WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been in office hardly three weeks, but already there are signs of a shift in the balance of power between the State and Defense Departments.
The principal reason, of course, is that Dr. Rice enjoys a relationship with President Bush that former Secretary of State Colin Powell could have only dreamed of. But the effect is that even while traveling in Europe and the Middle East (nine countries in eight days), her footprint could be felt on decisionmaking back in Washington.
Concluding from her talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that an American presence was needed in the Middle East to monitor compliance with the cease-fire, she announced the appointment of Lt. Gen. William Ward as "Senior Security Coordinator." There was no announcement from the Defense Department.
When North Korea announced that it has nuclear weapons, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who was in France, for a NATO meeting, said, "One has to worry about weapons of that power in the hands of leadership of that nature."
Secretary Rice, who was in Luxembourg, said in more measured tones that the US has long suspected that North Korea had the capacity to make nuclear weapons, and that the announcement didn't change the status quo.
During her confirmation hearings, Rice had said that "the time for diplomacy is now." And she gave much evidence of that as she barnstormed around Europe soliciting contributions to the training of Iraqi forces.
Mr. Rumsfeld, meanwhile, was having troubles of his own. The German prosecutor had to be prevailed upon to withdraw a war crimes complaint against Rumsfeld - arising from the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal - so that he could address a defense conference in Munich.
It is a different ballgame in the Bush administration from the day when the secretary of State had trouble getting a hearing from the president. Today Rice speaks not only with the president, but for the president.
• Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.