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White House Briefing: Dan Froomkin

New Blood? No Way

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, November 16, 2004; 11:05 AM

One of the most stinging criticisms of President Bush has been that he operates in a bubble where dissenting views are not welcome and genuine debate is rare.

And while 51 percent of American voters reelected the president, exit polls showed that more of them felt the country was on the wrong track than on the right track.

So wouldn't the inevitable post-election Cabinet shuffle be a good time to bring in some new blood?

It doesn't look like the White House is seeing it that way.

In fact, all signs are pointing toward Bush's top advisers instead tightening their grip on power by removing outliers and installing loyalty-tested aides from the first term into all the key positions for the second.

Terry Moran reported for ABC News last night: "Even some Republicans on Capitol Hill were hoping for some more dramatic change."

Then he showed a clip from an interview with Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) about the future of the State Department -- evidently taped before it became widely known that Bush would tap national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to take over from Colin L. Powell.

"What I hope we will see is some new blood in there, some new energy in there, some outside perspective that's fresh," Hagel said. "Just rearranging people, and putting them in different chairs, isn't new energy and new blood."

The Triumph of the Hawks

Glenn Kessler writes in a Washington Post news analysis: "Powell's departure -- and Bush's intention to name his confidante, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, as Powell's replacement -- would mark the triumph of a hard-edged approach to diplomacy espoused by Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Powell's brand of moderate realism was often overridden in the administration's councils of power, but Powell's presence ensured that the president heard divergent views on how to proceed on key foreign policy issues. . . .

"Moreover, in elevating Rice, Bush is signaling that he is comfortable with the direction of the past four years and sees little need to dramatically shift course. Powell has had conversations for six months with Bush about the need for a 'new team' in foreign policy, a senior State Department official said. But in the end only the key official who did not mesh well with the others -- Powell -- is leaving. . . .

"Rice sometimes backed Powell in his confrontations with Cheney and Rumsfeld, but more often than not she allowed the vice president and the defense secretary to have enormous influence over key diplomatic issues."

Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay write for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "Secretary of State Colin Powell's resignation and a flood of high-level departures at the State Department and CIA remove the cautionary voices that had often acted as a brake on President Bush's aggressive foreign policy.

"U.S. officials and foreign policy analysts said Monday that by agreeing to Powell's departure and approving a purge by new CIA chief Porter Goss, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney appear to be eliminating the few independent centers of power in the U.S. national security apparatus and cementing the system under their personal control."

Anne E. Kornblut writes in the Boston Globe: "In naming Rice, Bush would be installing the closest of his allies at the State Department and further strengthening the role of administration hawks for the next phase of the fight against terrorism.

"Perhaps more importantly, advisers said, the turnover would allow Bush to exert greater control over a foreign policy apparatus still largely run by career officers -- not only at State but also at the Central Intelligence Agency, where mounting feuds between Bush appointees and longtime officials over policy and protocol have erupted into public view recently, and yesterday led two senior career officials to quit. . . .

"For Bush, who regards loyalty as among the most important traits in an ally, the selection of Rice to replace Powell is expected to eliminate one of the few sources of discord in his governing team, further unifying the so-called 'Bush Doctrine' under a single point of view shared by Rice, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and many of their advisers."

Carla Anne Robbins and Greg Hitt write in the Wall Street Journal: "Unlike Mr. Powell, Ms. Rice is extremely close to the president, and regularly spends weekends at Camp David with Mr. Bush and his wife. She has often expressed impatience with traditional diplomacy and slow-moving diplomats, and her appointment could be seen as an effort to whip the department closer to the president's hard line. Suggestions last night that State Department nonproliferation chief John Bolton -- a favorite of Vice President Dick Cheney and a nemesis of Iran and North Korea -- could be named her deputy also support that view."

Guy Dinmore writes in the Financial Times: "The departure of Colin Powell, regarded as the Bush administration's voice of moderation and restraint, should not be interpreted as signalling a sharp lurch to the right during the president's second term, officials and even the secretary of state's neo-conservative critics said yesterday.

"Although neo-conservatives welcomed the prospect -- as yet unconfirmed -- of Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, moving to the State Department, they said the loss of Mr Powell should not be over-interpreted in Europe as the end of the voice of reason."

And yet, Dinmore writes: "A close associate of Ms Rice described her as 'tough as nails', sharing the president's religious views on good and evil and unlikely to have time for 'wimpish Europeans'."

Powell Not Asked to Stay

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "A White House official said Powell indicated to the president weeks or months before Nov. 2 that he planned to leave soon after the election. But one government official with personal knowledge of the situation said Powell had second thoughts and had prepared a list of conditions under which he would be willing to stay. They included greater engagement with Iran and a harder line with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"Powell and Bush met at the White House on Friday, the date on the secretary's letter of resignation. Details of the meeting could not be learned, but White House officials said the secretary was not asked to stay."

Rice's History

Glenn Kessler and Thomas E. Ricks write in The Washington Post: "Condoleezza Rice, who will be named as Colin L. Powell's replacement as early as today, has forged an extraordinarily close relationship with President Bush. But, paradoxically, many experts consider her one of the weakest national security advisers in recent history in terms of managing interagency conflicts.

"Her appointment as secretary of state would be a first for a black woman, and it would mean an unquestioned Bush loyalist would be dispatched to run a critical department that the White House had come to view with suspicion. . . .

"The 9/11 commission report was particularly tough on Rice, portraying her as failing to act on repeated warnings in the first part of 2001 about the likelihood of a major terrorist attack on the United States."

