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85 - 13

On the whole, I think that the President of the United States should be able to choose the Cabinet he wants to govern with. Yes, the Senate should advise before it consents, but for me the bar for turfing a cabinet member has to be actual incompetence. Certainly, a nominee should not be dismissed for sharing policy views with her President.

Therefore, I’m pretty happy with the news that the Senate confirmed Secretary Rice, 85-13. In other words, the President gets the Secretary of State to which he is entitled, while it is made clear this is the worst choice in recent history. Not to say an argument couldn’t be formulated for her actual incompetence—has she ever got anything right? I mean, she made her foreign policy name saying we shouldn’t touch M. Gorbachev with a ten-foot pole, and that the Communists were still strong and stable. She has a longish and prominent academic career of making predictions about public policy, so it should be pretty easy to check if any of them were right.

Still, clearly analysis is one thing and diplomacy is another. The most important job of the Secretary of State is, um, what was it again? What is it that she’s qualified to do? I mean, I don’t mean to play dumb, but I understood what Madeleine Albright was hired for, more or less to do the job she had been doing at the UN, but at a higher level. Before then, Warren Christopher’s qualifications involved negotiating with China and Panama and so on. Lawrence Eagleburger was also an old State hand by the time he was nominated. Of course George Shultz was an economist, and James Baker was, um, a Cabinet Member. Colin Powell, like Al Haig, came out of the military, although Al Haig as our NATO guy had more diplomatic cred then Mr. Powell. Still, I suppose Mr. Powell’s role in the Kuwait affair involved some diplomatic skills, although of course I have no idea what they would be.

But what, again, are Ms. Rice’s qualifications for the job of America’s top diplomat? I mean, she was qualified to be National Security Advisor, whether you think she did a good job of it or if you perceive the actual universe, but surely in the American system, there’s an expectation that the Secretary of a Department should have some expertise in that field? Ah, well. I suppose looking at that, the most qualified person that there was any chance of being put forward to the Senate was John Negroponte.

Thank you,


I'd guess these days the Secretary of State delivers the low-down from the Man at the Top in person, so there will be no misunderstandings, on the one hand, and, on the other, makes sure that the lower-downs in her own department don't report anything inconsistent with the wishes of the Man at the Top.

I think that job is within Ms. Rice's competence.

I might phrase this another way: this administration has no need of a skilled diplomat heading the State Department. Since it is not their policy either to listen or to negotiate but to impose their will by force, attemts at diplomacy would only weaken the resolute image projected by The Commander-in-Chief, whereas Ms. Rice's loyally abject service to The Commander as international bearer of personal messages will usefully reinforce that image.

all this just makes me want to know what they talked about at that energy task force meeting back when.

I agree with Chris's comments about why Rice was specifically chosen for the post, and how she's qualified for her limited responsibilities.

I believe General Powell (er, I thought retired officers retained their titles as honorifics? but I could be wrong) was chosen because he was very popular, both with the American people and with the rather large international coalition of Gulf War I, while being politically inexperienced enough to (so Bush believed at the time) be entirely subjugable to Bush's will. When Powell started standing up to Bush and suggesting different policies, he got the axe.

he was a fig leaf to protect bush-the-candidate's isolationist language from scrutiny. other people in the cabinet were hawkish crazies, but not colin, so, the president must be cautious. it was also a smack at gore and clinton for not having "finished" the war in iraq.

he continued to be a useful smokescreen during the iraq buildup in 2002.

whether the crazies need to hide their claws again now for having ruined a country they said we were liberating, they don't seem to think so. but at this point, the press has united the image of powell and bush in one person: thoughtful diplomat + decisive mover and shaker. better to have a sec'y of state who's a mover and shaker, then, to allow the president to "reign her in" from time to time. just you wait.

I'm not really clear on why the Senate gets to advise and consent on cabinet posts in the first place. I'm not sure why the Senate should have any say at all in how the Executive Branch is organized, for that matter. Certain powers and duties are granted to the Executive, and if the President wants to wield all those powers and fulfill all those duties personally, why is it Congress's business to say no? Alternatively, if the President wants to delegate them in a way different then his predecessor, why should Congress get to vote on that?

I haven't thought about this in great detail, but it's not obvious to me why the President's staff isn't a purely internal affair.

I don't actually know why the founders gave the Senate advice-and-consent powers. I suppose it keeps an executive more or less honest, although of course it doesn't keep him from taking the advice of cronies without portfolio. Of course, since it is in the Constitution, Senators should take it seriously.

I'm not sure why the Senate should have any say at all in how the Executive Branch is organized, for that matter. Certain powers and duties are granted to the Executive, and if the President wants to wield all those powers and fulfill all those duties personally, why is it Congress's business to say no?

It's part of the difference between a presidency and a monarchy. The President's powers and the reach of the executive branch are supposed to be quite limited, though they have grown tremendously in the last 200 years. Advice and consent are supposed to be a constant reminder that the President does not have free rein over the executive branch or the nation. The President may negotiate treaties, but he cannot bind the country to them on his own. The President may lead the military, but he cannot declare war on his own. The President may nominate judges and heads of large executive branch agencies (i.e., Cabinet members), but he cannot simply appoint them (except for brief periods of time). Same goes for creating a budget, suggesting laws, and other aspects of government.

It's supposed to avoid despotic control over the courts, the military, and the economy. It's supposed to protect America's blood and America's treasure, and ultimately America's future generations. It's not supposed to affect who the President listens to of his own choosing; it's supposed to limit the negative impact when he listens to the wrong people or makes wrong decisions, as any person inevitably will.

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