes the new cabinet officers should be installed as quickly as possible. That way they'll be ready early next year for expected struggles with Congress, recalcitrant federal bureaucracies, and opponents of America and of Bush's drive for democracy around the world.

The president hasn't listed his priorities for 2005, but it's not difficult to figure them out. Winning the war in Iraq and the battle against terrorists is number one. The second priority, given the likelihood of as many as three or four Supreme Court vacancies, is gaining Senate confirmation of conservative justices. Number three: Social Security reform. A bill is now being drafted at the White House to create individual investment accounts and to produce savings aimed at keeping the Social Security system from insolvency. Four, tax reform. Five, tort reform. Six, an energy bill that increases domestic oil and gas production. The list goes on, but I'll stop there.

The most significant decision was to send Rice to the State Department. Presidential aides insist no one else was in the running to replace Powell. The move has many ramifications. For one thing, it means the center of national security policy-making, aside from Bush himself, shifts to the State Department. And things will change there. Powell, reflecting the State bureaucracy, was at odds with the president on Iraq, Israel and the Palestinians, the pursuit of democracy in the Middle East and Arab countries, Iran, North Korea, and who knows what else. Powell allowed at least one senior official to tell European counterparts they should wait for John Kerry to be elected. Then policies they and the American official prefer would be put in place. Rice, on the other hand, reflects Bush's views on all these policies. Her promotion also means the dysfunctional relationship with the Pentagon and State endlessly clashing over policy will cease.

One of Rice's tasks will be to impose these policies on the State Department without touching off a revolt or clandestine efforts to undermine the president, such as occurred at the CIA and is only now being quashed by the new director, Porter Goss. Rice, however, usually acts with a light touch. This has prompted criticism of her as a weak manager. After all, she didn't ride herd on Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But, other than the president, who could? In any case, she'll need a strong deputy to run the department day to day, plus a crew of new assistant secretaries in sync with Bush's policies.

Another urgent task for Rice is to begin making the case for Bush's policies around the world, especially in Europe. There's a name for this--diplomacy. The media assumed Powell did this, but in fact he did not. Diplomacy aimed at persuading the wary or the opposed has to be carried out face to face. But Powell rarely visited Europe. On the eve of the invasion of Iraq, several American officials traveled to Turkey in hopes of convincing the Turks to allow the 4th Infantry Division to attack Iraq from the north, from Turkey. Powell would surely have had more influence than the Americans who lobbied the Turks, but he did not go. The Turks barred the use of the territory. It's safe to say Rice will travel.