Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Victory of the raptors (2nd verse same as the 1st)

Having done all he could do to moderate the doctrinaire raptors and neocon pterodactyls that have haunted and circled his office for four years, Colin Powell has had enough. Today Powell, in his customarily succinct, direct, professional style, announced his resignation as Secretary of State, arguably the best since Marshall. That he could submerge for four years his own gut centrist-humanist instincts, to the betterment of a foreign policy devised and practiced by the most ideologically animated president of our time, speaks volumes about the nobility and tragedy that loyalty engenders.

Colin Powell’s departure is maybe the clearest, most dramatic indication that the generals have won, at least in the short term; the pterodactyls are morphing into hawks, and from there into fighters and Hueys destined for one of the wars we are fighting. Condoleezza Rice, the hawk perched permanently, it seems, on George Bush’s shoulder in all his public appearances, is in line to suceeed Powell as Secretary of State. The confirmation hearings are a done deal — bet that. Rice, along with Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton and Douglas Feith, are the architects of the unilateral-action imperative whose primacy at the White House has just been assured.

This would not seem to be a good time to buy real estate in Tehran.

Powell’s exit is one of several at the White House; previously John Ashcroft and Don Evans made their departures known, and others leaving include Energy Secretary Spencer Abrahams, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, and Education Secretary Rod Paige, who, of the three, was something of an embarassment to the administration. This happens all the time in the second term of an administration, the literal housecleaning that, we’re led to believe, points to fresh thinking for the next four years. But you think about the ideological promises made before the election, and you wonder how many of the new occupants of these musical chairs will be bound up more by partisan inclinations than by their basic competence for the job? Will Ashcroft’s replacement be more insensitive to civil liberties than he’s been?

And then there is the X factor, the element that squares the equation — the likely, almost certain, imminent retirements from the Supreme Court. William Rehnquist and, possibly, Sandra Day O’Connor, are probable departures, one surely by the recess in June, the other before that first week in October. And Bush’s nominee, just as sure as Condi to be confirmed, will complete the payback to the most conservative elements of the Republican party.

One nominee at a time, George Bush is serving notice that, mostly, the second verse will be the same as the first. In the process of literally rebuilding itself, the administration is reflecting a paradox of modern American government: stasis within change, immobility within transition. Them changes at the top may be no changes at all. And for a president seemingly at odds with the world — and a world at war, at that — no change isn’t progress, or even stability. No change is falling behind.

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