Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Bush Places Order for Rice

Daily Reality Check
Bush Places Order for Rice

The worst-kept secret in Washington, DC, finally transpired: Secretary of State Colin Powell is out and, if President Bush has his way, current national security adviser Condoleezza Rice will be in. Ladies and gentlemen, the moderates have officially left the building.
Remember all that talk of the Bush administration's need to reach across the aisle and let the healing begin? Well, that was only two weeks – and about 2,137 resignations – ago. Instead of minding the gap, President Bush has decided to reach out to his right, as if his hawkish conservative supporters needed placating.
There are three main problems with President Bush's selection of Rice as the new Secretary of State:
1. Powell was a moderate, Rice is a hawk. Which means that, under the new Bush lineup, the hawks outnumber everyone else by a final score of Quite a Few to Zero. While Powell was often ineffective as the administration's only voice of moderation, now even he's gone and we're left with this lineup: Secretary of State Rice, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and Vice President Cheney. That's three people with very similar points of view, all advising the president on foreign policy. No matter what those views are (but especially in this case when we know what those views are and we know the unimpressive results), that is not a healthy way to govern. This group will sing together like the Vienna Boys Choir – that is, if all the Vienna Boys Choir sang about was invading other countries.
2. Rice has a credibility gap the size of the Grand Canyon. Let's put it this way: If President Bush ever needs someone to reprise Powell's infamous UN presentation that was chock-full of misleading facts, then he chose wisely with Rice. Unfortunately, that was the most inglorious moment of Powell's tenure. Also unfortunately, Rice seems to be amply qualified for this particular task. She relentlessly promoted misleading intelligence before the Iraq War, insisting that Saddam Hussein was in fact actively pursuing a nuclear weapon, and that aluminum tubes were proof. We know now that Hussein had no such nuclear program, and the aforementioned tubes were unsuitable for such a purpose. But Rice continued to make such statements about WMD even after the initial thrust of the war.
Rice's handling of the 9/11 Commission was similarly disappointing. After initially refusing to appear in front of the commission, she finally sat down and gave a disastrous performance. One lowlight: she claimed that the now-infamous Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) from August 6, 2001 said "nothing about the threat of attack in the US." The title of the PDB? "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."
3. Rice wasn't a particularly effective national security adviser. One of Rice's main jobs as NSA was to manage interagency conflicts within the national security community. Thanks in part to her biased interested (see above point #2), Rice had problems with this task, leading to less than ideal results. "State Department officials dislike her intensely because they love Powell and believe her staff demeaned the State Department," said one former State Department official. In short, Rice has been a divider, not a uniter. She hasn't had any particular success at pulling together our own agencies, and as Secretary of State, her job of top American diplomat would be complicated abroad by her hard-earned reputation as Bush confidant here at home. In short, Rice has willingly thrust herself into the Bush administration crowd that doesn't play well with others, but her new role demands it. It's a difficult position for even a seasoned diplomat to handle, and Rice's track record of diplomacy while serving as NSA isn't much of a confidence booster.
Rather than learn any lessons from a divisive campaign season, Bush is hard at work insulating an already Igloo-like bubble that he's constructed for himself. Remember those times when President Bush couldn't name anything he's done wrong? Personnel decisions like this one are a big reason why. Moves like this don't reek of introspection on the president's part, and they certainly don't invite an infusion of new ideas into a foreign policy team that's appeared to have lost its way. Instead, Powell's departure and Rice's subsequent promotion is a clear sign from President Bush that he's unwilling to fully examine the failures of his first administration, and would prefer simply to offer more of the same.