If you think the fighting has been rough in Fallujah, wait until you see Washington in the springtime. President Bush's early personnel decisions for the second term suggest that he is preparing, unilaterally, to take on not only our foreign enemies, but also the Democrats and Washington's most cunning and vicious bureaucracies -- all at the same time. This is heroism in its classic form. Hector, Lysander -- move over. (Note to the president: Come heavily armed. Both Hector and Lysander died in battle, Hector's corpse being dragged by Achilles behind his chariot before the walls of Troy.)
Much to the disappointment (and apparent surprise) of the Democrats and their mainstream media affiliates, Bush made the odd decision after the election not to sell out his voters by preemptively compromising his policy positions with the losing Democratic Party. The Washington elite is utterly perplexed by the idea of not selling out your local supporters as soon as you deplane at Reagan National Airport. Poor Bush has so much to learn about governing and leadership.
But even more shocking to Washington veterans is his insistence on nominating for his cabinet men and women who actually share his vision and want to help him carry out his agenda. If Bush had only chosen cabinet secretaries who would quietly undercut his policies and directives, Washington insiders would have gladly let the president continue to call for whatever he wants -- and compliment him as a true leader who is uniting the nation (around the losing liberal agenda). But picking people who agree with him is where Washington draws the line.
With the nominations of Condoleezza Rice at State, Porter Goss at CIA, Donald Rumsfeld (or an equally tough replacement) at Defense and Stephen Hadley at the National Security Council, the president has created an all-Patton foreign and defense team. Moreover, he has a team that understands that among the necessary targets of their firepower must be not only our foreign enemies, but also the slouching, sly, insubordinate bureaucrats under their chain of command.
While we know less about the president's domestic staffing, the appointment of loyalist Alberto Gonzales at Justice suggests that he, too, will be in hand-to-hand combat with the fourth of Washington's Bureaucratic Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Justice, State, CIA and Defense. On the day after Gonzales' nomination, an old Justice Department hand told me that they were going to "eat Gonzales alive."
I know these people. They mean it. He better go over there with a battle-hardened Washington team. The only thing those senior 'crats respect is the cold-hearted exercise of brutal power by their political master. The battle at Justice will be similar to our battles in the Middle East. Any gestures of goodwill or cooperation by Gonzales will be seen as weakness and will have the same effect on the bureaucrats that blood has on the nostrils of a shark.
These four bureaucracies are manned by the most heartless Beltway warriors and led by veteran, tribal warlords. Each of these bureaucracies has many trophies of prior Washington wars: either the scalp or the testicles of their nominal political masters. (Donald Rumsfeld, God bless him, remains intact.)
Every entering secretary has a binary choice to make. Either turn over your manhood (or the female equivalent if the secretary is a woman) to the bureaucracy, in which case they will make you look good in Washington (so long as no one gets a peak at the vacancy in your nether parts); or prepare to be undercut by your own employees -- from the janitor to the senior civil servant in your building.
Very much expect the dispatcher in the driving pool to leak to the Washington Post if you ever have your driver drop your wife at a non-business luncheon. Expect your private memorandum to your chief of staff to be leaked by a civil servant secretary to the media.
Trust no one other than those you bring with you (and keep checking to see if any of them show signs of going native). You can be certain that clever bureaucrats will subvert important studies you order to support the president's policies and report out conclusions remarkably consistent with the worldview of Ted Kennedy. When you go up to testify on the Hill, your employees will have briefed their friends on the committee with the most embarrassing things to ask you.
This is the trifecta that President Bush has chosen to compete in: Fight our foreign enemies, stand by the convictions he expressed in the election and appoint smart people who are loyal to him in the agencies. This means war to the political death all winter, spring and summer in Washington. If George W. Bush gets his nominees through and is still standing tall in August, we may be in for a historic presidency. But every yard gained on Pennsylvania Avenue will have been taken under heavy fire -- from all five columns.