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Comparing Powell And Rice.

WILLisms.com lauds Secretary Rice for her new and aggressive direction for U.S. diplomacy. In such a very short time, Rice has already established herself among America's most effective Secretaries of State.

Colin Powell deserves credit for his diplomatic successes, but he could never be as effective as Dr. Rice already is today. The reasons for this are multi-fold.


1. Ideological and philosophical differences.

Colin Powell, as The Washington Post explains, was an "independent operator, representing the views of the State Department in the foreign policy debate within the administration." Powell never fully bought into the President's vision for the world; he brought his own solidified worldview into the job, and nothing was ever going to make him believe, deeply, genuinely, that spreading liberty is the solemn obligation of American foreign policy.

On the other hand, Condoleezza Rice helped shape the Bush Doctrine, so there is very little doubt she believes in it. As any salesperson can tell you, believing in a product makes it far easier to sell it. The Secretary of State is a salesperson of American policy, American ideas. Powell never fully believed in it, so he was never as persuasive as he could have been.

2. Wanting desperately to be liked.

Powell was probably focused too much on his legacy. He worried that his now-infamous UN presentation on Iraq's weapons programs would harm his credibility so much that he let it alter the way he went about his job. Concerned with how history would judge him, Powell focused more on damage control than actively advancing the President's global agenda. Powell, once one of those rare "bipartisan" darlings of the media, dreaded having liberals attack him, so he tried to speak their language, an old, failed language, a little too often.

It was apparently Powell who convinced the President to seek yet another United Nations resolution approving of the removal of Saddam Hussein. Powell was not fully on board with the policy, partly because the international community was not fully on board.

During that time, Iraq's Ba'ath Party was able to prepare for an invasion, potentially jettisoning whatever weapons of mass destruction were in the country while laying the groundwork for a future guerilla war campaign. The delay put the United States at a determined tactical disadvantage, as Iraq knew what was coming all along.

3. The devil in the details.

Powell's personality was a little too analytical for the task with which he was charged. President Bush is a vision president, a long ball kind of guy, not a detail-obsessed micromanaging small-baller. President Bush needed someone at State who would be comfortable, personality-wise, with articulating grand ideas. Bush needed a spokesperson to tell the world the profound meaning behind America's new foreign policy direction, and Powell, for all his strengths, was not that person.

Powell liked to believe he was a realist, and the notion that democracy and freedom could spread around the Middle East seemed a little too idealist for him. The job of the Secretary of State is to sell big ideas to, as well as settle minor diplomatic quarrels with, foreign leaders. Powell was woefully absent on this task, because he was not a big idea kind of guy.

4. Jet-setting homebody.

Secretary Powell also did not like to travel.

Christopher Hitchens, WILLisms.com's favorite left-wing writer, right after the 2004 election, wrote:

The official historian of the State Department has calculated that Powell will have traveled less than any secretary in more than three decades. His three immediate predecessors voyaged abroad an average of 45 percent more than him. “Shuttle diplomacy” may well have been overpromoted by Henry Kissinger, but a politique de presence has an importance of its own, and Powell should not forget that it was very largely his own personality—large, affable, calm, and, yes, originally Caribbean—that landed him the post to begin with. I myself doubt that a diplomatic “offensive” by Powell would have melted the heart of the Elysee, but he incurs criticism not for failing, but for not trying.

Hitchens notes that Powell said as much in his 1995 memoir, My American Journey:

It was in those pages, incidentally, that he disclosed what has since become evident: “Having seen much of the world and having lived on planes for years, I am no longer much interested in travel.”

The first job requirement of the Secretary of State is travel. Secretary Rice loves to travel, and when she does, she impresses all with whom she comes into contact. Powell was not big on foreign travel while Secretary of State. The Post article notes:

Unlike Powell, who disliked tourism, Rice often schedules a quick visit to a cultural landmark because, aides said, she believes it demonstrates respect and an interest in a country's heritage. The pictures are more evocative than typical images of a Powell trip -- photographs of officials standing at news conferences and the secretary getting on and off his government jet.

Secretary of State Rice has already taken significant diplomatic trips, making a strong case for American policies at each stop.

5. Raging Against The Machine.

Colin Powell is a believer in existing systems. Just play by the rules of the system and everything will work out. President Bush believes in shaking up systems he believes are not working.

Powell believed deeply in the old rules of diplomacy and was not willing to challenge them. He also believed, like so many others, that stability ought to be the paramount objective of American foreign policy.

Secretary Rice, on the other hand, shares President Bush's belief that shaking the tree a bit can rid its branches of dead and decaying leaves, making way for new growth. Ultimately, the world cannot change for the better if it does not change, period.

Is it absolutely guaranteed that creating a little bit of controlled instability in the Middle East will lead to positive developments in the march of freedom?

No. Of course not.

Buying into the Bush Doctrine takes a minor leap of faith, especially for stability-mongers.

But without taking that leap, there is nothing to be gained. Powell is more of a road-more-traveled kind of guy, not one to take a risk for profound gains.

Dr. Rice, on the other hand, sees the benefits of change in the Middle East.

6. Leaks.

Powell believed in leaks to the press. Leaks were simply Washington business as usual and an effective way to get things accomplished. Rice, on the other hand, is a firm believer in the President's anti-leak policy. Leaks are distracting. Staying on message is nearly impossible when unattributed factions are competing in the shadows of the front pages of the major media. Powell was lackadaisical in enforcing a policy of no leaks at Foggy Bottom, because he did not truly believe in it.

We respect Colin Powell for his accomplishments; his life story is truly an inspiration, a realization of the American Dream, but he was not as effective as he could have been while Secretary of State. Secretary Rice, on the other hand, shares the President's vision, loves to travel and articulate that vision, and otherwise serves as a logical and coherent extension of administration policy-making.

Some people argue that it was good to have a "voice of dissent" within the administration to keep those creepy "neo-cons" from going too far. The left-wing media lamented Powell's departure from State, believing he was the only remaining check on the implementation of that dangerous and anomolous Bush Doctrine.

Rice, to the left, would be nothing more than a parrot of the administration:

Click for larger image.

Well, a President has an obligation, based on rudimentary principles of democracy, to implement the policies he ran on, not to equivocate for the sake of the media or the losing party. While independent thought is necessary to check groupthink, the President should not have to compete with his own administrators on his agenda. The Secretary of State should not speak on behalf of entrenched (and often dysfunctional) interests of the employees therein to the President, he or she should defend and promote administration policy to the career employees at the Department of State.


We have every confidence in Condoleezza Rice that she will serve the interests of President Bush, but those interests include serving as a yield sign, an independent voice, when necessary. And when she does it, it will be in confidence, and she will have earned that much more credibility.

Posted by Will Franklin · 23 March 2005 01:42 PM