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Howard Kurtz Media Notes

Tale of Two Diplomats

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 17, 2004; 8:42 AM

The coverage of Colin and Condi says as much about the media as it does about the outgoing and incoming secretaries of state.

It doesn't take a secret decoder ring to figure out that journalists have set this up as a morality play. And that much of it revolves around the role played by both officials on Iraq.

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Powell has always been a media darling, and you can tell from many of the stories that journalists admire the role he played in Bush World. He was the pragmatist, the moderate, the realist, pitted against the hard-edged, ideologically driven neocons led by Cheney, Rummy and Wolfowitz. (Some liberals, however, are deeply disappointed in Powell for not mounting a resignation in protest over Iraq and continuing to consort with the conservative crowd.)

Rice used to be a media favorite as well, but her halo has been tarnished. First there was the 9/11 commission, where she had to argue that the August 2001 report 'Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.' was mainly historical information and not a big red flag. And in the bureaucratic warfare over Iraq, Rice drew criticism as an ineffective broker at the National Security Council.

Thus, instead of what might have been glowing coverage if the appointment was made a couple of years ago--brilliant Stanford academician, Alabama cotton farmer's daughter, first black woman to run Foggy Bottom--the tone of the coverage is about Bush installing a yes-woman at State to replace the independent-minded Powell. The word "loyalist," which crops up in most accounts, is not meant as a compliment.

I don't mean this as a news flash, but when a president is reelected, he's entitled to pick anyone he wants to run government agencies. And it is, well, not exactly shocking that Bush would want a secretary who agrees with him on foreign policy. As with everything else in this arena, the story is being viewed through the prism of Iraq.

Conservatives are starting to push back against what they see as the lionization of Colin and the diminution of Condoleezza. Michael Ledeen, on Laura Ingraham's radio show, accused liberal critics of being racist and anti-feminist for not lauding Rice as the first black woman the way they praised Madeleine Albright when she became the first female secretary of state.

First, the Rice announcement, as covered by the New York Times:

"Mr. Powell's departure was widely seen as a victory for hardliners in the administration who had chafed at diplomacy in the face of what they saw as urgent threats to national security and a perhaps fleeting opportunity to promote democracy among Arab and Islamic nations. But it is not clear whether Ms. Rice, as secretary of state, will be any more prone to siding with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld than was Mr. Powell.

"An early test will be the selection of her deputy at the State Department. There was speculation that the White House might settle on John R. Bolton, currently the undersecretary for arms control and international security at the State Department and an architect of the administration's hardline policies toward North Korea and Iran."

The Wall Street Journal sees 1600 Pennsylvania tightening its grip:

"A famously controlling White House is looking for even more control, as President Bush dispatches some of his closest advisers to head key cabinet agencies."

After mentioning Rice and Alberto Gonzales, the Journal says: "Today, the president is expected to name his domestic policy adviser Margaret Spellings to head up the Department of Education. Insiders say he could ask former White House health and economics adviser Mark McClellan to take over the Department of Health and Human Services if, as expected, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson leaves that post. Another White House aide, homeland security adviser Frances Townsend, is among the potential successors for Homeland Security Secretary Thomas Ridge if he steps down...

"That is likely to give Mr. Bush greater control over important cabinet agencies as he seeks to press forward his second-term agenda. In the process, it may further augment White House power in the hands of Vice President Dick Cheney and political adviser Karl Rove. But the changes also run the risk of limiting the range of views Mr. Bush receives on foreign policy and other important issues."

The Boston Globe seconds the motion:

"After years of finger-pointing and tension within his foreign policy agencies, President Bush is moving aggressively to tame the two most unwieldy agencies -- the CIA and the State Department -- by installing reliable allies at the helm with instructions to clamp down on dissenting career officials, advisers to the president said."

The Philadelphia Inquirer draws the contrast:

"Rice doesn't approach Powell's stratospheric approval ratings at home and abroad. But she unquestionably speaks for the President. Some foreign leaders had come to doubt the moderate Powell's influence in Bush's White House."

USA Today serves up a sweet-and-sour portrait of Rice. First, the good stuff:

"There has never been a secretary of state like Rice, 50, the granddaughter of a poor Alabama cotton farmer. She considered careers as a concert pianist and ice skater. She posed in a glamorous gown for Vogue and performed with cellist Yo-Yo Ma. In her Washington apartment are a Chickering grand piano and a closet full of designer clothes and shoes."

But eventually: "Her skills as a manager were often questioned during her tenure at the National Security Council by those who thought she didn't work hard enough to find consensus before taking issues to Bush.

Her relative lack of attention to the threat of terrorism in the early months of the administration was criticized by the 9/11 Commission. And she shared blame for poor planning for the aftermath of the Iraq invasion."

The New Republic's Lawrence Kaplan draws geopolitical conclusions:

"With the departure of Colin Powell as Secretary of State, the Bush administration's great foreign policy rift has finally ended. The rift, which pitted Foggy Bottom against the Pentagon and the White House, made the Kissinger-Rogers and Brzezinski-Vance duels that preceded it seem trivial by comparison. The damage it wrought, too, was of much greater consequence than those earlier fights. Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Israel, China--in virtually every corner of the globe, the Bush team had not one policy but two, whose contradictions intensified precisely when America's involvement did. During Bush's second term, however, the president's foreign policy counselors will all be reading from the same page. . . .

"When it comes to the broad foreign policy questions of the day, Bush no longer needs advisers to tell him what to think. He needs them to translate his thinking into policy.

"For that to happen, Powell had to go. Here, after all, was a Secretary of State who viewed himself as Foggy Bottom's ambassador to the White House rather than the other way around."

