It seemed last month that it was only a matter of days before Ambassador to Morocco Margaret Tutwiler would be back in Washington to take over the State Department's public diplomacy operation.

Tutwiler, former assistant secretary of state for public affairs and a White House strategist in both Bush administrations, seemed the only obvious choice for the job: politically savvy, veteran spinmeister, now well-versed in matters Arabic.

Then, nothing happened. Everyone is still assuming it's going to happen, but it may be there's been some to-ing and fro-ing over the "modalities," as they say in diplo-speak.

Also, while her family owns the land on which sits the historic Tutwiler Hotel in Birmingham, she's got no place to stay in Washington. Seems the Tutwiler Hotel North -- her house in Northwest Washington -- is booked.

Since her departure to North Africa, the house has been rented to Bush counselor Karen Hughes, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, and most recently to new Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.).

Ridge's Loss, War's Gain

Speaking of message massagers . . . Gordon Johndroe, the highly regarded Department of Homeland Security spokesman, is en route to London, where he's going to help coordinate the communications effort on the war. Johndroe, who recently moved to DHS from the White House, is being temporarily assigned to the media outreach center in the U.S. Embassy.

An Axis to Grind

As the Iraq war news took a turn for the good in recent days, talk of reconstruction efforts took on a new urgency. And larger policy questions are sure to be raised about what's next.

In his new book on his days in the administration, former Bush speechwriter David Frum, who brought us the "axis of evil," pondered such questions after the war in Afghanistan:

"You can see why America's many detractors, ill-wishers, and enemies would be alarmed by the Afghan victory. If a few hundred men and a few dozen planes could overthrow the Taliban, what might ten thousand men and a thousand planes do in Iraq? Or a hundred thousand men and a thousand planes do to the whole Gulf?"

Such musings will doubtless comfort residents throughout the region, as well as U.S. allies.

Either Way, French Over Your Head

Speaking of allies . . . there's been all that silliness over French fries and French toast. Then there was the dumping of French wine and other products. Now Rep. Scott McInnis (R-Colo.) is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs "to immediately sever ties with a French-owned marble manufacturer that is the main supplier of U.S. military headstones for national cemeteries."

McInnis said in a release he was writing Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi to say that buying from a French company, given France's effort to "undermine" the troops, was "particularly disturbing." "To force the relatives of our [troops] in Iraq to mourn their loss under a headstone supplied by a [French] company is an insult that no American soldier or their family should be forced to endure."

Meanwhile, the State Department's Foreign Affairs and Recreation Association is raising money to help restore the George C. Marshall Center in Paris. It's doing this by selling the Hotel De Talleyrand scarf. For just $150, you can have "this 100% silk scarf (best quality of silk) made in France, by the LR. Paris Company." The scarf is "both suitable for men or women: framed in an office or worn by a lady, it's always the perfect gift for hails and farewells."

Or "bonjours" and "adieus."

Add Qibla to the Axis

This just in from Derby, United Kingdom: "The UK-based Qibla Cola Company Ltd . . . calls for a boycott of U.S. global brands known to support the American administration."

Zafer Iqbal, managing director of the new company, said, "People should switch to brands that are independent of governments and their unjust policies. Qibla Cola is here to provide that alternative for people who want to liberate their tastes in purchasing soft drinks."

Got a feeling it doesn't taste like the real thing.

Raise Right Hand and Repeat After Me

And now, this week's William Jefferson Clinton "The-president-is-still-relevant" award goes to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Responding to a question in Brussels yesterday from a Dutch journalist, he said, "Well, I don't believe I am a symbol of failing U.S. diplomacy."

Rumsfeld and Powell Get Along? See Above

There's an easy way to tell when someone's on offense or defense: Offense is shorter. So at Tuesday's Pentagon briefing, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard B. Myers jumped in to blast the nattering nabobs who were criticizing the war plan. Total words? 1,092.

Yesterday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was asked: "How do you and Colin Powell get along these days?"

Answer? "Good."

The Right Address

When a new official settles in as head of an agency, there are always umpteen matters to attend to. For example, senior officials at the National Transportation Safety Board got this message last week from Barbara A. Czech, assistant managing director, regarding new chief Ellen G. Engleman:

To: Heads of Offices

Subject: FYI

Importance: High

The Chairman prefers being addressed as "Chairman" or "Ms. Engleman."

Not "chairwoman" or "Dear Leader" or "Boss."