Using a mixture of moxie and charm, Condoleezza Rice has improved relations with some of President Bush's harshest critics overseas. The secretary of state will now try to work the same wonders with the battle-hardened policy warriors in her own bureaucracy.

"Running a very big organization is something that I always enjoyed," the former provost of Stanford University said in her State Department office the other day. "People are surprised that I go through budget reviews, but paying attention to detail is part of the challenge that comes with running an organization of 50,000 employees."

To change the world, Bush believes that he must change Washington. To save the world, many diplomats at the State Department believe that they must change the foreign policy visions conjured up in the White House. Rice now occupies the crucial middle ground in a clash of ideas and political cultures.

Despite her success in defusing tensions with allies abroad in her first seven months, Rice still invites skepticism from mid-level Foreign Service officers who bridle at the thought of their beloved State Department becoming "White House Annex 2."

Some of the skepticism is nostalgia for Colin Powell, who spent his time fighting the White House and placating the Foreign Service bureaucracy in the name of morale-building. And some of the resistance stems from the condition known as clientitis, with foreign nations being favored clients or potential future employers.

But this is not just another entrenched bureaucracy fighting to defend perks and turf. To succeed in the foreign policy battle of Washington, Bush and Rice will need to recognize and accommodate the idealism and sense of history that fuel the State Department's strongly held value system.

The Foreign Service's Olympian view of current events discounts an administration's ideology and political needs of the day. That puts the State Department at odds with any president -- John F. Kennedy called it the Fudge Factory -- but particularly with the passionate, brash Bush, who does not hide his disdain for diplomatic niceties.

Bush and his immediate staff have flattened the Washington policy landscape by centralizing policymaking in the White House to a degree that most presidents have only dreamt about, leaving Cabinet departments to implement Bush's decisions.

Initiatives and announcements once unveiled at Treasury, Education or other departments came out of the White House with regularity in the first term. Now Bush has sent Rice, his first-term national security adviser, to quell the hotbed of rebellion that the State Department often was under Powell.

She has deftly launched new initiatives and turned over major responsibilities for them to stars of the Foreign Service such as Undersecretary Nicholas Burns and Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill, who has breathed new life into international efforts to manage North Korea's nuclear-weapons tantrum.

But Rice rejects the oft-stated premise that this amounts to a new "realism" in U.S. foreign policy:

"Our policy has been realistic all along. It was 'realistic' to recognize that without some fundamental shifts, in the Middle East for example, to political openness and room for proper political expression, you are going to continue to have a problem with terrorism," Rice told me. "What is so realistic about hanging on to an authoritarian status quo that brought us 9/11, and that spawned al Qaeda?"

It is conditions that have changed, after fighting two wars, shaking up the United Nations, reaching new understandings with Russia and other steps: "The pieces are lying around and we are trying to reconstruct a new basis for peace and stability moving forward."

The Foreign Service has been discovering that Rice does not lack confidence in her own well-developed value system and sense of history. She no longer works down the hall from the president, but she has no shortage of the kind of access to Bush that Powell neither valued nor received.

"I may not see the president five times a day now. But we talk on the telephone when we need to," she said during our mid-afternoon chat. "Today I've spoken to him twice, beginning at 5:45 a.m. On other days it has been more than that. It depends on what is happening."

She acknowledged missing "the very tight-knit group" that the White House staff forms: "We became friends in a way that may not be possible in a large organization like this one." Another big difference is that "here, you are on the front lines of diplomacy, rather than in a support role." All she needs to remember is that on the front line, the fire can come from any direction.

jimhoagland@washpost.com