'I Am on the President's Agenda'; an Angry Colin Powell Rebuts His Critics

Article excerpt

Byline: Nicholas Kralev, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Colin L. Powell listened with growing but controlled anger.

He saw the question coming. After all, there is no charge against a secretary of state more serious than the one leveled by some members of his own Republican Party - and even in the administration he serves.

They accuse him of leading a government agency that not only opposes President Bush's foreign policy, but also tries to undermine it.

His response came out in a single well-known barnyard expletive. Then, to emphasize the point, he added: "That's quotable."

"I can show you people in Washington who claim to be pushing the president's agenda, [but] who are not," Mr. Powell continued, sitting in his small inner office on the seventh floor of the State Department.

"People are fond of pointing out that I may not be on the president's agenda," he said. "I am on the president's agenda. I know what he wants. I see him many times a week - in groups or alone. And the people who work for me respond to the direction that the president gives to me and I give to them."

Coarse language is hardly characteristic of Mr. Powell - not only because it does not fit the diplomatic etiquette. That was not the image most people had when Mr. Bush chose the charismatic and almost universally liked war hero to be secretary of state.

Mr. Powell, who has a rare talent for pleasing huge crowds just by showing up, still has many more supporters than detractors - at home as well as abroad.

But is he really in charge, in an administration with other formidable figures, such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, deeply involved in foreign policy?

Can any secretary, for that matter, be in charge when more government agencies than ever before are laying claim to foreign-policy turf?

Many current and former State Department officials agree that the ability of various agencies to deal with foreign countries directly - thanks to instant global communication and easy travel - has made it increasingly difficult for the secretary of state and his department to maintain a monopoly on the nation's foreign policy.

The 'mayor' of State

More than 260 Foreign Service members interviewed in Washington and at about 30 embassies and consulates around the world in the past six months said morale within the department is higher than it has been in nearly two decades.

Mr. Powell, they said, is more committed than most of his predecessors to managing the department.

"He is the mayor of the building," said Rena Bitter, a consular officer serving at the embassy in London. "People feel like they work for him. They have gotten the message that he cares about the institution. When people perceive loyalty from a leader, they are loyal, too."

Nicholas Burns, the ambassador to NATO in Brussels, said "people see [Mr. Powell] a lot" because "he walks around the building and into offices."

"I see the way he works when he comes to my mission," Mr. Burns said. "He grabs my junior officers and introduces himself. That travels all around the circuit, and people are impressed."

Many senior officers said Mr. Powell is more accessible than his predecessors had been.

"He is never more than a phone call or an e-mail away," said Tony Garza, the ambassador to Mexico, who is a political appointee and a longtime friend of Mr. Bush. "[Mr. Powell] turns his e-mail around very quickly. It's pretty amazing when it comes back seven minutes later."

Mr. Powell also has won praise for dramatically increasing the department's budget, improving relations with Congress and upgrading the computer systems and other communications capabilities.

"I'm seen as a bit of a nut case on this," he said in the interview, "but there was more to this than just getting everybody the Internet-capable computer. …