What many fear, with the elevation of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to the position of secretary of state, is that President Bush has surrounded himself so completely with loyal advisers that the administration will hear never a dissenting word.
With Colin Powell, who had his own special prestige, gone, the thinking goes, the neoconservative crusaders will have carte blanche in a second Bush term to carry out their global plans for wholesale regime change through U.S. military power, beginning with Syria and Iran and possibly including North Korea.
That is, in fact, an unpromising scenario in our view, and unfortunately there are reasons to believe that putting Rice at State fits with the overall picture of a more hard-line, aggressive, preemptive U.S. foreign policy.
Specifically, she has been unflinchingly loyal to the president, to the point that she is viewed almost as a member of the family.
Although nobody knows what advice she gave to the president in private, in public she was a stalwart defender of the dubious proposition that invading Iraq was an integral, essential aspect of the worldwide struggle against terrorism, regularly defending the reliability of intelligence and scenarios that have turned out to be seriously flawed if not purposely skewed.
She was responsible for shaping the 2002 National Security Strategy that incorporates the radical Bush doctrine of constant offensive, pre-emptive probing and attacking against potential enemies.
On the other hand, Rice had foreign policy experience and an academic career before she became a Bush adviser and she is said to value going her own way.
One of her early mentors was former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, a conservative realist from the first Bush administration who was notably skeptical about the second Iraq war. We get the impression she is a knowledgeable, inquisitive woman with a bright, probing mind.
In her new position, will Rice become a more independent, realistic adviser aware of the limits of power and the uses of diplomacy? It might seem unlikely to some who view her as a lightweight, but it is far from impossible.
Every president needs a few people around who can look him in the eye and say, “Mr. President, with all due respect, that idea is wrong, those other advisers don’t see the big picture, and here’s why,” without fearing the ax.
Rice could be that person. Using the rapport she has established to divert the president from an occasional foolish adventure would be the highest kind of loyalty.
Let us hope she serves that function of being a wise counselor rather than a rubber stamp for neo-conservative schemes.