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Will Powell’s Resignation Have an Impact on US Foreign Policy?

TV news report transcript

There’s a longstanding political tradition here in Washington, that political appointees serve at the pleasure of the president. When a president is re-elected, it is often customary for government officials to submit their resignation, so the president can start a new term with new people. That tradition was confirmed this week with four resignations in one day. Among them, Secretary of State Colin Powell. Amy Katz looks at how “Mr. Powell’s departure” may affect U.S. foreign policy.

"I fully intend for the department to work as hard as it has in recent years to push forward the President's foreign policy agenda. There are many challenges out there are many opportunities out there, and I can assure I'll be working hard until the very, very end."

Just a few hours after that news conference, Mr. Powell was back at work -- hoping to take advantage of one possible opportunity. He met with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on getting the Middle East peace process back on track, in the wake of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Afterwards, Mr. Shalom had kind words for the Secretary of State.

"You are a very good friend of Israel, but more than that you are a very good friend of peace. And you have done everything you can in order to have better time, better future in our region, to have more stability, to bring hope to peoples there."

In an interview with VOA's Leta Hong Fincher, Dr. Omer Taspinar of the Washington D.C. think tank, The Brookings Institution, said Mr. Powell's departure may not play well in the Muslim world.

"Now that he has resigned, there's anxiety in the Muslim world and the big question is who will replace him? The big fear is that someone along the lines of Paul Wolfowitz or Condoleezza Rice, who have been more unilateralist in their approach and who have been overall more confrontational when it comes to having the support of the international community, would replace Powell and that would be very bad for the relations between the United States and the Muslim world."

Dr. Taspinar said the Muslim world will view Colin Powell's successor as a symbol of what the Bush administration will do in the Middle East. Often called the "dove" of the Bush administration, Mr. Powell was known to argue his positions with the President as well as other cabinet members, especially when it came to going to war against Iraq. Professor Dennis Johnson of the George Washington University School of Political Management says that may have been difficult for Mr. Powell.

"I think in the rough and tumble of the war in Iraq -- going against our UN allies and isolating people -- Colin Powell probably felt that he was on the outs. I think the decisions were driven by the Pentagon and driven by the national security office in the White House and Colin Powell was really the third man out."

While he may have disagreed with his cabinet colleagues, world leaders praise Mr. Powell as a superior diplomat. His British counterpart, Jack Straw, said Mr. Powell made the transition from a "great soldier" to a "great statesman." German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said Mr. Powell was always on friendly terms with his country -- even when U.S. - German relations were at a low point over Germany's opposition to the Iraq war. And Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said Palestinian leaders have the "deepest respect" for Mr. Powell. Mr. Powell says his departure will not have any effect at all on U.S. foreign policy.

"We're going to keep moving forward. It's the President's policies that are being pursued and implemented, not Colin Powell's."

While that may be the case, the highly respected Mr. Powell may prove to be a very tough act to follow on the world stage.