The resolution of the China spy-plane crisis has produced at
least one apparent winner in Washington: Secretary of State Colin
In the first months of the Bush presidency, the relatively
moderate Powell often seemed at odds with the rest of the
administration's foreign-policy team. Whether it was policy towards
Iraq, North Korea, or Europe, Powell's initial statements were
often contradicted later by harder-line words from equally high-
ranking hawks like Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
In the administration's first big test overseas, however, it
seems that restraint and nuance carried the day, after an initial
burst of aggressive rhetoric. As a result, the country's chief
diplomat, Mr. Powell, has increased his standing as a member of the
president's national security team, observers say.
"This has definitely strengthened Secretary Powell's personal
hand in formulating American foreign policy," says David Shambaugh,
a China specialist at George Washington University here. "Prior to
this, there were evident cleavages between centrists and hawks and
between State and Defense, but this has been managed effectively by
Of course, one case does not a trend make. But this was a high-
profile one, with the potential for a nasty, drawn-out ending,
involving a nation of tremendous strategic and economic
significance for the United States. It was, say analysts, an
important staging ground for Powell, whose roadmap out of the
crisis was described by the US ambassador in Beijing as "a key
turning point" in the 11-day standoff.
"In my mind, Powell has a feather in his cap, because he managed
this well," says Kenneth Lieberthal, the chief Asia adviser to
former President Clinton. "But Rumsfeld also has a feather in his
cap, because he had the discipline to keep out of it."
Indeed, the Defense secretary was barely to be seen or heard
during the run of these negotiations, while it was Powell who first
uttered the word "regret," which then progressed to "sorry," and
then "very sorry" - all words the president approved.
Mr. Rumsfeld's lower profile during the standoff was a deliberate
choice. At a time when the White House was trying to prevent what
they called an "accident" from snowballing into a full-blown
crisis, President Bush and his aides concluded that the Defense
secretary's was not the appropriate voice to project.
Bush's first test
Generally, the administration is receiving high marks from both
Republicans and Democrats for its disciplined and nuanced handling
of the detainee issue. …