What makes a good secretary of State?
As Condoleezza Rice faces confirmation hearing Tuesday, history offers many models.
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At the same time, such closeness carries certain responsibilities, others note, such as being the one to confront the president with new ideas and options - even to let him know when he's going in a wrong direction. "The task of educating the president is very important, and it takes skill to do it," says Lee Hamilton, director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.Skip to next paragraph
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Mr. Hamilton, who served 34 years in Congress with a focus on intelligence and foreign affairs, says that "education" includes pointing out issues or approaches the president might not have thought about, and broadening the president's outlook to a global perspective. For example, he says Shultz "wrestled" with Reagan's preoccupation with Central America's battles over Marxism and worked to broaden the president's horizons.
Secretaries of State are in a particularly strong position to do this, Hamilton says, because they "have the world at their fingertips" with ambassadors and the foreign service reporting to the secretary from more than 200 countries and international organizations. "The secretary serves as an early-warning device" on brewing international problems, Hamilton says. "He or she is the one who says, 'Mr. President, you'd better pay attention to this, because it's going to come back and bite us.'"
Of course not all secretaries have seen the value of tapping deeply into the professionals at what is simply called "the building" in Washington's Foggy Bottom. Mr. Baker was one secretary who assembled a tight group of aides to work with rather than plumbing the careerists. "He didn't think [the bureaucracy] was capable of addressing the breaking nature of international affairs that President Bush was faced with," Inderfurth says. "Consequently he didn't bring the foreign service into his orbit."
That approach is not lauded by everyone, especially people who have served in "the building" and understand what it offers. "It's simply a loss of talent for the secretary of State to shut him or herself off from the the professionals of the foreign service," Steinberg says.
Henry Kissinger is seen as someone who came to "the building" with a certain skepticism about its occupants but ended up with a deep respect for them. Colin Powell returned a certain sense of self-respect to the professionals and came to be well-loved by them - but was unable to greatly reduce the mistrust of the service in the White House and other agencies like the Pentagon, experts say.
Perhaps one of the secretary's more complex jobs is as a communicator. "You have to be able to articulate American foreign policy to hugely differing audiences, to Muslim audiences as well as to an audience in Indianapolis," says Hamilton.
The Heritage Foundation's Edwards points to John Foster Dulles, secretary of State to President Eisenhower in the 1950s, as one successful example. "Eisenhower was an anticommunist, but it was Dulles who had a way of putting the cold war in terms of freedom versus tyranny," he says. "He helped give a philosophical context to the president's foreign policy."
Underneath it all, just who the secretary is sends an important message. "It's an enormously positive thing for the US to have a black woman as secretary of State," says Hamilton, who says that already Madeleine Albright communicated something special as a woman with Eastern European roots.
Rice, he says, goes a step farther. "It conveys a signal around the world that I think is very good for the country."