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Losing a restraining hand.

Byline: The Register-Guard

As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the first Gulf War, Colin Powell formulated the Powell Doctrine for successful military operations: They require overwhelming force, along with a clear exit strategy. A decade later, Powell spent his tenure as secretary of state defending a war that defied both tenets of his own doctrine. Powell announced Monday that he will leave the Bush administration, to be replaced by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. It's surprising that Powell stayed so long.

Powell is easily the most popular member of President Bush's Cabinet, and he retains a nonpartisan aura. Both parties courted him when he ended his 35-year military career in 1993. After he revealed himself as a Republican in 1996, Powell set politics aside by founding America's Promise, a group that promotes private youth mentorship efforts. In the wake of the disputed election of 2000, Bush's choice of Powell as secretary of state was the president's most visible effort to reach across the political divide.

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, however, Powell and the State Department were steadily nudged aside. According to Bob Woodward's book "Plan of Attack," published earlier this year, Powell - the architect of victory in the first Gulf War - became the leading voice of military restraint within the administration, and thus was excluded from planning for the Iraq war. Control over Bush's central foreign policy initiative had shifted to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the Pentagon and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Yet Powell remained a vital political asset. When the Bush administration needed someone to make the case to the United Nations for military action in Iraq, Powell was the obvious choice. In February of 2003 he appeared before the Security Council to present evidence of Iraq's defiance of U.N. resolutions barring weapons of mass destruction and of Saddam Hussein's connections to the al-Qaeda terrorist network. Powell was subsequently forced to admit that neither claim could be supported. Yet despite this embarrassing blow to his credibility, Powell did not resign - demonstrating an unshakable loyalty to the president he had promised to serve.

Powell's marginalization on the question of Iraq has limited his department's effectiveness in dealing with other foreign policy issues. By placing a low priority on traditional alliances, the administration has weakened Powell's leverage in Europe and Asia - and that has affected the United States' ability to achieve its goals in the Middle East and in such trouble spots as North Korea and Iran. The United States' loss of influence over Russia could prove especially troubling in the years ahead.

Yet there have been successes. In Afghanistan, a multilateral coalition has established the beginnings of a civil society. The United States' relations with China are as good as they ever have been. The conflict between India and Pakistan over the disputed territory of Kashmir has cooled. A substantial effort to combat AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa is under way. If he can see past Iraq, Powell can regard these achievements with satisfaction.

Rice, who was among the strongest exponents of war against Iraq and is a trusted member of Bush's inner circle, will be in closer accord with the administration's views than Powell has been - and also with its approach to pursuing foreign policy goals. Powell's tenure must have been frustrating for him, but with his pending departure comes the sense that a restraining hand is being lost.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Powell strong in politics, weak in policy
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Nov 16, 2004
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