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Foreign policy in capable hands

Posted: Thursday, December 21, 2000

The following editorial appeared in Wednesday's San Jose Mercury News:

The foreign policy brain trust in George W. Bush's campaign will head his administration's foreign policy team.

To no one's surprise, Bush has nominated Colin Powell as secretary of state and appointed Condoleezza Rice as national security adviser. Both are what Bush is not, diligent students of U.S. foreign policy.

Powell and Rice are longtime associates of both the president-elect and his father. When the senior Bush was president, Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the Persian Gulf War, and Rice was director for Soviet and East European affairs on the National Security Council.

Ever since the war against Saddam Hussein, Powell has enjoyed great popularity, to the point that he had to specifically state that he had no desire to run for president. There is much in his sterling personal resume to support it, but being secretary of state will surely work to pull him off the pedestal. Few foreign policy dilemmas lend themselves to quick solutions.

Rice likewise has a personal and career history that commends her for the job.

The main question raised by the appointment of Powell and Rice is the extent to which they will scale back America's overseas commitments. Both have been skeptical of the use of American troops in such areas as Kosovo. Powell implied a change of emphasis, not of fundamental direction. "We're not cutting and running," he said.

Powell and Rice also support Bush's call for full speed ahead on building and deploying a missile defense. We won't share their enthusiasm until and unless test launches demonstrate an ability of outgoing missiles to stop incoming ones; so far the tests have been discouraging, the costs enormous.

Powell and Rice are both African-American. Bush has also announced the appointment of Alberto Gonzales as White House legal counsel and Karen Hughes as counselor to the president. Bush said these appointments signal his commitment to diversity. The sample is too small to win over the skeptics. But it is a point in Bush's favor that the people chosen so far are longtime advisers of his. They are not strangers picked simply to serve as symbols.

As Bush is not the most experienced of presidents-to-be, his appointments take on added importance. He has started with a reassuring seriousness of purpose.



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