Monday, November 22, 2004
I. "THIS BLACK SLIP OF A GIRL..."
The tut-tutting over at the New York Times about Condi Rice indicates that the MoDo Crowd believe that Dr. Rice is merely a Bush yes-woman, willing to believe anything that the Boss dictates, akin to Rudolf Hoess taking transcription from the future Fuhrer at Landsberg (one last tip o' the hat to the "Bush is Hitler" meme so gratuitously peddled by the Left in the last campaign). But nothing is so simple. Rather, she is a client of George Bush, while at the same time, being George H.W. and Barbara Bush's "extra" daughter. When George W. Bush has to run a decision through his head one last time, the last person he talks to about it is Condoleezza Rice. She never trumpets her access to the President. She remains as a Sphinx, and W knows he can trust her to keep both her silence and her word.
Somehow, up in Midtown Manhattan, these qualities are frowned upon, or described as the slavish conduct of a foreign policy mediocrity. However, within the Bush family and the larger constellation of the Republican party's foreign policy nomenklatura, silence is golden. It is the trademark of the serious player, the person who can be trusted to close the deal with the Russian, cajole the Chinese, or lay down the law to the Indian and the Pakistani before those two irradiate the Subcontinent.
Powell was a serious man, but he played the press game with the Post and the Times in all too many instances to be of much good to Bush in a second term. Further, Powell found it very hard to hold his own within the Principal's Committee against the active opposition of both Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney. Powell was constantly watching his back, and was never sure of President Bush's support. In contrast, Dr. Condoleezza Rice enjoys the complete trust of both Bushes, and it is said, never needs to make an appointment to see him. Rice enjoys the one thing that Powell never had: complete trust and complete access.
This gives her immense and extraordinary power, which she will exercise with shrewd dispatch and, when necessary, utter ruthlessness. But before we go there, let's set the scenery that serves as the backdrop to her opening act.
The Belgravia Dispatch is all Condi all the Time, this week, and for good reason. Gred Djerejian, like me, suspects that Dr. Rice will be no wallflower. Indeed, he expects a second Thermidor, but from a most unlikely source: Condoleezza Rice. With a fine sense of the theater, Greg seems to believe that the PNAC upstarts are to be driven from the stage, while Vice President Dick Cheney's moneylenders are to be driven from the Temple. What I think Greg is driving at is that in the middle of a war, foreign policy primacy just passed over to the State Department.
Greg had been disappointed in Condi's management of the interagency process. His disappointment was shared by others, but I believe that Condi's apparent passivity led to a misunderstanding of her role: she was Bush's representative within a larger universe of competing agency ambitions. Before he became President, I am sure that GW sat down with his dad and discussed Condi's role. Condi had ridden in from Stanford in the van of the Bush campaign back in 2000. She had no clientele in Washington, she was nobody's Principal, and most important of all, nobody owed Condi Rice a damn thing.
Plenty of people around D.C. were owned by Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney. Each Principal knew it, too. These three men were not going to take orders from what Brent Scowcroft described as this "black slip of a girl" of 46. So what to do? How does a new President herd these lions?
Bush decided to put in a kitten to watch after them.
Let's look at Bush for a moment. Here he was, having lost the popular vote to Crazy Al Gore, and sore in need of gravitas in the Cabinet. He picked Powell as his first Secretary of State. The retired General was the most popular man in America and a veteran of the beureucratic and media wars of the late Reagan and Bush years. Bush moved on to consider a SECDEF; but while this was going on, word leaked out that the President-elect was going to pick Dan Coates for DOD. Word even got out the Powell liked the idea! I think Bush believed that Colin Powell was trying to establish early dominance within the Cabinet and outflank a powerful Vice-President. I'm sure Dan Coates is a nice guy who never stole a freight train, but Powell would have stolen Dan Coates' lunch and the Senator would have paid for it. Bush must have thought that Powell needed to be reined in. So Bush, following the wise counsel of Chairman Mao ("Let one hundred flowers bloom, let one thousand schools of thought contend"), picked Donald Rumsfeld, a guy who could go toe to toe with Powell and make the latter live to regret it. Bush set it up so that Powell and Rumsfeld would fight each other and have to turn to him. Throw Cheney and his goons into the mix and one had a the makings of a scrum at the Rugby Association cup final.
That's where Condi came in. More in the next post.