The Wall Street Journal editorial page likes the switch:

"Colin Powell's departure as Secretary of State is being seen in the circles that lost the recent election as the departure of the last Administration 'moderate,' whatever that word is supposed to mean. But we suspect President Bush sees it as his chance to select a successor who can turn the diplomatic corps into an ally and advocate of his foreign policy.

"These columns have often criticized Mr. Powell's department on policy grounds, but always with respect for the former general personally. . . .

"The first task of whoever replaces Mr. Powell (as we went to press, Condoleezza Rice's name was being whispered) will be to ensure that the department acts as an arm of executive power and not as the in-house opposition."

Josh Marshall says the choice is as much personal as political:

"So is Bush moving to the right or the center in term two?

"Wrong metric. He's moving to exert greater control. Look at the pattern.

"Neither Ms. Rice nor Mr. Gonzales are the neo-cons' or the conservatives' choice for their respective offices-to-be. In each case they're acceptable, but no more.

"What distinguishes each is their connection to the president, their loyalty and their fealty. Neither has any base in the city or standing anywhere else absent their connection to him. And in appointing them he has placed the State Department and the Justice Department under his direct and unmediated control as surely as the various members of the White House staff already are.

"Which is certainly a good thing since if there is one thing this president sorely needs it is more yes-men."

He said sarcastically.

Dan Kennedy says it's all predictable: "Now the election's over, and Powell is gone, which should surprise no one. If you voted for Bush because you thought he was finally going to start listening to the sanest of his advisers, guess what? You were taken again."

In American Prospect, Michael Steinberger writes under the headline "Misoverestimated":

"When Powell was appointed secretary of state, such was his stature at home and abroad that he was widely expected to be the new administration's vicar of foreign policy. Three years on, he finds himself the fig leaf of that foreign policy -- the moderate front man for an administration that has been anything but moderate in its statecraft. On almost every critical issue -- the Kyoto Protocol, the future of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Middle East peace process, North Korea, and, of course, Iraq -- Powell has been the odd man out, his influence minimal to nonexistent.

"That's obvious in Washington, where Powell's vanishing act is a source of curiosity and not a little sadness. More importantly, it's obvious overseas; one U.S. official says French President Jacques Chirac recently told him, 'When Powell agrees with us, we know it doesn't mean anything.'. . . .

"How did it all go so wrong for Powell? In part, he has fallen victim to the wrath of Dick Cheney; having soured on Powell since their days in the first Bush administration, and having witnessed firsthand Powell's bureaucratic skills (he is one of the all-time great Washington operators), the vice president set out to kneecap him this time around, usurping his authority, filling key positions with officials hostile to Powell, and otherwise maneuvering to thwart his influence. Powell has had problems, too, with other key administration figures, not least Bush himself; they have little personal chemistry and see the world through very different lenses."

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, a Powell admirer, says the man blew his moment in history"

"The pity is not that Colin Powell has resigned as secretary of state. The pity is that he did not do so quickly.

"Had he resigned during the buildup to the war in Iraq, which he privately opposed, history might award him an asterisk and note that his tenure as secretary of state, while notable for nothing notable, ended over an important disagreement. Had that happened, Powell could then join just two secretaries of state -- William Jennings Bryan and Cyrus Vance -- who resigned because they differed with their presidents, Bryan with Woodrow Wilson, Vance with Jimmy Carter. The best that can be said about Powell is that he disagreed. The worst is that he did nothing significant about it."

Progressive Editor Matthew Rothschild is in the same mode:

"Secretary of State Colin Powell's resignation comes two years too late.

"Too late to have had a significant effect on major world events.

"Too late to have slowed down Bush's reckless march to war against Iraq.

"Too late to have offered the American people vital information before making their fateful decision on November 2.

"Too late to have salvaged his own reputation."

Glenn Reynolds wonders whether new blood might have been helpful, rather than recycling Condi:

"There are a lot of advantages: President Bush is obviously very comfortable with her and with her judgment, and she's undoubtedly up to speed on events. And they're used to working together in secrecy. . . .

"There are also a couple of disadvantages. First, Condi Rice -- like everyone in the Administration -- has got to be tired. Heck, I'm tired from all we've been through the last few years, and I promise you that I haven't been putting in the hours, or suffering the stress, that Condi Rice or Donald Rumsfeld, have endured. Not even close. But -- as with the move of Alberto Gonzales to the Department of Justice -- the President is taking someone who's already been in the White House pressure cooker and just moving them to a different burner. I guess they've shown they can stand the heat, but some fresh blood would be nice.

"The second disadvantage -- and another reason why some fresh blood would be nice -- is that some new people would not only be better-rested, but might bring a new perspective. Henry Kissinger once said that when you're in government, you use the intellectual capital you brought with you, because you don't have time or energy to accumulate more while you're there."

Powell hasn't even left yet and the New York Post seems to be making plans for him:

"Republicans yesterday touted outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell as a possible challenger against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2006.

"'I think he would be an exciting choice . . . and I think he would have star quality,' said Stephen Minarik, who was tapped Monday to head the troubled state Republican Party."

Well, at least he grew up in New York and wouldn't have to learn the language.

Finally, the spicing up of "Monday Night Football" got a little too spicy, says USA Today:

"ABC Sports apologized Tuesday for an 'inappropriate' opening of the Philadelphia Eagles-Dallas Cowboys Monday Night Football telecast involving a sexually suggestive locker room meeting between Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens and ABC's Desperate Housewives' star Nicollette Sheridan.

"In the taped segment, Sheridan drops a towel and is shown from a rear angle unclothed down to the lower part of her back. After Owens says, 'Aw, hell, the team's going to have to win without me,' Sheridan jumps into his arms."

Desperate. And ABC can't even claim the towel-dropping was a wardrobe malfunction, since there wasn't much of a wardrobe to begin with.

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