ROME -- The diplomats at the State Department have lost a beloved field commander who made them feel good. The presidential aide they have inherited as their new leader must try to make State feel important instead.
President Bush's decision to replace Colin Powell as secretary of state with Condoleezza Rice opens the way for a similar principle to be applied to the world stage, where U.S. allies and partners have often felt marginalized in the Washington power game, as the State Department has under Powell. They too want to come in from the cold.
(Luis M. Alvarez -- AP)
Rice will have to overcome Powell-nostalgia and the distrust triggered at the State Department by her greatest asset: her closeness to Bush. She has been much more than a national security adviser. She has become a virtual member of the president's family. She speaks to, and for, him as do only Vice President Cheney and Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff.
Despite -- some say because of -- his undeniable charisma and larger-than-life reputation, Powell failed to establish a close relationship with the president. The decorated ex-general did little to hide from intimates his disdain for Bush's lack of experience and what he suggested was a limited presidential attention span in foreign affairs. Powell did even less to hide policy disagreements from the public, and at times sought to mobilize foreign pressure on Bush to change policy.
Powell worked hard at getting along with his foreign counterparts. Standing beside Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, or more strikingly, Ariel Sharon or Yasser Arafat, he would often shade U.S. positions to make them fit more comfortably with those of his host. The result was confusion abroad and anguish at the White House.
Most of all, he lavished attention and time on rebuilding the morale of the State Department, which had sagged under the quiet stewardship of Warren Christopher and snapped when Madeleine Albright chose to work primarily with three or four aides who were not foreign service professionals, ignoring the rest of the Foggy Bottom establishment.
In crisp military fashion, Powell set out to restore the elan of his troops and succeeded totally. But he then failed in designing an attainable mission for his charged-up forces. The unsuccessful battles he fought with Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were symptom as much as cause of the foreign policy morass that developed in Bush's first term.
Rice's appointment and the elevation of her quietly efficient deputy, Steve Hadley, indicate that she will dominate foreign policy much as Henry Kissinger did when his deputy, Brent Scowcroft, succeeded him in the Ford administration. But Rice will need to establish quickly the leadership and conceptual abilities that she has not had to display at the White House, where her role has been as foreign-policy guide and voice in the ear of the president.
"Kissinger would work you to death and pound your ego to smithereens, but you came back for more. He was fighting and winning the policy battles," says one foreign service officer who worked with the former secretary of state. "You felt like you could change the world. That has not been the case for a while."
After reorienting the State Department, Rice will have to sort out relations with Rumsfeld, who is likely to stay on through Iraqi elections in January and into the spring. Deferential to Powell in formal meetings, she has a relationship with the defense secretary described by insiders as correct and nonconfrontational.
Rice, an academic whose specialty was the former Soviet Union, did not contribute identifiable ideas or memorable speeches to the first-term legacy. Her best-known phrase, which said that the United States should forgive Russia, ignore Germany and punish France for opposing regime change in Iraq, was uttered in a private White House meeting and first reported in this column.
Bush and Rice already are setting a different tone for a second term. She pushed for Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO's secretary general, to be the first foreign official to meet with Bush in the Oval Office after his reelection, and will accompany Bush to Brussels for a NATO summit shortly after the inauguration. Bush will visit Britain and perhaps other European countries on that trip.
Europeans want more than tone changes. "The world today is in a time of reorganization, as it was at the dawn of the Cold War," says one official here. "Bush needs to be Harry Truman." The question now is whether he can find his Dean Acheson in the disciplined, determined woman just named as Acheson's latest successor.