Monday's announcement that Secretary of State
Colin Powell, by far the most popular of U.S. President George W. Bush's war
cabinet, has submitted his resignation marks the formal launch of a new scramble
for top national-security posts that could bring an even more hardline configuration
Powell's disappearance will remove the most influential foreign-policy moderate
and the greatest skeptic about the use of military force from
the administration's top ranks, thus strengthening the hardline coalition
led by Vice President Dick Cheney of aggressive nationalists, neoconservatives,
and the Christian Right that dominated policy-making after the Sept. 11, 2001
terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
Powell's resignation, which will take effect only when a successor is confirmed
by the Senate, will almost certainly be followed by that of his deputy and best
friend, Richard Armitage, thus opening up another powerful slot in the foreign-policy
The two most prominently mentioned possible nominees to succeed Powell have
been current national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Washington's United
Nations ambassador, former Senator John Danforth, a patrician Republican and
ordained Anglican priest with little foreign-policy experience.
Both are considered relatively easy marks for hardliners, whose gusto and talent
for bureaucratic infighting are well established. Neither has anything close
to Powell's political standing or public credibility; nor does either one have
the connections to the military brass that sometimes enabled Powell, a former
chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, to circumvent the Pentagon's
Rice, who does have the advantage of a close personal relationship with Bush
that Powell never established, was widely criticized during the first term for
failing to enforce discipline on the various agencies, while Danforth, whose
tenure as Bush's special envoy to Sudan was described as almost entirely "ornamental"
by one insider, is considered a hands-off manager of the "old school,"
who has little patience for the nitty-gritty of policy, let alone policy-making.
Although Rice has talked frequently about returning to academic life, she is
widely believed to want the job currently held by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
who, however, reportedly wants to hang on for at least another year. Some observers
believe Rice might be willing to go to the State Department if she had first
shot at the Defense Department when Rumsfeld retires.
A Soviet military specialist by training and experience, Rice was first recommended
to Bush by his father's national security adviser, retired General Brent Scowcroft.
But Scowcroft, who also helped mentor Powell, quickly became disillusioned
with his protégé when she sided more with the hardliners after
9/11 than with Powell, tilting the balance of power within the administration
strongly in Cheney's favor.
Scowcroft and other "realists" have also been deeply disappointed
by Rice's failure to effectively coordinate the policy-making process and then
enforce discipline on all agencies to ensure that policy is being followed.
In several instances, for example, the Pentagon is known to have deliberately
stymied or ignored policy decisions with respect to China, Iran, and Iraq, with
The administration's realist critics have held out hope that Bush may yet appoint
one of their own to take Powell's place either the chairman of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, or Nebraska Sen. Chuck
Hagel. Both men, however, voiced strong public criticism of U.S. policy in Iraq
during the election campaign, angering Cheney, in particular.
"Cheney looks to be at least as powerful in this term as in the last," a
Republican congressional aide told IPS on Monday. "He thinks that dissent is
While Powell's resignation was long anticipated, the context of Monday's announcement
particularly recent turmoil at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA) makes it more charged.
On Friday, CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin announced his retirement, which
he insisted was "a purely personal decision."
But on Monday, the agency's two top clandestine service officers also announced
their retirements, after a weekend filled with charges and counter-charges regarding
tensions between the career staff and the management team brought in by new
CIA director and former Republican Representative Porter Goss, who took over
in July from George Tenet.
Their departure followed that of Michael Scheuer, a clandestine officer who
ran the CIA's office that tracked terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in the late
1990s. In a best-selling
book published last summer, Scheuer had strongly criticized the U.S. invasion
in Iraq as a diversion from the larger "war on terrorism."
Tenet, widely seen as a Powell ally in inter-agency debates, left the agency
after a series of congressional committee reports that found serious failures
in the agency's performance, particularly as it related to Iraq, and Goss was
reportedly given a mandate to institute major reforms.
While the resignations were depicted by some as the result of personal and
professional vendettas carried out by Goss' staff, including several who formerly
served in mid-level positions at the CIA, other reports indicated it was part
of a much broader political housecleaning.
"The agency is being purged on instructions from the White House,"
one "former senior CIA official" told Newsday on Sunday. "Goss
was given instructions ... to get rid of those soft leakers and liberal Democrats.
The CIA is looked on by the White House as a hotbed of liberals and people who
have been obstructing the president's agenda," the official was quoted
That interpretation was bolstered by two blasts from prominent neoconservative
writers, who charged that high-ranking CIA officials were responsible for a
series of leaks damaging to both the administration and Goss.
"It is time to reassert harsh authority so CIA employees know they must
defer to the people who win elections, so they do not feel free at meetings
to spout off about their contempt of the White House, so they do not go around
to their counterparts from other nations and tell them to ignore American policy,"
New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Neoconservatives in particular have long sought thoroughgoing purges of both
the State Department, particularly its Near East bureau, and the CIA, arguing
both have been too optimistic about the intentions of Washington's foreign enemies,
In a book, An
End to Evil, published almost one year ago, arch-hawk and former Defense
Policy Board (DPB) Chairman Richard Perle called on Bush to replace career officers
in the State Department, the CIA, and even the National Security Council (NSC)
with political appointees.
Thus, neoconservatives are currently promoting Perle protégé
Danielle Pletka, a vice-president of American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and
outspoken and unapologetic supporter of the Likud-led government in Israel,
for the post of assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs to replace
career diplomat William Burns when he moves on early next year.
Depending on who takes Powell's place, Pletka's appointment would clearly suggest
a purge was underway. Observers note that it was Rice who appointed Elliott
Abrams, another strong Likud supporter, to the top Mideast spot on the NSC in
If Rice does indeed take Powell's place, she is likely to be succeeded by one
of four possible candidates: her current deputy, Stephen Hadley; Cheney's powerful
neoconservative national security adviser, I. Lewis Libby; Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz; or the ultra-unilateralist Undersecretary of State for Arms
Control and International Security John Bolton, who is also being touted as
a possible deputy secretary of state.
If Danforth were moved to State, on the other hand, Bolton, who served briefly
as assistant secretary for international organizations under Bush's father,
may be sent to the United Nations. Bolton is best known in Washington for his
hostility to multilateral institutions, especially the UN.
(Inter Press Service)