The rise of a divergent 'Team Bush'
Almost invisible before Sept. 11, cabinet leaders are now players. But they don't all see eye to eye.
WASHINGTON — Before Sept. 11, President Bush's Cabinet - a clutch of seasoned, respected "big names" - had practically disappeared from view.
Power, it turned out, was consolidated in the White House - not dispersed among the department heads - as Mr. Bush's team of Texas political advisers sought to portray the new, inexperienced president as the man in charge. Things had gone so much in that direction that, just the day before the terrorist attacks, Time magazine appeared on newsstands with this headline in big, red letters: "Where have you gone, Colin Powell?"
"We were at the point of saying the cabinet is not relevant and that Karl Rove [Bush's political adviser from Texas] was king," says Paul Light, an expert on government at the Brookings Institution. "That has clearly changed dramatically."
In the "war on terrorism," Team Bush is suddenly and conspicuously on display. The president is deploying more cabinet secretaries than might be expected during a more conventional war - encompassing law enforcement and air safety, finance and diplomacy. Secretary of State Powell, for one, has had more than 115 phone calls with diplomats around the world, and his office is a revolving door of who's who overseas.
But the team style of decisionmaking poses many challenges - not only because of the divergent personalities involved, but also because of the complexity of waging a war on terrorism. The team needs to redraw the line, for example, between civil liberties and tighter security. And it must settle on goals (such as whether the war should include Iraq as a target) and strategy (such as how to "smoke out" Osama bin Laden from mountainous Afghanistan - if he is even still there - and punish the government that has harbored him).
Some conflicts within the team have already become evident. The president has resolved at least one of these - such as his decision to confine a military strike to Afghanistan. But that may be only his short-term response.
"Everything about this is in motion," says Richard Perle, assistant secretary of Defense in the Reagan years. "There's a constant process of reexamining and looking further into options."
As the sands shift, the advice that probably counts most is that coming from Bush's secretive, inner circle of security experts, including Mr. Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Powell is widely considered the most cautious of this team. He served as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in the Gulf War, but he also sat in the Oval Office of George Bush Sr. and argued against using force to roll back the Iraqi army from Kuwait, according to Bob Woodward's book "The Commanders."
Although the United States could use force, Powell had said, a strategy of "containment" and isolation would eventually grind down Saddam Hussein and force him to retreat.
Bush Sr. rejected the containment idea, which Powell acknowledged could take a year or two.
That decision was no doubt cheered by Mr. Cheney, then secretary of Defense, who early on had adopted a much more aggressive stance on the Iraqi invasion than did Powell.
The current Defense secretary, Mr. Rumsfeld, is also said to be considerably more comfortable with risk than is Powell. His deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, has urged "ending states who sponsor terrorism," and, like Rumsfeld, is said to advocate a broader war that also targets Iraq.
Says a former government official of Rumsfeld: "He's just as concerned about the risks of doing nothing."
For the time being, Bush has settled the debate over the scope of the war. At Camp David on the weekend after the attacks, he consulted with Ms. Rice after the other advisers had left. He told the national security adviser, who, like himself, is not experienced in matters of war, that he wanted to move ahead in phases, starting with Mr. bin Laden and his Afghan protectors.
"The initial phase is focused on Afghanistan," says an administration official. "This was the president's decision."
As a result, Defense Department officials last week adopted a more cautious tone, saying that the military was not the main tool in the war. "We're not leaping into this," Rumsfeld told reporters. "We're moving into it in a measured way."
Some analysts say the parrying between the State and Defense departments is probably a healthy thing. Presidential historian Henry Graff, citing the Vietnam years, says it can be unwise to manage a war from a small clique inside the White House.
"You lose perspective because you don't get a broad enough base of opinion," he warns. On the other hand, he adds, "it's necessary, I suppose, for secrecy, brevity, and speed."
As for Bush himself, one former government official characterizes him as more hawkish than all his advisers, saying, "I think the president has the greatest tolerance for [risk] of any of his people."
Since the first week of the attacks, though, Bush has been less bellicose in his public statements.
Whether that's because of the influence of Powell or Rice - or of his father - is unclear. One recent news report stated that the elder Bush counseled his son to tone down his language in the wake of the attacks.