- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was in no mood for reminiscences when he met with reporters in the State Department briefing room yesterday, hours after the White House announced his resignation.

“I’m still the secretary of state, and as President Bush has made it clear, I operate with his full authority,” he said.

“I think that will be recognized by the people that I deal with around the world,” he added, “so I think I’ll be able to be quite effective for the remaining period of my term.”

Still, he offered a brief reflection on his government career, which has included posts as President Reagan’s national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“In every one of these jobs, there have been high points and low points, and what you have to learn to do in government, or in life, is to work through problems, seize the opportunities as they come along, deal with the crises and challenges as they come along, and that’s always the way I’ve tried to live my life in public service,” he said.

As Mr. Powell relinquishes the nation’s top diplomatic post, he leaves behind a mixed legacy at the State Department — an agency that is in its best bureaucratic shape in decades but that has lost weight in policy-making.

His tenure will be remembered for his skillful management, which lifted morale to levels not seen in 20 years, according to department employees in Washington and around the world.

“He is the mayor of the building,” said Rena Bitter, a consular officer serving at the embassy in London. “People feel like they work for him. They have gotten the message that he cares about the institution. When people perceive loyalty from a leader, they are loyal, too.”

Nicholas Burns, the ambassador to NATO in Brussels, said that “people see him a lot” because “he walks around the building and into offices.”

Mr. Powell yesterday paid tribute to the thousands of State Department employees.

“The greatest privilege I’ve had over the last four years is to be the leader of tens of thousands of wonderful employees of this department … who work so hard on the front lines of freedom and the front lines of our foreign policy, who are at risk every single day and serve our nation so proudly,” he said.

Although they appreciate the increased resources, training and modern technology Mr. Powell brought to the department, some employees say his four years marked one of the agency’s lowest points in terms of its influence and relevance in the policy-making process.

“He fought those fights inside the Cabinet, but people were a little disappointed that, when he’d lose, he’d just be a good soldier and accept what was decided and go with it,” said a Foreign Service officer in the Middle East.

Mr. Powell, who was the most reluctant Cabinet member to support going to war with Iraq, bristles at the suggestion that the department has lost relevance on his watch.

“We are more than carrying our weight and putting more than our finger on the scale,” he told The Washington Times earlier this year.

He cited Mr. Bush’s decision to accept his advice and take the Iraq case to the United Nations, over the objections of others in the Cabinet.

“Sometimes it was lonely fighting for those resolutions. But we did it — not because we are wimpy diplomats, but because that’s what the president wanted,” Mr. Powell said.

He referred to his famous presentation to the U.N. Security Council on Iraq’s illicit arms programs, which the administration hoped would convince the world that military action was necessary.

“It was your beloved State Department that went up there on the 5th of February last year and made the case on weapons of mass destruction. And why did they pick the State Department? Why was I the agent?”

But that presentation is the only regret Mr. Powell has acknowledged in public. Soon after the interview, on April 2, he recanted his statement that Iraq possessed mobile biological labs.

“It was presented to me in the preparation of that as the best information and intelligence that we had, and I looked at the four elements that they gave me for that one and they stood behind them. Now it appears not to be the case,” he said.

No weapons stockpiles have been found in Iraq more than 19 months after Saddam Hussein was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion.

Mr. Powell also had to fight hard-line members of the administration — such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld — on other issues, including the Middle East peace process and North Korea.

“I’m a close friend of Colin Powell’s and I have the greatest respect for him, but I must say, sometimes I feel sorry for him. He’s having to do battles here with agencies that in the past weren’t players in some of these issues,” said top official in a former administration.

“There is no more pure foreign-policy issue than Arab-Israeli peace, and everybody is in the meetings on that over there,” he said. “The secretary has to fight a very powerful coalition of opponents in the vice president and the secretary of defense, so it’s tough.”

Despite being part of an administration that has been widely disliked abroad, Mr. Powell has always been welcomed overseas and has good relations with most of his foreign colleagues.

Many of them — from British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his foreign secretary, Jack Straw, to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom — either called the secretary yesterday or praised him profusely in public.

Mr. Powell said neither he nor Mr. Bush suggested that he remain in the Cabinet longer.

“It has always been my intention that I would serve one term,” Mr. Powell said.

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