A symbol of moderation exits
Powell heads list of cabinet resignations.
Secretary of State Colin Powell's resignation points up a truth about the making of American foreign policy in recent decades: It's the president and his closest advisers in the White House who fashion the policy.Skip to next paragraph
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Certainly, Secretary Powell was a loyal servant to President Bush. He was a reassuring presence in the administration for many of America's foreign partners. But in the end he was never a member of the White House inner circle.
"In so many of this administration's policies and pronouncements, he has been the note off key," says Karl Inderfurth, a former assistant secretary of state. "When they said 'alone,' he said 'with the world,' when they said, 'preemption is a doctrine,' he said it is 'an option.'"
Mr. Powell's announced departure was the most visible of a series of cabinet members whose resignations became public on Monday. Others who have decided to leave government include Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Education Secretary Rod Paige, and Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. Their exits ensure that a second Bush administration will have a host of different faces, if not a different tone, from the first term.
Reelected presidents often take advantage of the natural breaking point to readjust the political calculus. Thus Mr. Bush's pick to replace Attorney General John Ashcroft, a cultural conservative from the Midwest, is Alberto Gonzales - a Hispanic whose elevation might mark a point of pride for an ethnic group in which Republicans made inroads this year.
Powell has told aides he will stay on until a successor is named and confirmed, which could be some time in January. Powell's departure almost certainly guarantees the exit as well of Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who is one of the retired general's closest friends and another voice for diplomacy in an administration that hasn't always been known for a soft touch.
The naming of the person to takeover Powell's portfolio will go farther than any other appointment to set the direction of the second Bush term, experts say, primarily because foreign policy has been what has set the Bush presidency apart. Among those considered a possible successor: United Nations Ambassador John Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, and National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
A Rice appointment would not signal a new direction in Bush foreign policy, but would mirror the actions of past presidents - such as Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush - who placed their closest national security and foreign policy confidants over the State Department.
"By moving his closest adviser to State, it would signal a desire to work more directly with a department that was often out of sync with the administration's policies," says Mr. Inderfurth, now at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.
Some US allies received the news of Powell's departure with apprehension. In part, that's because he was seen as the most ally-friendly member of the Bush foreign-policy team. It's also because the move comes at such a critical moment in world affairs. Some foreign officials in Washington say they hope a change at Foggy Bottom will not distract the US at a time when windows for diplomacy are open in the Middle East and over Iran.