Bush's new cabinet: No tempest

Here's last week's most shocking headline: "President Bush appoints loyal friends to his Cabinet." Are you as shocked as I am? Or maybe not.

Bush-haters went ballistic when the president selected National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to replace Colin Powell as Secretary of State, and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to replace the much-maligned John Ashcroft as attorney general, among other post-election appointments.

But we really shouldn't be surprised by these appointments because Bush is simply following a longstanding presidential custom of naming close friends, and even family members, to Cabinet positions. Doesn't anyone remember Attorney General Bobby Kennedy?

The president named two more White House aides to high-level positions, nominating Margaret Spellings to replace Rod Paige as secretary of Education and Harriet Miers to succeed Gonzales as White House counsel. Both women held key posts with Bush when he was governor of Texas.

Typical of the Bush-haters' overheated rhetoric was a recent column by Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, who characterized the new appointments as "a plague of toadies."

"The president and vice president are dispatching their toadies to the agencies to quell dissent," she wrote. "The crackdown (on dissent) seems bizarre, since hardly anyone dared to disagree with them anyway ..." And so on. A Times headline says it all: "In the new Bush Cabinet, Loyalty Trumps Celebrity" Ð just the latest example of how this influential newspaper's political agenda trumps good journalism.

Perhaps the most bizarre (to use Ms. Dowd's adjective) aspect of this tempest in a teapot is that, in effect, the columnist is labeling Condoleezza Rice as a "toady." But Dr. Rice's steady performance at the National Security Council for the past four years and Bob Woodward's excellent book, "Plan of Attack," show her as an honest broker at the NSC before signing off on the decision to go to war in Iraq, as did Secretary of State Powell.

And now, the entrenched State Department bureaucracy is afraid that Dr. Rice will shake things up at Foggy Bottom. In my opinion, however, that particular department is long overdue for a major shakeup. Throughout the election campaign, I received hundreds of e-mail messages from Foreign Service friends and former colleagues - active and retired alike - urging me to vote for Democrat John Kerry, and against President Bush. I would say the KerryÐBush split was about 80Ð20 among career diplomats sworn to carry out this nation's foreign policy no matter which party occupies the White House.

During a 28-year diplomatic career, I advocated the foreign policies of presidents as politically diverse as Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. And when I first joined the Foreign Service in 1967, I was an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War. Although I participated in some vigorous in-house debates, I was sworn to publicly support and defend the president's Vietnam policy as a U.S. embassy press spokesman, despite personal opinions to the contrary. That was true throughout my career and if I couldn't have carried out my duties to the president and the American people at any point, I would have resigned.

Based on my own experience, I think it's absurd to suggest - as Ms. Dowd does - that Secretary of State Rice will be a rubber stamp for all of the president's foreign policies. Like her distinguished predecessor, Colin Powell, she can be expected to argue against the president's policies from time to time during in-house debates. But like a good soldier, she'll march to the president's orders, as Powell did, once final decisions are made. That's the way our decision-making process works. And make no mistake about it, Dr. Rice will speak for the president on foreign policy matters.

Rice's first major task at State is, as Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post put it, "overcoming Powell-nostalgia and the distrust triggered at the department by her greatest asset: her closeness to Bush." Many diplomatic observers expect her to conduct a more hard-line foreign policy than the moderate Powell.

According to the Post, Rice's appointment "marks the triumph of a hard-edged approach to diplomacy espoused by Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld." Joel Mowbray, a columnist for the conservative Washington Times, went a step further by accusing career diplomats of "disloyalty" and urging Rice to clean house at the State Department.

Former National Security Council senior staffer Tyrus W. Cobb provided a more balanced evaluation of Bush administration foreign policy challenges in a recent Reno Gazette-Journal column. "President Bush's reelection has generated a global reasses- sment of the value of working with the U.S to solve a multitude of international prob- lems," he wrote, adding that the president's reelection provides "an opening for a renewal of international cooperation on Iraq, Iran, the IsraeliÐPalestinian conflict and many other contentious issues."

I agree and believe that Secretary of State-designate "Condi" Rice will be up to this daunting task, despite the fears of the administration's most vocal, and at times irrational, critics.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.


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