Much as he loathed Colin Powell, Vice President-elect Dick Cheney realized that the immensely popular general -- the most trusted man in America -- was essential to the political perception of the incoming Bush administration's foreign policy decisions. As former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich put it, "If you're George Bush, and the biggest weakness you have is foreign policy, and you can have Cheney on one flank and Powell on the other, it virtually eliminated the competence issue."
As a result, on December 16, 2000, three days after Al Gore conceded defeat, Colin Powell was flown to Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, where the president-elect announced his first cabinet appointment: Colin Powell as secretary of state. "He is a tower of strength and common sense," said Bush. "You find somebody like that, you have to hang on to them. I have found such a man."
Tears filled Bush's eyes. "I so admire Colin Powell," he later explained. "I love his story."
Unlike other designated cabinet appointees, Powell had not been vetted by Cheney or other campaign officials. Nor, according to "Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell," Karen DeYoung's comprehensive biography of him, was Powell even asked any serious foreign policy questions. Such discussions were not necessary. According to a former Pentagon official who had worked with Cheney during the first Gulf War, "Cheney's distrust and dislike for Mr. Powell were unbounded." In other words, Powell was only there for show. Cheney immediately took measures to undermine him. The chess game began.
At the Crawford press conference on December 16, Powell was dazzling -- too dazzling for his own good. As he proceeded with his lengthy discourse about the state of the world, Bush's admiring expression gradually turned to one of sour irritation. Afterward, Richard Armitage, Powell's close friend and longtime colleague, told the secretary of state-designate that he had been so comfortable in front of the cameras compared to the president-elect, that it was somewhat disturbing. "It's about domination," Armitage advised Powell. "Be careful in appearances with the president."
Armitage wasn't the only one to notice. "Powell seemed to dominate the President-elect ... both physically and in the confidence he projected," reported the Washington Post. New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman concluded that Powell "so towered over the president-elect, who let him answer every question on foreign policy, that it was impossible to imagine Mr. Bush ever challenging or overruling Mr. Powell on any issue."None of this was lost on Cheney. Initially, Bush and he had decided that the new secretary of defense would be former Indiana senator Dan Coats, a Christian fundamentalist on the Senate Armed Services Committee who had won over the Christian Right thanks to his undiluted antipathy toward gays in the military. But now it was abundantly clear to Cheney that Coats would be no match for Powell. When Coats added that he did not consider missile defense an urgent priority, Bush and Cheney dumped him immediately.
Meanwhile, Bush proceeded to pick other key cabinet officials. On December 22, he announced that his attorney general would be John Ashcroft, who had just been defeated in a bid for reelection as senator from Missouri. Ashcroft, who had preached at Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church, was a member of the Assemblies of God church, the denomination of Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and Elvis Presley, which was known for charismatic practices such as faith healing and speaking in tongues.
As secretary of commerce, Bush picked Don Evans, an evangelical oil man friend from Texas who had introduced Bush to the Community Bible Studies program in Midland. As chief White House speechwriter, Bush picked Michael Gerson, a graduate of Wheaton College, the so-called Harvard of evangelical colleges. These were the very people whom Neil Bush had scorned as "cockroaches" issuing "from the baseboards of the Bible-belt," and whom Bush 41 had derided as the "extra-chromosome set."
As the cabinet began to take shape in late December, Colin Powell still presented the biggest potential obstacle to the ambitions of Cheney and the neocons. There was less than a month before the inauguration. Time was running out. They had to find a way to neutralize him.
Friday, November 09, 2007
"The Fall of the House of Bush"
Craig Unger's excellent book reminds us what we have come through regarding the soon-to-concluded neoconservative period. Salon has the third excerpt, with links to the two previous (short ad viewing required as always). Here's a snip of it: