Less than two months after George Bush's inauguration there are signs that the secretary of state, Colin Powell, is losing the struggle to shape key foreign and defence policies.
Mr Powell seems out of step with his Pentagon and White House colleagues on a range of issues, including Korea, Kosovo, Iraq and European defence, raising the fear in foreign capitals that the Bush administration is not speaking with one voice on vital issues.
The most visible example came last week when Mr Powell said that the Republican team intended to pick up the Clinton policy of cautious engagement with North Korea.
He made a humiliating u-turn the next day after President Bush said that he had no intention of resuming talks with Pyongyang, to the dismay of South Korea's visiting president, Kim Dae-jung.
Mr Powell appeared to be isolated again at the end of the week, this time on US peacekeeping in Kosovo. Two weeks ago in Brussels, He delighted Nato ministers with a declaration that the US and its allies had "gone in together" and would "come out together".
But the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, conspicuously avoided any such pledge at a Washington press conference with the Nato secretary general, Lord Robertson, on Thursday.
On Iraq, Mr Powell clearly indicated that Washington supported the reformulation of the sanctions policy in favour of narrower "smart" sanctions on military-related imports.
But that line was not echoed by his harder-line colleagues, including Mr Rumsfeld and Vice-President Dick Cheney.
Mr Powell has also appeared readier than Mr Rumsfeld or Mr Cheney to welcome the European rapid-reaction defence force, even though Mr Bush himself appeared to side with Mr Powell during talks with Tony Blair at Camp David last month.
Mr Powell suffered a severe defeat at the outset when he failed to have his ally Richard Armitage appointed deputy defence secretary under Mr Rumsfeld.
Mr Bush appointed Paul Wolfowitz, a key Cheney ally who, along with Mr Rumsfeld, keenly supports the overthrow of Saddam Hussein: a stance Mr Powell opposes.
Mr Powell also opposed one of Mr Bush's first foreign policy initiatives - the ban on US funding of international groups supporting abortion services.
Senior British diplomatic sources say that it is too soon to pronounce Mr Powell the loser, but the split has become the focus of increasing attention in the US media.
Last week the senior New York Times foreign affairs specialist Thomas Friedman said there was a battle between "hard-nosed internationalists" such as Mr Powell and "ideologically driven hardliners" such as Mr Rumsfeld and Mr Cheney.
"Which is Mr Bush's approach?" Mr Friedman wrote. "You have to wonder whether Mr Bush knows."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001