War Stories

Condi’s First Victory

She doesn’t pick John Bolton as her deputy.

A Rice man

A few weeks remain before her confirmation hearings as secretary of state, but Condoleezza Rice has already won a crucial battle. The victory came Thursday afternoon, with the news that she will appoint Robert Zoellick, currently the U.S. trade representative, as her deputy. President Bush confirmed the reports with an announcement this morning.

The major papers exiled the story deep inside the news pages—just another piece about second-term personnel shifts. Rice and those around her know it’s much, much more. Last November, when President Bush picked her to be the new top diplomat, I wrote that her first test would be whether she’d get to name her own No. 2—or whether she’d be forced to take John Bolton, the neocons’ favorite candidate for the job.

During Bush’s first term, Bolton was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, but his main function was to serve as Vice President Dick Cheney’s agent in Foggy Bottom. In the internecine disputes that erupted among the State Department, the Pentagon, and Cheney’s White House staff—fights over whether to go to war in Iraq, to negotiate about nukes with Iran and North Korea, or to ignore a variety of international agreements—Bolton was to monitor, oppose, and if possible thwart from within the moderating influences of Colin Powell and his pin-striped multilateralists.

After it became clear that neither Powell nor his like-minded deputy, Richard Armitage, would be staying for a second term, Cheney and the circle of neoconservatives around Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld lobbied for Bolton to be moved up to the No. 2 slot—to solidify their grip not just on the State Department, but on foreign policy broadly. The issue for Rice was not whether she agreed with Bolton’s views, but whether she would be allowed to run her department. To be an independent secretary, Rice would need a deputy who clearly worked for her. She would never have been sure whether Bolton was plotting behind her back.

That she has named Zoellick as her deputy indicates—to the professional diplomatic corps, to the neocons, and to tea-leaf readers in foreign ministries around the world—that Rice will run her shop. More important, Bush’s official confirmation of the appointment signals that he is letting her run her shop and that, at least on this important procedural battle, he’s siding with Rice, not with Cheney.

By some reports, not only did Bolton lose the campaign for deputy secretary, he’ll be leaving the State Department—and possibly the administration—altogether.

Zoellick does not represent some departure from the mainsprings of Bush’s foreign policy. In the late 1990s, he was a member of the Project for a New American Century, the neocon think tank that pushed for a more aggressive stance toward toppling “rogue regimes.” (Bolton was this organization’s president and several of Bush’s top officials—including Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz—were active members.) However, Zoellick is also widely known, and respected, as a professional diplomat and negotiator, not a bomb-hurling ideologue. He was an undersecretary in James Baker’s State Department during George H.W. Bush’s presidency. As U.S. trade representative these past four years, he negotiated with China over admission to the World Trade Organization and with various governments in Latin America over issues relating to NAFTA. He has had a good relationship with Rice since they worked together on W.’s foreign-policy transition team in 2000.

On another level, Zoellick’s appointment might also reflect an awareness—only dimly and erratically present during Bush’s first term—that economic policy is an important element of foreign policy.

Earlier reports placed Zoellick in line to be the next president of the World Bank, a more prestigious post than deputy at State. But professional diplomats tend to go where their president wants them to go. (Meanwhile, rumors are swirling that the World Bank job might be awarded to Colin Powell. The notion makes sense on two levels. First, Robert McNamara pioneered the idea that a departing, war-weary Cabinet secretary could take refuge there. Second, the assignment would keep Powell from writing the tell-all memoir for which publishers are no doubt lining up to offer him huge advances.)

In any event, this was but Rice’s first fight; it won’t be her last. She at least has a patch of ground to stand on for future battles over policy. Still, Cheney and Rumsfeld are experienced and savage gladiators in the realm of bureaucratic warfare. As national security adviser in Bush’s first term, Rice demonstrated little such prowess and found herself outmaneuvered by them at nearly every turn. Zoellick’s appointment suggests she’ll be running Foggy Bottom, and that’s no small triumph. But who will run foreign policy?