A Gulf Opens around Colin Powell ; Strong on Reputation, the Moderate Leader Could Be Marginalized on a Team That Is Heavy with Conservatives

By Justin Brown writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, January 23, 2001 | Go to article overview

A Gulf Opens around Colin Powell ; Strong on Reputation, the Moderate Leader Could Be Marginalized on a Team That Is Heavy with Conservatives


Justin Brown writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


As a retired general, a war hero, and a public figure with enormous popularity, Colin Powell has all the makings of a forceful secretary of State.

Yet as he takes office, Mr. Powell finds himself in the middle of a power struggle within President George W. Bush's national security team, which in recent weeks has begun to cut a decidedly conservative profile.

There are already signs that Powell, whom many see as a moderate, could be marginalized - although it has yet to be seen how he will react and try to assert himself.

As it is shaping up, this split among top-level GOP policymakers could touch some of the most important issues in US foreign policy, ranging from Iraq to Russia to China.

On one side is Powell and the State Department, which is becoming a shelter for moderate GOP foreign-policy makers. On the other side is Vice President Dick Cheney, already expected to be an unusually powerful No. 2, and the Pentagon, which will be headed by the formidable Donald Rumsfeld.

It is unclear how these different ideologies will work together.

"If the president is lucky, he will have these different opinions well defined and presented for his decision," says Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan Defense official who heads the conservative Center for Security Policy here.

On the other hand, says Ivo Daalder of the Washington-based Brookings Institution, there is great potential for conflict.

"There are a number of signs that the chief executive officer [Bush] has appointed very strong individuals who may not be able to work together," says Mr. Daalder, a former National Security Council official.

So far, the fissure in the Bush Cabinet has centered around the choice of secretary of Defense. Powell was said to have favored Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge (R). Mr. Cheney and other conservatives, however, opposed Mr. Ridge, concerned that he was too liberal. Dan Coats, a former senator from Indiana, was considered for the post, but eventually rejected because of worries that he would not have the stature to stand up to Powell.

Bush and Cheney eventually settled on Mr. Rumsfeld, an experienced and sometimes combative GOP stalwart who is taking the top Pentagon post for a second time. Although Powell publicly applauded the decision, observers say he was slighted in the process.

First, stories were leaked to the press about Powell's disagreements with Cheney over potential nominees. Then, when Rumsfeld got the nod, Powell was not consulted about the decision. Afterward, neither Bush nor Cheney informed him - that task was left to a subordinate.

Powell is expected to lose another battle over the No. 2 Pentagon position, deputy secretary of Defense, which is likely to go to Paul Wolfowitz, a strong conservative who, on paper at least, would seem to have significant differences with Powell. …

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