Todd S. Purdum writes in a New York Times news analysis: "Ms. Rice would almost certainly face questions in confirmation hearings about her own role in the period leading up to war with Iraq, and what appeared to be her failures either to warn Mr. Bush about flawed prewar intelligence regarding Iraq's weapons programs or, as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell did, to make dogged efforts of her own to ascertain its accuracy. In September 2002, she said that high-strength aluminum tubes seized en route to Iraq were 'only really suited for nuclear weapons programs,' though almost a year earlier, her staff had been told that the nation's foremost nuclear experts seriously doubted that the tubes were intended for nuclear weapons."

But, noting that Rice spends weekends at Camp David with the Bushes and can finish the president's sentences, Purdum writes that "unlike Mr. Powell, who often struggled to bend Mr. Bush to a more multilateral approach to the world, Ms. Rice seems unlikely to have any agenda but Mr. Bush's. She would be closer to her president than any secretary of state since Henry A. Kissinger served Richard M. Nixon, and probably than any cabinet officer since Robert F. Kennedy served as his brother's attorney general."

Tyler Marshall and Paul Richter write in the Los Angeles Times that even though Rice often prays with Bush, "Even if so inclined, analysts suggested, Rice would not have the political clout to take Cheney or Rumsfeld on the way Powell did."

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush has a nickname for Condoleezza Rice, his choice as the next secretary of state: 'The unsticker.' Bush tagged the name on Rice, his national security adviser for the past four years, because he said she helped 'unstick' problems in Iraq that got caught up in the gears of government."

April Flashback

Last April, Deborah Schoeneman in New York Magazine's Intelligencer column described a tale making the rounds after Rice attended a dinner party hosted by New York Times D.C. bureau chief Philip Taubman. "Rice was reportedly overheard saying, 'As I was telling my husb -- ' and then stopping herself abruptly, before saying, 'As I was telling President Bush.' Jaws dropped, but a guest says the slip by the unmarried politician, who spends weekends with the president and his wife, seemed more psychologically telling than incriminating."

Who is Steve Hadley?

The man widely seen as most likely to succeed Rice as national security adviser is her soft-spoken, discreet deputy, Stephen J. Hadley.

I found nary a single profile of him this morning. Maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, the best source I've found for background on Hadley is. . . . my own Who's Who in the White House page.

It links to this July 2003 David E. Sanger and Judith Miller story in the New York Times, describing Hadley's lowest moment -- when he accepted blame and apologized for allowing faulty intelligence to appear in the president's State of the Union speech. "He took responsibility after revealing that the Central Intelligence Agency had sent him two memorandums warning that evidence about Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium in Africa was weak. . . [But] had no memory of the warning three months later when the issue came up again in the State of the Union address."

And there's a July 2001 Washington Post story by Dana Milbank, who wrote about how Hadley was assistant secretary of defense under former president George H.W. Bush, after having served in junior positions in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

"Later, in addition to working in his law practice, he served as a principal in Brent Scowcroft's consulting firm and was one of the self-described 'Vulcans' who briefed then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush on foreign affairs."

Milbank describes Hadley as a "wiry man with a Jack Nicholson rasp in his voice," who was seen by some "as Cheney's eyes and ears at the NSC."

More to Come

Edwin Chen and Warren Vieth write in the Los Angeles Times: "Towson University political scientist Martha Joynt Kumar said that Bush seemed to be moving quickly to assemble his second-term Cabinet so that attention could be focused on the administration's policy agenda instead of personnel, as occurred during the lull between Clinton's first and second terms.

"'Their intention is to appoint their people by Thanksgiving. In the Clinton administration it was to do so by Christmas,' Kumar said. 'Even though it's only a month's difference, it provides an opportunity to command the stage during a period when no one else in Washington is talking.' . . .

"Other Cabinet secretaries who may resign soon, according to Washington insiders, include Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge; Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson; U.S. trade representative Robert B. Zoellick; Labor Secretary Elaine Chao; and Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, the only Democrat in Bush's cabinet."

Historical Perspective

Via the San Francisco Chronicle, the number of new Cabinet members for second-term presidents, compiled by Congressional Quarterly's Guide to the Presidency. Bush is at six and counting.

• Harry S. Truman: 4

• Dwight D. Eisenhower: 3

• Lyndon B. Johnson: 4

• Richard M. Nixon: 9

• Ronald Reagan: 7

• Bill Clinton: 7

RNC Watch

Thomas B. Edsall writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush has chosen Ken Mehlman, manager of his successful reelection campaign, to become the next chairman of the Republican National Committee, the White House announced yesterday.

"Mehlman is a favorite of Bush's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and he has functioned as a kind of chief operating officer, translating Rove's strategic ideas into actual practice."

Ronald Brownstein writes in the Los Angeles Times: "With the announcement, Bush continued his postelection pattern of elevating loyalists to key positions."

Live Online

I'll be Live Online tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET. Send me your questions and comments.

Man Sets Self on Fire

Caryle Murphy and Del Quentin Wilber write in The Washington Post: "A Falls Church man who worked as a federal informant on terrorism set himself on fire in front of the White House yesterday, hours after announcing his suicide attempt and citing his growing despondency over how the FBI managed his case."

It was a very strange day in front of the White House. Hours later, NBC4 reports: "A man was arrested at the White House around 5:15 p.m. Monday after he jumped over the fence onto the north lawn in an apparent protest."


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