When people look at Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, based on press reports, the assumption must be that the two absolutely cannot get along. This is the wrong call. Far from viewing these two extraordinarily capable men (either man would be a fine President in their own right) as being diametrically opposed, these two men need to be viewed as complements to each others.
How so? Let’s start with the fact that neither man has resigned yet – even though there have been reports of disagreements between the two as to the best course of action to deal with Iraq. In fact, William Safire has observed the opposite, both in an April 28, 2004, column in the New York Times based on his own observations and in a number of speeches. So, one must not view a lot of the squabbling as a power play by either of the principals – the deputies/subordinates seem to be more responsible for the perception of a feud.
In fact, the reputations of both men are such that President Bush had to know those two would not agree all of the time. But he made the decision to put both of these men where they were. It was probably one of his best decisions. Both men are strong, capable, and know the ways of inside the Beltway. Both also have different views of the world. Powell
is the self-described “reluctant warrior”, Rumsfeld is the “hawk”. Both can lay out their cases quite well.
This is not bad news, it is good news. There should be competing options presented to the President when it comes to foreign policy. The balance achieved in this Administration is a good thing – if both sides of an issue are presented by skilled and knowledgeable advocates, then the odds of the right decision being made are very good. This is not to say that Powell and Rumsfeld have had mistake-free tenures in their respective positions. Under Secretary Powell, the State Department is still overly critical of Israel’s actions in the face of terrorist attacks and in dealing with organizations that have expressed the desire to remove it from the map – particularly when those actions are targeted at the leadership of a terrorist group and make an effort to avoid civilian casualties. The decision to place the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) on the same list as al-Qaeda and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), despite the fact the State Department’s own summary of the AUC admits it does not target Americans, seems illogical, particularly given the assistance Carlos Castano rendered as a member of Los Pepes during the hunt for Pablo Escobar.
Rumsfeld, too, has made errors. There seems to be a very large percentage of eggs in the basket of transformation. The medium brigades are also replacing, rather than supplementing, heavy units in the Army. There is also the issue of miscalculations regarding the insurgency in Iraq. He also has not tried to reverse the cutbacks of the 1990s “peace dividend,” even though the United States has been at war since 9/11. As a result, our forces are at risk of being stretched thin. However, nobody is perfect, and one must recognize that these two men don’t make many mistakes, and both are recommending the course of action that they honestly feel best for this country. These two men are probably the one of the most capable combinations an administration has had at State and Defense in a long time – probably ever. They balance each other, and that is probably the secret to the many successes the Administration has racked up in the war on terrorism.