Fresh from defending Saudi Arabia and threatening to remove U.S. loans to Israel, Secretary of State Colin Powell has vehemently put down rumors that he intends to resign at the end of President Bush's first term.
What's wrong with this picture? Is Powell protesting too much? Indeed, he may be.
Numerous Bush insiders say that Powell does in fact intend to resign at the end of his
first term, as will his deputy, Richard Armitage. They plan to form an international consulting firm along with Assistant Secretary of State Pat Harrison.
This is nothing new. Henry Kissinger, William Cohen, Lawrence Eagleburger and Brent Scowcroft all went into the foreign-consultation business.
In Washington, the investment firm known as the Carlyle Group is chock full of such ex-diplomats. Papa Bush's former secretary of state, James Baker, and former British Prime Minister John Major are part of the Carlyle operation. The group's most famous advisor is former President George Herbert Walker Bush himself. He frequently travels to Saudi Arabia with John Major to work on Carlyle's behalf.
Former CIA agent Robert Baer's new book, "Sleeping with the Devil," chronicles the many former U.S. government officials who have taken seats on the big-money Saudi gravy train. Because of their continued connections with people in the foreign-policy agencies, one wonders whether the United States is capable of developing Saudi policy that is consistent with American interests rather than Saudi oil and money.
Will Powell also jump on the Saudi gravy train?
Anyone's guess. We know that he was sometimes at odds with the neo-con militancy of the new Bush policy of pre-emptive strikes against terrorists. But Powell is a principled man who was an essential player on the Bush team, and he put his own prestige on the line to bring support to the war-making U.N. Resolution 1441.
Though sometimes characterized as soft in his support of Israel and insufficiently hard-line with Iran and Syria -- not to mention Saudi Arabia -- there is no real question that Powell has acted under the directions of the president, as any good secretary of state must.
That said, maybe it's time to lessen the supply of former American diplomats who are ready to go to bat for Saudi Arabia. Maybe its time that George W. Bush remove some ambiguity from the position of U.S. secretary of state.
Speculation over Powell's successor is running hot and heavy. The brilliant Paul Wolfowitz is high on everyone's list. So is National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. But insiders believe that the president wants Rice to remain at his side in a second term that looks to be increasingly probable -- particularly as the Democratic presidential candidates implode with their campaign-trail McGovernism.
Some in the Bush inner circle are buzzing about Ambassador Paul Bremer, the administration's proconsul in Iraq. The handsome Bremer, a former executive assistant to Henry Kissinger three decades ago, has proven to be a tough-minded negotiator in Iraq. He has not been afraid to take action, but he has been politically sensitive enough to put together a governing coalition of Kurds, Sunnis and Shia.
Bremer took over seamlessly for Jay Garner, the hapless former lieutenant general. He immediately set to work on getting the power going, the water running and the schools operational. He brought in New York City's former top cop Bernard Kerik to train the Baghdad police force. He has also launched economic-reform plans that emphasize private investment and a market-oriented approach.
Both the Arab League and OPEC are beginning to worry that the Bush democratization experiment could well succeed. The dictatorial mullahs in Iran and the terrorist-sponsoring Bashar al-Assad in Syria must be quaking in their boots at the prospect of American-sponsored democracy spreading to their nations.
Chances are that a Secretary of State Bremer could bring some of this magic to the State Department's foreign service. As former Washington insider Peter Robinson wrote in his new book on Ronald Reagan, this is a group that time and again opposed Reagan's Soviet-dissolving Evil Empire and tear-down-this-wall messages. If the moss-backed foreign service continues to sympathize with U.S. enemies and remain hostile to Republican administrations, Bremer would undoubtedly act decisively to implement change.
Secretary of State Colin Powell served during a period of incredible tumult following the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Despite diplomatic opposition worldwide, he has been an effective purveyor of Bush policies. But now it may be time to bring in a man like Paul Bremer, whose thinking seems to be at one with that of President Bush, and whose strength of character and conviction would allow him to shake up the State Department and cement the president's policies for generations to come.