U.S. President George W Bush's nomination of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to replace Secretary of State Colin Powell consolidates the control over U.S. foreign policy of the coalition of hawks that promoted the war in Iraq, led by Vice President Dick Cheney.
The promotion of Rice's deputy, Stephen Hadley, to take her place in the White House also confirms Cheney's pre-eminence in Bush's second term.
A major booster of national missile defence and the development of ''usable'' mini-nuclear weapons, Hadley held a key policy position under the vice president when Cheney served as Pentagon chief under Bush's father, from 1989 to 1993.
Growing speculation that another Cheney ally, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, will be nominated to serve as deputy secretary of state under Rice is adding to the impression that the hawks are on the verge of a clean sweep.
As expected, the State Department's current number two, Richard Armitage, announced his resignation Tuesday, thus opening another key slot in the foreign-policy bureaucracy and one on which Bolton and his neo-conservative and ultra-unilateralist backers have had their eyes for months.
''This is a statement that Bush sees that what he's done in his first term is the way he wants to go into the second term, if not a bit more so'', said Jonathan Clarke, a former British analyst based at the libertarian Cato Institute and co-author of 'America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order'.
''It's a way of saying, 'If you liked what you saw in the first administration, you're going to love the second one','' he added in an interview.
Although Rice began her tenure as Bush's national security adviser a traditional ''realist'', stressing the importance of bolstering U.S. alliances and of committing U.S. troops overseas only in cases where vital national interests were threatened, she was careful from the outset to avoid alienating right-wing forces, particularly Cheney and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
On key issues, particularly surrounding the lead-up to the Iraq war, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the U.S. posture toward Iran and North Korea, she more often either aligned herself with or deferred to the hawks, especially Cheney, than she sided with Powell.
That was an immense frustration to the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had assumed at the beginning that, like himself, she was committed to the pragmatic multilateralism of Bush's father and their mutual mentor, former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.
Thus, Rice ordered an early draft of the administration's December 2002, National Security Strategy (NSS) that was written by Powell protege and current president of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass to be completely rewritten, according to James Mann, author of a highly regarded study of the Bush war cabinet, 'Rise of the Vulcans'.
''She thought the Bush administration needed something bolder, something that would represent a more dramatic break with the ideas of the past'', noted Mann.
As rewritten, the NSS marked a comprehensive endorsement of most of the controversial ideas put forward under Bush, including global U.S. military dominance, pre-emption against possible enemies, the aggressive promotion of democracy overseas and the rejection of multilateral mechanisms or treaties that might constrain the exercise of U.S. power.
But Rice appears to have been picked to run the State Department as much for her fierce personal loyalty to Bush as for her own foreign-policy views.
Recommended originally by Scowcroft and former Secretary of State George Shultz to serve as Bush's principal foreign-policy adviser during his 2000 campaign, Rice, who shares a love of football and physical fitness with the president, hit it off immediately with the future leader.
During the last five years, she has frequently spent weekends at the presidential retreat at Camp David or at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, with the Bush family.
The closeness of her relationship with Bush -- something that entirely eluded Powell, whose unequalled international and popular standing appeared to evoke some resentment in both the president and vice president -- would normally be seen as a plus by the foreign service officers who toil at the State Department, because it ensures that their views will heard in the White House.
According to Mann, that may yet turn out to be the case. ''The White House saw Powell as an independent force and an independent operator'', he told IPS, adding that such independence limited his influence.
''Rice, who will be more hawkish, will also now be the spokesman for the State Department and for diplomacy within the administration, and I can imagine situations where, once in a while, the same policies that would have been rejected if they came from Powell might get a better reception at the White House because they came from Rice.”
At the same time, Mann described the posting as ''Bush's way of establishing his political control over the State Department'', which has been seen by many of the hawks and their backers in the media as resisting the president's more aggressive policies. In this view, Rice, like newly assigned Porter Goss at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), will act as an enforcer of Bush's policy ''vision'' in the department and as a reliable communicator of the president's line to foreign governments.
''She will be a much more forceful advocate (of Bush's policy) to American allies and partners and less inclined to be a sponge for their frustrations'', according to Clarke. ''She'll be more inclined to take the fight to them and not allow the outside world to think that she is somehow a channel into the foreign-policy-making process to deflect or undermine the president's policies.''
Many State Department officials expressed serious concerns about Rice's appointment Tuesday, even as they were recovering from Monday's announcement by Powell that he was indeed leaving.
Powell, who devoted considerable time and effort to managing the department, had raised morale significantly from its nadir under his predecessor, Madeleine Albright, who tended to ignore the career officers in favour of a small group of political appointees. ''We're so sad to see him go'', said one veteran contacted by IPS, who noted that Rice's managerial experience has been far more limited.
Indeed, most analysts assess her experience overseeing the National Security Council (NSC) staff quite negatively because of her reluctance to take a position when policies were deadlocked, to ensure all sides were heard, and to enforce discipline on the various agencies once a policy was decided.
As a result, policy reviews in key areas, such as Iran and North Korea, to cite two of the most prominent examples, dragged on for months and in some cases were never completed.
To the great frustration of Powell and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet, Rice tolerated informal channels of communication between the mainly neo-conservative appointees around Rumsfeld and Cheney's office, which is headed by his neo-con chief of staff and national security adviser, I Lewis 'Scooter' Libby.
Libby, whose own national security staff has been exceptionally large and aggressive, ''is able to run circles around Condi'', one former NSC staffer told IPS last year.
Hadley, an attorney by profession, is seen as a hard-line technocrat who has specialised in nuclear weapons and national missile defence. He has been a major advocate of pre-emption and the development of ''mini-nukes'' and other new nuclear weapons that could be used for conventional purposes.
Considered particularly discreet -- even self-effacing -- Hadley came under strong criticism in various reports in the run-up to the war in Iraq, primarily because of his close working relationship with Libby on promoting a number of now-discredited efforts to tie ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and to assert that Hussein was reconstituting a nuclear-weapons programme.
WASHINGTON, Nov 16 (IPS)