The new faces of US to the world
Powell and Rice will push a more-cautious role. But that may be difficult to achieve.
WASHINGTON — He's a retired four-star Army general with a passion for tinkering with old Volvos. She's an intellectual, Kremlin-watcher, and pianist who spends her vacations brushing up on Mozart concertos.
Both are black, and both are set to step into top foreign-policy spots in the Bush Cabinet - positions arguably made all the more influential by the president-elect's lack of experience in international affairs.
Gen. Colin Powell and Stanford professor Condoleezza Rice are preparing to serve, respectively, as George W. Bush's secretary of State and national security adviser. And their philosophies and working styles - as well as the chemistry between them - might take America's foreign policy in subtle but significant new directions.
Initially, at least, most indicators point to a smooth if less-than-chummy relationship between General Powell and Dr. Rice, both highly regarded professionals with strong credentials, according to interviews with senior US statesmen, foreign-policy experts, and mutual friends.
"They have a very nice, easy, friendly style [together] and a lot of mutual respect," says former secretary of State George Shultz, who knows the two and has seen them together a few times.
"But they are both strong people," he adds. "Neither one is a pushover."
Far less certain is whether - in today's volatile and complex post-cold-war world - Rice and Powell can achieve the Bush campaign pledge of a clear, realpolitik-style foreign policy more narrowly focused on US national interests. Simply put, extracting America from myriad commitments overseas is more easily said than done, experts stress.
"The United States has taken responsibility as a kind of global police force, and I don't believe a new administration can come in and abandon that role. It would upset too many relationships," says Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel and now a professor at Boston University.
Some experts describe as outdated the more-cautious attitudes of Powell and Rice toward the use overseas of American influence - especially intervention. "Both [Powell and Rice] are products of the cold war," says Richard Kohn, an expert on presidential war leadership at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. Key foreign-policy proposals of Bush include strengthening the military, building a national missile defense, and adopting tougher stances toward Russia and China.
Powell: Shaped by Vietnam
Powell's global outlook has been shaped above all by his 35 years of military service - beginning with two Army combat tours in Vietnam in the 1960s and ending with the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1989 to 1993, during which he oversaw the 1991 Gulf War. It was the early, searing Vietnam experience that most profoundly influenced his ideas on when and how the United States should wage war.
"I would spend nearly 20 years, one way or another, grappling with our experience in this country," Powell writes in his 1995 bestselling autobiography, "My American Journey."
His conclusion, rooted in concern for the common soldier, is that the United States should only engage in military conflicts when the national interest is at stake. Then, it must have clear goals, overwhelming force, and a sound exit strategy. "If we go in, we go in to win," is his mantra.
Powell's strong sense of identity as a soldier began when he joined the ROTC at City College of New York in the 1950s. Donning the olive-drab uniform, the C-average student felt "distinctive" for the first time in his life, he recalls.
"I had found something that I did well. I could lead," he writes of his time as a ROTC cadet.
There was little to foreshadow the budding soldier in Powell's earlier youth, when an aunt chided the eight-year-old as a "crybaby." Born into a proud, close-knit family of Jamaican immigrants, Powell grew up happy-go-lucky, playing mumblety-peg and kite fighting in a neighborhood of the South Bronx.
His father, a shipping clerk, and mother, a seamstress, taught by example the value of hard work. Yet they also kicked up their heels in frequent get-togethers with kin, listening to calypso music and savoring West Indian curry. That powerful feeling of belonging fed directly into his life-long love for the discipline, structure, and camaraderie of the military, he says.
After college, Powell launched his military career as a second lieutenant, married Alma Johnson of Birmingham, Ala., and started a family that would grow to three children.
His career took off once back from Vietnam, when, after earning a master's degree in business from George Washington University, he won a prestigious White House fellowship. There, he gained valuable political ties while apprenticing under Frank Carlucci and Caspar Weinberger, two of the four future secretaries of Defense whom Powell would serve as assistant in the 1980s. He was Ronald Reagan's national security adviser before becoming the youngest person - and first black - to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Powell's military doctrine underpinned America's success in expelling Iraq from Kuwait during the Gulf War, although critics say Powell also failed by halting Operation Desert Storm before Saddam Hussein was toppled.
The Gulf War propelled Powell into public adulation as a war hero, leading to repeated calls for him to run for president in 1996. Powell declined, instead leading America's Promise, a nonprofit group working to improve the lives of needy youth, since 1993.
