| US secretary of state Colin Powell (right) with his deputy Richard Armitage in Washington DC. (Reuters)
Washington, Aug. 4: Secretary of state Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, have signaled to the White House that they intend to step down even if President Bush is re-elected, setting the stage for a substantial re-shaping of the administration’s national security team that has remained unchanged through the September 2001 terrorist attacks, two wars and numerous other crises.
Armitage recently told national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that he and Powell will leave on January 21, 2005, the day after the next presidential inauguration, sources familiar with the conversation said. Powell has indicated to associates that a commitment made to his wife, rather than any dismay at the administration’s foreign policy, is a key factor in his desire to limit his tenure to one presidential term.
Rice and deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz are the leading candidates to replace Powell, according to sources inside and outside the administration. Rice appears to have an edge because of her closeness to the President, though it is unclear whether she would be interested in running the state department’s vast bureaucracy.
With 18 months left in Bush’s current term, many officials said talk of a new foreign policy team is highly premature — particularly because Bush’s re-election is not assured. No one inside or outside the administration agreed to be quoted by name or affiliation in discussing possible cabinet choices. But the national security line-up for a second Bush term is already a major topic of conversation, at least among those who make and analyse US foreign policy.
Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet is already the third-longest serving CIA chief and is expected to depart, perhaps before the current term ends. Tenet’s role in the Iraq weapons’ controversy has led to calls on Capitol Hill for his dismissal, fuelling speculation he will quit soon. The current administration has been characterised by fierce policy disputes, often between Powell and more hawkish members, and a reshuffling likely would significantly change the tenor and character of the foreign policy team.
Although Bush appears to value the range of opinions he has received from his chief national security advisers, he may feel free during a second term to realign his foreign policy more closely to the harder-edged, conservative view exemplified by Vice President Dick Cheney and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, said Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser.
Powell has staffed key positions in the state department with close associates, and many of those officials are expected to leave at the beginning of a second Bush term, giving the new secretary of state the opportunity to substantially re-staff the department.
Some observers have speculated that Powell, who made an extensive presentation before the UN in February on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction before the war, has been embarrassed by the failure to find much evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons programs. But Powell, both publicly and privately, has said he has no regrets on his comments to the Security Council, arguing they hold up well if read carefully.
Powell has declined to answer questions about his plans. “I serve at the pleasure of the President,” he said last month. “That’s the only answer I’ve ever given to that question, no matter what form it comes in.”
Bush recently named Rice as his personal representative on the West Asian conflict, a move some state department officials view as an audition for secretary of state. Republican political operatives have also touted Rice as a possible candidate in the 2006 race for California governor. But Rice’s image has been tarnished by fallout over the administration’s use of intelligence about Iraq’s weapons.