Column: Eliminating dissent at the State Dept.

There was little to celebrate after President Bush’s re-election. There was, however, a glimmer of hope that some of the most embarrassing members of his cabinet would leave – as is the regular practice in a re-elected administration. Many cheered uber-conservative Attorney General John Ashcroft’s quick resignation but were disappointed with Bush’s selection of White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez to replace him. It was Gonzalez, after all, who was one of the leading voices who told Bush captured “enemy combatants” did not necessarily need to be accorded rights under the Geneva Conventions.

Secretary of State Colin Powell’s resignation announcement came as a surprise to few. Feelings toward his departure for many, particularly moderates and liberals, are ambivalent. I have praised Powell’s independence and reason but have been disappointed by his inability to stand firmly against Bush and the defense hawks. Disappointed? Yes. But surprised? No.

So many articles and analyses have labeled Powell as the quintessential “good soldier.” How true that is. The last four years he has placed loyalty to the president above all else. Few can imagine the wrath directed at Powell by Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in the run-up to the Iraq war in early 2003. It is to Powell’s credit he remained for the entire first term. Now, regrettably, the country and indeed the world may suffer from the ouster of the lone true cautionary voice in the Bush cabinet.

In his Nov. 4 press conference, Bush paid lip service to his alleged commitment of staffing his cabinet with diverse voices. With the announcement of Condoleezza Rice as Powell’s successor, Bush has already been caught misleading America once again.

Rice’s nomination clearly indicates Bush’s move to consolidate his inner circle and stifle outside opinion or, God forbid, dissent. This is to be expected with many executive branch nominations. Surely, all presidents surround themselves with associates who will faithfully execute their orders. But the president has a responsibility to call on advisers that represent a wide range of beliefs, indeed, those who truly represent the scope of views shared by all Americans. A president shirks this duty when he merely shuffles his Cabinet around, eliminating those who disagree with his policy and giving those he trusts new posts.

The broad consensus from world leaders was extremely good-natured toward Powell. They knew although he was impotent relative to Cheney and Rumsfeld, he took foreign concerns to heart and acted best he could under the circumstances. Foreign opinion of Rice will not be so tolerant. One of her more infamous doctrines came just before the outbreak of the Iraq war, at the height of the trans-Atlantic rift.

“Punish France, ignore Germany and forgive Russia,” she was widely quoted as telling associates. Now Bush wants her to be the United States’ chief representative abroad, particularly in strengthening bonds with what Rumsfeld disparagingly referred to as “Old Europe.”

The unmarried Rice shares an extraordinary personal relationship with Bush. She spends nearly every weekend with him and the first lady, in addition to almost always accompanying them on trips to Camp David or to the Crawford ranch. They work out and pray together. No one enjoys more unfettered access to the president except perhaps adviser Karl Rove and Cheney.

A traditional role of the national security adviser is to mediate the typical tension between the defense and state departments. Rice clearly failed in this capacity in the first term, rolling over time and again for Cheney and Rumsfeld and leaving Powell out to dry.

No one questions Rice’s brilliance or competence, but how well does her specialization serve the United States in the 21st century? She is often lauded for speaking fluent Russian and being an expert on east European and Soviet affairs. She served President George H.W. Bush as his adviser on east European and Soviet affairs. The difference between then and now? The Soviet Union no longer exists and the Cold War is over. Her skills in that area are all but obsolete and irrelevant.

The nomination of Rice to the State Department post demonstrates a backward-thinking administration, one unwilling to take current threats seriously. It is widely reported that Rice is responsible for Bush’s failed North Korea policy. It is anachronistic to nominate someone with this expertise in an age where the Middle East, North Korea, Iran, Kashmir and Iraq are all at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy.

Condoleezza means “to sing with sweetness” in Italian. I fear Rice will spew the hard-line foreign policy she learned to espouse under Cheney and Rumsfeld’s tutelage instead of singing the sweet song of moderation and reason her predecessor did.

-The writer, a junior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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