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Are Powell and Rice Being Neutralized By Cheney and Rumsfeld?


Almost every day, and from reliable sources, we hear interesting stories of conflict within the Bush administration's foreign policy team. And we are talking about more than just the recent difference of opinion between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over an all - Europe military force and a national missile defense system. What we are learning is that there is a major tug of war taking place, primarily between Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Though both men deny it, it is widely believed inside the Washington press corps and among staff members inside of the Bush administration that General Powell and Vice-President Cheney sincerely do not like one another.

Most trace the animosity between the two men back to the Gulf War, where the two men are said to have had major differences of opinion as to how to oppose Saddam Hussein near the end of the war and afterwards. In addition there are said to be philosophical differences and general competition for influence.

Today, the tug-of-war between the two men in the early days of President George W. Bush's administration has centered around personnel and jurisdiction of key foreign policy issues.

Clearly, at present, Cheney is said to have an advantage by nature of his closeness to President Bush and his handpicked selection of Donald Rumsfeld as Bush's Secretary of Defense. Rumsfeld was a mentor of Cheney's and both men herald back to the Ford administration days where Cheney was chief of staff and Rumsfeld was Secretary of Defense.

We along with many other people were surprised with the selection of Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense. But upon reflection and after discussions with several defense policy observers we now realize that in addition to his impressive qualifications and experience at the position, Rumsfeld was selected, in part, to serve as a counterweight to Secretary Powell.

Initially, it had been believed that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge or Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.) were the leading candidates for the position. But Cheney vetoed Ridge, who is close to President Bush and who was endorsed for the position by Powell.

And Coats is believed to have disappointed Bush in their discussions about the Defense post.

A chief concern in Cheney's mind, we have been told was that neither man had the experience or stature to keep Powell from rolling right over them.

But there is universal agreement in Washington D.C. that the tough-minded Rumsfeld has no such handicap and has been anything but shy about disagreeing with Powell in private and even public settings.

Because Cheney holds the vice-president's position, without Rumsfeld at Defense, he ran the risk of being played out of position by Powell at the State Department, whose actual job it is to be concerned about the world and to influence US foreign policy. Vice-Presidents share no such portfolio and traditionally have been left out of the spotlight - relegated to ceremonial and symbolic duties. In addition there are rumors that Cheney was worried about his inability to deal with foreign administrations issues because he was tethered to Washington D.C., in his duty as president of the United States Senate, on call, in order to break tie votes. The selection of someone Cheney could trust and rely upon to maintain his influence was necessary and Rumsfeld fit the bill.

But Cheney has not stopped there. Rumsfeld at Defense is not enough.

Cheney has actually been assembling a mini National Security Council of his own - strictly devoted to advising him on matters of foreign policy. A New York Times article, in detail, describes the unprecedented team of staff and advisers that Cheney is assembling in order to strengthen his hand on a variety of issues - most notably foreign policy issues.

According to the New York Times, "About 15 regional and military experts will advise Mr. Cheney on foreign and national security affairs…" And while Cheney's overall staff may end up to be smaller than his predecessor, Al Gore's, his defense and foreign policy staff dwarfs that of Gore's. According to the New York Times, "While Mr. Gore had one dominant national security aide, Leon S. Fuerth, Mr. Cheney is looking to lean on several staff experts on the Middle East, Russia and military affairs."

Coincidentally or not, at the same time that Cheney is bolstering his foreign policy portfolio as vice-president creating a "mini-National Security Council", as the NY Times put it, the official National Security Council, run by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, is being downsized.

The National Security Council is a White House entity that has the responsibility of advising the president on national security matters and ironing out departmental differences, primarily between the CIA, Defense Department and State Department.

It is critical to understand that the downsizing of the official NSC and the creation of the mini-NSC represents a transfer of power and influence over foreign policy and national security from Condoleezza Rice to Dick Cheney.

As a recent Washington Post article on the leaner NSC put it, "Bush has said he expects Cheney and the vice presidential advisers to be full participants in national security policy. The stated plan is that the NSC and Cheney's staff will be treated as one, with what a senior official called 'maximum communication and transparency'."

The office of the vice-president is being elevated on these issues as never before.

Media reports indicate that Condoleezza Rice has voluntarily decreased the influence of the NSC but we hear and believe otherwise. Having read the handwriting on the wall, it appears that Rice has indicated her "must-have" areas of influence and allowed the rest to be transferred to other agencies - most obviously to the vice-president and to a lesser extent to the State Department.

In essence Rice has accepted her role as the preeminent adviser on Russia in the Bush administration and a role that some have derisively referred to as "President Bush's foreign policy tutor".

While it is tempting to believe that this battle is between Cheney and Rumsfeld on one side and Powell and Rice on the other, as portrayed in an article in yesterday's Financial Times by Stephen Fidler, the lines of demarcation are not that clear. In fact, many point out tensions in the relationship between Rice and Powell that go back to the Republican convention. We have been told of in-fighting in Philadelphia between Rice and Powell over the Republican foreign policy platform and even Ms. Rice's speech before the convention.

