Cover Story

Condi the hawk

The president's second-term foreign policy team defies Euro-babbling caricatures and Foggy Bottom naysayers

Issue: "Rice: Starboard at State," Dec. 4, 2004

American foreign policy will soon have a new face-and much of the world is already doodling in red horns and a curled moustache.

President Bush's nomination of Condoleezza Rice to succeed Colin Powell as secretary of state sent shudders down the world's spine. With his soft-spoken manner and moderate image, Mr. Powell was widely seen as the voice of sanity in American foreign relations. His successor, on the other hand, is viewed as a presidential clone, a hard-liner who believes America should run roughshod over the international community.

"Among the most pessimistic conjectures made when George W. Bush gained reelection was that with a mandate, he'd keep Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon and nominate Rice to replace Powell," the French newspaper Le Monde said. "The second of those has now come true. . . . It is bad news for European leaders."

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Italy's La Stampa worried that Ms. Rice's appointment marked the "confirmation of a more aggressive diplomacy. . . . We know her programme-the Great Middle East, confrontation with Iran, zero Palestine, zero Europe-and she is not a moderate."

The Kommersant newspaper in Russia was even more dismayed. "Now the hawks will attack us," it opined.

For all the hand-wringing overseas, however, Ms. Rice may face her toughest audience closer to home. Once confirmed by the Senate, the former academic will take over the oldest U.S. cabinet department and one of the most difficult to tame. The department's 40,000 foreign-service employees in Washington and abroad oversee everything from civilian contractors in Baghdad to international adoptions in Mongolia. They are used to running the day-to-day machinery of U.S. public diplomacy their own way as administrations come and go.

Many hoped this particular administration was about to go. When President Bush won a second term, explains one State Department official who asked not to be named because of the sensitive nature of in-house relations, Foggy Bottom was full of "glum looks and long faces. There were certainly a lot of folks here who were secretly or openly rooting for his opponent.

"With Dr. Rice coming there's a sense among a lot of people that she's a lot closer personally and ideologically to President Bush. For a number of State Department staff and officials who are either indifferent or resistant to the president or his agenda-his freedom-focused strategy-there's some skepticism towards Dr. Rice."

Among career diplomats, Mr. Powell would be a tough act to follow in any case. "I think it's safe to say there's great affection and admiration for Sec. Powell for his managerial and organizational skill," which elevated morale and increased resources, according to the official at State. "You'd find folks across the spectrum affirming him for that."

But despite his popularity among the rank and file, Mr. Powell was never regarded as particularly close to President Bush, and his views seemed to hold little sway within the administration. Most observers said he was odd man out during meetings of the cabinet, constantly outvoted by Ms. Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

With Ms. Rice at the helm, by contrast, the State Department will be back at the center of the administration, led by one of the president's most trusted advisers. Conservatives hope that will be good news for fast-tracking the president's initiatives on AIDS in Africa, holding the line on aid to controversial family-planning programs, and limiting the reach of the UN and other world bodies. But that's small comfort to some Europeans, who see her as an unabashed cheerleader for military intervention and American unilateralism in world affairs.

The irony is that prior to 9/11-and long before her legendary comment that the United States should "punish France, ignore Germany, and forgive Russia" for refusing to take part in the invasion of Iraq-Ms. Rice was a champion of American cooperation with Europe. In a June 2001 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), she noted that some critics predicted the two continents would drift apart because of a "values gap" on issues such as gun control and the death penalty.

It was a prediction she rejected outright. "The president and his administration fundamentally reject this premise," she told the CFR. "Europe and the United States are partners today. We will continue to be partners tomorrow and the day after-strong partners. Not because of destiny, but by choice. Not because of the inertia of our history, but because of our shared interests, and, indeed, our common values."

With those shared interests and values severely strained by the war in Iraq, experts predict Ms. Rice will have to spend much of her time repairing relations with America's historic allies. But national security and hurt feelings-as time-consuming as they may be-won't be the only items on her agenda.


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