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Bush Chooses Rice for New Secretary of State

The president's national security advisor and trusted confidante is expected to increase the State Department's role, for better or for worse.

November 17, 2004|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Tuesday nominated his most trusted foreign policy advisor, Condoleezza Rice, to be the next secretary of State, a move that signaled a desire to elevate the importance of diplomacy in his second term while raising questions about whether his inner circle would include fewer dissenting voices.

In a distinctly warm and personal speech in the White House, Bush praised Rice for "her sound and steady judgment" during the four years she served as his national security advisor. He said her deputy, Stephen J. Hadley, would be her successor.

"The secretary of State is America's face to the world," Bush said. "And in Dr. Rice, the world will see the strength, the grace and the decency of our country."

Rice, 50, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister from Birmingham, Ala., grew up to become a scholar of the Soviet military and senior advisor on the Soviet Union to the first President Bush. She served as provost of Stanford University before signing on as George W. Bush's foreign policy advisor during his 2000 presidential campaign. She has been by his side since.

"It has been an honor and a privilege to work for you these past four years, in times of crisis, decision and opportunity for our nation," Rice told the president during a brief announcement at the White House. "I look forward, with the consent of the Senate, to pursuing your hopeful and ambitious agenda as secretary of State."

If confirmed by the Senate, Rice would step into the job being vacated by Colin L. Powell, whose popularity rivaled that of the president throughout his first term. Powell was the first black to serve as secretary of State; Rice would be the first black woman to do so.

The Senate is expected to confirm her nomination when it convenes a new session in January. Powell will continue to serve as secretary in the interim.

During Bush's first term, Powell was seen as the moderate counterweight to the hard-liners in Bush's inner circle, primarily Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld. Rice largely stayed out of the fray, styling herself less as a referee between the rival departments and more as a private confidante to the president.

As national security advisor, she did not head a public agency and answered to only one person -- the president -- who clearly has given her job performance high marks.

Outside of the Oval Office, Rice's record as national security advisor was generally seen as mixed.

Although she earned the president's trust, critics said she did not have a strong enough hand when it came to another part of her job: coordinating policy between the various agencies and departments who together make foreign policy.

Critics inside and outside the administration said she was a weak coordinator who failed to rein in the Defense Department, particularly when it took the lead in planning for postwar Iraq, considered one of the administration's central failures.

Rice was also criticized by the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks for failing to alert the president to the dangers of terrorism in the months before the attack, and by other critics for overstating the intelligence suggesting that Iraq possessed nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

In the months before the war against Iraq, Rice acknowledged that the intelligence was incomplete but argued, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said there would "probably not" be any problems with Rice's confirmation, but said her role leading up to the war in Iraq did "not bode well for America's image abroad if she is going to be secretary of State."

On the other hand, proximity to the president is the coin of Washington's realm, and few are wealthier in that regard than Rice.

She spends several hours a day with him, as well as many weekends at Camp David or at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas. Bush and Rice share an abiding interest in fitness and professional sports.

In private, Rice was said to speak bluntly to the president, but in public, there was no sign of disagreement. In fact, Rice was perhaps the most articulate spokesperson for the president's policies.

As Bush's first term progressed and Powell grew more estranged from the president's inner circle, foreign governments increasingly cultivated a relationship directly with Rice and the Pentagon officials considered closer to her thinking and to the president's.

In that light, foreign governments greeted Rice's promotion to the State Department as beneficial to what Bush has said would be a renewed effort in his second term to mend relations with allies who disapproved of his decision to go to war in Iraq.

"Certainly, the State Department will recover a lot of influence at the White House," said a senior European diplomat. "Even if she is a bit away from the daily life of the president, she will have the trust of the president."

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