What kind of a Rice?

By Shmuel Rosner


Kislev 6, 5765

The conversation in which U.S. President George W. Bush informed Secretary of State Colin Powell of his decision to go to war against Iraq took 12 minutes. Twelve minutes of information - but no question. "I didn't need his permission," the president told journalist Bob Woodward. Therefore, he never asked Powell whether he was for or against the war. All he wanted to know was, "Are you with me on this?"

And Powell was with him - "He's a loyal soldier," explained his acquaintances - until he received a discharge at a time that was convenient to both sides. Without harming Bush's election campaign. A very predictable departure. It's good for Powell and it's good for Bush, as well. Anyway, the entire world already knows that Bush didn't heed Powell's advice. And what's the use of a secretary of state when he can't convince foreign leaders that he represents the president?

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who will replace Powell, is very close to Bush. That will help her in the outside world, as well as inside the State Department. The officials there, who have gone through some tough years when they were prevented from exerting an influence, can hope for a new era.

The question is only how they'll manage to get along with Rice. The change she has undergone in recent years - one of the most impressive in the history of senior civil servants - places her at quite a remove from the prevalent views at the State Department.

And, in effect, her relative success, as opposed to the weakening of Powell, is representative of the process undergone by the entire Bush administration: an administration that before its election was called "neo-realist," and is now described as "neo-conservative" (and neither label is entirely justified).

Rice joined Bush after a period of apprenticeship with Brent Scowcroft, the cautious national security adviser under George Bush, Sr. In the past, she has mentioned how she was influenced by the. book by Hans Morgenthau,"Politics Among Nations," one of the pillars of "realistic" thought, which maintains that relations among nations have to be based on interests rather than on ideology. The "realists" refrained from calling the Soviet Union an "empire of evil," for fear of damaging "stability."

And this is the same stability in which Colin Powell believed, when he explained his opposition to continuing the first Gulf War in 1991. He was afraid that changing the regime there would cause fragmentation in the country and would therefore "not contribute to the stability we want in the Middle East."

Because what is surprising about Powell and Rice is the degree of similarity between them in terms of the station at which they joined the Bush administration - that of narrow, cautious realism, which began with Henry Kissinger and continued with George Bush, Sr. - as compared to the considerable distance between them today.

Powell seems to have remained where he was: moderate, afraid of ambitious undertakings, adhering to the famous "Powell Doctrine," which he formulated as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and which is reluctant to use force and defines goals cautiously. Rice, on the other hand, has undergone a transformation. In the adviser who issued the revolutionary document spelling out the updated security concept of the George W. Bush administration, it is difficult to recognize the expert on Russia, whom Scowcroft liked because she was, as he put it, someone who knew how to say where we could cooperate with the Russians, rather than, God forbid, an ideologically motivated fighter against them.

The Rice of recent years presents an updated position. More hawkish, like Vice President Richard Cheney's "hardheaded" realism, and sometimeseven"neo-conservative," in favor of promoting democratic values all over the world, in the style of U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Her admirers say that 9/11 changed her. Her opponents say it's all personal. Her closeness to Bush has distorted her judgment.

Whatever the case, in her new position she will face an interesting test. Further from the eyes of Bush, and closer to the cautious State Department establishment, the question is which path she will choose. In an administration that did not achieve consensus on a single foreign policy issue from the time of the decision to attack in Afghanistan, the assumption is that the new Rice will guarantee harmony and unanimity that were not achieved with the old Powell.