And historically the national security adviser and the Secretary of State have not gotten along. The Washington Post article says, "Although the Bush team promises it will be different, 'tensions between the national security adviser and the secretary of state seem to run through every administration,'… Feuding between Carter adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and secretary of state Cyrus Vance eventually led to Vance's resignation."

So, despite the Bush administration and mainstream media's efforts to play up the race of Powell and Rice, don't expect to catch any secret Black Power handshakes between the two. A show of diversity is one thing, teamwork is another and Powell and Rice, at this stage, are not working as a unit, like Cheney and Rumsfeld are.

And besides, Condoleezza Rice does not seem willing to oppose the limited role that may have been crafted for her, as Powell would.

As the devil is in the details, the power may be in the staffs. And it is in this area where Powell and Cheney-Rumsfeld are definitely going toe-to-toe.

Cheney-Rumsfeld went for the jugular with the addition of Paul Wolfowitz, as deputy Defense Secretary. Wolfowitz, a hard-core hawk and Cold Warrior who detests Powell's dove-like conciliatory approach to conflict resolution. He also is extremely loyal to Cheney and Rumsfeld.

Powell, in effect has countered with his selection of Richard Armitage as his deputy Secretary of State. Armitage is also said to be Powell's very best personal friend.

It is believed that Powell initially pushed for Armitage to fill the deputy secretary of defense slot but that Cheney and Rumsfeld rejected the idea, in part, due to Armitage's closeness to Powell.

And keeping with the rhythm of all-star deputies, President Bush has selected Stephen J. Hadley as Condoleezza Rice's deputy national security adviser.

The wildcard in determining who has the most influence in the Bush foreign policy team is the president himself. An although President Bush is personally closer to Cheney and Rice than he is to Powell and Rumsfeld, he is said to agree more with Powell and Rice's more moderate approach to foreign policy affairs.

And those close to the president indicate that he actually thinks the tension between Cheney-Rumsfeld and Powell is good and will lead to better decisions.

Most observers believe that the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz wing will prevail over Powell-Armitage but if Rice were to her throw her weight behind Powell-Armitage it could be a draw or even result in a majority of victories for Powell on important issues like Iraq, the Middle East peace proces and even Africa

Only time will tell.

P.S. One of the best commentaries that we have seen on this issue is from Lawrence Kaplan of the New Republic, we paste below a portion of his column from two weeks ago:

"Powell, of course, got where he is largely as a result of his own bureaucratic skills. But they may do him less good today than when he was in uniform. That's partly because he has fewer allies: Unlike the Cheney-Rumsfeld partisans, who have supporters throughout the administration, Powell is largely isolated at the State Department, a general without an army. But Powell is further hobbled by his distaste for ideology ("If you're looking for an ideologue," he said in 1995, "that's not me"). And that distaste has led him to surround himself at the State Department with foreign service officers and middle-management types. "He only wants managerial technocrats," says one conservative candidate passed over for a State Department billet. "He wants to run State like it's an Army base."

While Powell's personnel strategy will cement his control over the department, it may weaken his position in the administration as a whole. That's because, in the foreign policy world, it's the political types--not the bureaucrats--who enjoy long-standing relationships with their counterparts at other agencies and wield clout throughout the government.

As for Rice, her stature shrinks by the day. This is partly her own doing. As the campaign entered its final weeks, she committed a serious flub, provoking an uproar with her suggestion that the United States establish "a new division of labor" with its European allies, which, among other things, might require them to police the Balkans by themselves. The Europeans went ballistic. Following close behind were America's editorial pages, Democratic Party operatives, and, finally, the Bush campaign itself. Rice also finds herself club-sandwiched between Powell, Rumsfeld, and Cheney. In foreign policy deliberations, national security advisers often prevail by sheer virtue of their proximity to the president, and Rice, to be sure, will be close to Bush. Problem is, Cheney will be closer, and he's prime minister.

What's more, although Rice and Powell seem philosophically in tune, the general appears to view her less as an ally than as a competitor:

According to several Bush advisers, Powell has demanded, and been assured, that Rice's duties won't impede his ability to guide U.S. foreign policy. Rather, members of the Bush team predict, Rice will manage the day-to-day interagency paper flow and keep the trains running on time. "She's going to be crushed," declares one Rumsfeld ally. "It's as simple as that."

Ultimately, though, Cheney's allies at the Pentagon may prevail in disputes with Powell and Rice because of their sheer organizational mass.

The Pentagon will be funded next year to the tune of $300 billion. The State Department will be lucky if it receives one-tenth that amount. "Because of the enormous resources at its disposal," explains General William Odom, the former National Security Agency chief and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, "the Pentagon defines foreign policy in ways no other department, including the State Department, can."

In fact, even in the absence of strong leadership, the Pentagon (along with the Treasury Department) has essentially been running U.S. foreign policy for a decade now..."


Thursday, February 15, 2001

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