How Diverse Should A Leadership Team Be?

By nominating National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to become secretary of state and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to become attorney general, President Bush is sending a clear message. He intends to keep tight reign over foreign policy and the war on terror during his second term.

Bush's decision to place trusted loyalists in the most important positions in his new administration shows he's leaving little to chance. In Rice and Gonzales, Bush has chosen insiders who were part of his team long before he came to Washington.

You get the sense that he trusts them completely. He won't have to worry that they will be leaking stories to the media to make themselves look good -- and the president less so -- if things don't go their way. Nor will he have to worry that his appointees are not on the same page as he is when it comes to policy objectives.

Their predecessors failed to inspire similar comfort levels from the president. Colin Powell commanded more respect in many circles than the commander-in-chief. And it didn't help later on that Powell let his skepticism about the Iraq war become public.

Ashcroft showed more loyalty than Powell, but his aloof demeanor may have been an impediment to forging a close personal relationship with the president. You can imagine the president kicking back to enjoy a football game with Rice or confiding secrets to Gonzales, but it's hard to envision the ever-serious and taciturn Ashcroft in similar settings.

Critics will argue that Rice may lack the independence to be a good secretary of state. Such criticism is wrong-headed. Cabinet members are not elected and have no claim to independence from the presidents who appoint them. That doesn't mean they are mere yes-men or women. Precisely because Rice and Gonzales have earned the president's complete trust, they can be free to speak their minds when they disagree with him, and he will listen.

President Bush has run a tighter ship than most recent presidents, clearly running policy from the White House rather than letting it devolve to the agencies. There's always a danger in every administration that political appointees will become insular and arrogant, but neither Rice nor Gonzales seem prone to those character flaws. Both come from humble backgrounds -- which may not be a perfect insurance policy against self-importance, but it helps.

Given the tough fight ahead, the president must be able to count on his top aides.

Linda Chavez

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