WASHINGTON -- The resignation of Secretary of State Colin Powell sends a bad signal to the rest of the world.
It means that right-wing ideologues who believe in pre-emptive war and who ignore international treaties will be in charge of U.S. foreign policy during President Bush's second term.
The president apparently believes that his election victory is a mandate for his ill-advised "might-is-right" foreign policy.
Considering the Iraqi quagmire, I doubt that is what the voters had in mind. If he pursues that track over the next four years, the United States will be even more alienated from friends and allies. And bankrupt, too.
In selecting National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice as Powell's successor, Bush will have the State Department under his thumb. She is almost part of the president's personal family. You won't catch her out of the loop or freelancing.
Diplomacy is not her strong suit, and she lacks Powell's stature and experience in statesmanship. This is a hard-liner.
It's been widely reported that Rice would have preferred to be secretary of defense. Picture that. Giving orders to the Pentagon brass.
Powell had misgivings about invading Iraq. But Dr. Rice, as her staff reverentially refers to her (Bush calls her "Condi"), had no reservations. She became a key part of the Bush administration's marketing team in the months before the war when she and others set out to convince Americans that attacking Iraq was in their best interest.
Her fervor about the Iraqi threat led her once to warn ominously about "mushroom clouds."
Powell gave the first Bush administration a look of some moderation and conciliation. But from the outset, it was clear to other nations that he was outgunned and outmanned by the neo-conservatives in the White House and the Pentagon.
He clashed with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, both of whom had the president's ear. They appealed more to Bush's "High Noon" self-image and zeal for war with Iraq.
Powell had served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under former President Bush. And Powell gave his name to the doctrine that military action should be commenced only with overwhelming force, a strong coalition of allies and an exit strategy.
That proved to be a winning formula in the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, and Powell could not understand why that blueprint was not applied again in the current conflict.
Powell will be remembered for his tour de force appearance in February 2003 before the U.N. Security Council when he made the U.S. case for strong action against Iraq. During his mesmerizing 90-minute presentation, Powell held up samples of toxins of which he claimed Saddam Hussein had tons and would use in biological and chemical warfare. He helped convince the country that Iraq was a major threat.
Despite some later slippage in his credibility, his popularity is intact.
Powell's softer approach to world affairs sometimes clashed with the administration's hawks. Early on, he tried to work with South Korea on a more conciliatory policy toward North Korea, but Bush rejected his approach. He also may have made more headway on Middle East policy had he been given a free hand.
Powell went into the State Department with the thought that the job entailed peacemaking. Wrong.
More and more, Powell found himself powerless and required to sell policies that he did not wholeheartedly support. Even for Powell, always known as a "good soldier," it must have been frustrating to be thwarted by those who were pushing a different hard-edged agenda.
Government officials who reach the pinnacle often run into an ethical dilemma: Should they throw in the towel or accept a policy they oppose? Powell inevitably chose the latter option, though news accounts often appeared with anonymous officials telling how much he disagreed with the White House or the Pentagon on various issues.
Now, with Powell gone, the president will be surrounded by those who tell him only what he wants to hear.
© 1996-2004 Seattle Post-Intelligencer