American folk hero
Now a US folk hero, Powell has the stature and legitimacy to make a powerful secretary of State, experts say. Powell's credibility and experience will help him fight Washington turf battles.
"He's the living symbol of American ideals, our highest political aspirations," says Tom Donnelly of the Project for a New American Century, a conservative think-tank here. "When you add the extra dimension that his race brings to it, that's what puts him into the stratosphere."
Some experts predict that Powell's status will lead him to eclipse Rice as the architect of US foreign policy under the Bush administration. "He will view himself as very much the vicar of US foreign policy," says Mr. Bacevich.
Rice: Bush's 'honest broker'
Rice, as national security adviser, will likely serve more as a facilitator than as a mastermind of US strategy, observers say. "I suspect [Bush] wants someone who can lay out all the options," making Rice the "ultimate honest broker," says Ambassador Richard Armitage, a Bush adviser and friend of Powell and Rice.
Such roles mirror those Powell and Rice played during the presidential race. Powell was consulted occasionally on speeches but otherwise stayed above the fray, projecting the image that "he has to be summoned from [Mt.] Olympus," says Bacevich.
In contrast, Rice was the ultimate, on-the-ground insider. She led Bush's foreign-policy team (nicknamed the "Vulcans" after a statue of the Roman god in Rice's hometown of Birmingham), coached the governor for hours on world affairs, and orchestrated his major addresses on defense and foreign policy.
Her closeness to Bush and his family is one reason, experts say, Rice should not be underestimated. Bush has called Rice "smart" and "fun to be with." Rice has praised Bush effusively, calling him "a man I can trust completely" and brushing aside suggestions that he lacks knowledge of world affairs by saying, "The president doesn't need to be his own secretary of State."
Another strong point is Rice's expertise in international policy, military institutions, and the former Soviet bloc - subjects she has taught about at Stanford University since 1981. Russia expert Marshall Goldman recalls being impressed upon first meeting Rice when she spoke on arcane points of arms control at a graduate seminar. "I wasn't prepared to hear that much detail on the tip of her tongue," he says.
From 1989 to 1991, during the fall of the Berlin Wall, Rice served as a top Soviet expert for President Bush. From 1993 to 1999, she was the youngest person and first black to serve as provost of Stanford University.
Despite the built-in institutional tension between the national security adviser and secretary of State, experts believe that initially Rice and Powell may complement each other.
"They are broadly simpatico in terms of their world view, which is very much shaped by the Kissingerian ... approach to things," says Donnelly.
Both Rice and Powell are moderate Republicans willing to break with the GOP mainstream on issues such as affirmative action, abortion, and gun control.
As for socializing, the two have dined together at Powell's home and spoken on the phone during the campaign, but do not know each other very well and have not had lengthy exchanges of ideas, according to a mutual friend.
Still, Rice has referred to Powell as a "good friend" and their backgrounds, while strikingly different in many respects, also have common threads.
Rice grew up in segregated Birmingham - also the hometown of Powell's wife. And both had strong families that that instilled in them a confidence to succeed while largely ignoring race.
"I've always felt you shouldn't see race and gender in everything," Rice told an interviewer.
Her father, a college administrator, and mother, a music teacher, nurtured Rice as a talented student and pianist. She entered the University of Denver at age 15, joined the Stanford faculty at 25, and today still takes a week off each year for piano camp.
Finally, both Rice and Powell have serious, if quirky, aspirations outside their professional life. Rice, who is single, is a sports fanatic who works out with a personal trainer and openly dreams about heading the National Football League. Powell has spent hours of solitude taking apart dozens of old Volvos. "General Powell would be happy repairing Volvos for the rest of his life," laughs Armitage.
* Son of a shipping clerk and seamstress who immigrated to the Bronx from Jamaica.
* Earned his bachelor's degree in geology from the City University of New York.
* Apprenticed under four former secretaries of Defense.
* Kept the quote "Of all manifestations of power, restraint impresses men most," by Greek historian Thucydides, under the glass on his desk at the Pentagon.
* Makes $75,000 per speech.
* Named after the musical direction: con dolcezza ("with sweetness").
* An Alabama native, one of her friends was killed in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing.
* Admitted to the University of Denver at 15 as a pianist. Still attends a weeklong piano camp each year.
* Wants to be commissioner of the NFL.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society