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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Powell's Policies Are Reborn Under Rice

WASHINGTON -- For four years, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and his team faced off against administration hawks on one foreign policy issue after another, and usually went down in defeat.

These days, his successor, Condoleezza Rice, is pushing nearly identical positions, and almost always winning.

An administration that was criticized in the first term for an assertive, go-it-alone approach has reversed ground again and again, joining multinational efforts to keep nuclear arms from North Korea and Iran, mending ties with Europe, and softening a hard line on the United Nations and International Criminal Court.

"She's clearly trying to accomplish a number of the goals that Powell was going after, until he found himself stymied," said Stewart Patrick, who served in Powell's policy planning office.

A former senior State Department official put it more bluntly: "It's Powell's policy without Powell."

The shifts have surprised many in the foreign policy community, who had expected a different approach from Rice. As President George W. Bush's first-term national security adviser, she was a blunt advocate for the tough White House line.

But Rice's course says a lot about the arc of the administration's foreign policy in the second term. The new diplomacy of compromise has grown in part from the way in which the burden of Iraq has limited U.S. options. After a post-Sept. 11, 2001, period of military action and assertive self-interest, the United States has been obliged to give ground to other countries to solve problems.

Rice's stance also raises intriguing questions about how much her instincts really differ from those of her predecessor. Although her ringing rhetoric suggests she shares the neoconservative view that America must move aggressively to reshape other countries, her deeds over the last nine months hint at an old-fashioned "realist."

The foreign policy change shouldn't be overstated, experts said. Despite course adjustments, the Bush team remains highly assertive in its dealings with other countries. Even so, the change has been undeniable.

On the Iran nuclear issue, Powell pushed to have U.S. officials work with European countries. He obtained clearance to begin working in this way, but only over the objections of others in the administration, who argued that the Europeans would be too conciliatory toward Tehran and that their efforts would yield nothing.

In March, Rice took a significant additional step in this direction by announcing the administration's official support for the efforts of Britain, France and Germany to negotiate with Iran.

Administration officials say policies have changed along with circumstances.

"We're in a different period," said an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of his department's policy. "We had to respond militarily after 9/11. ... Now, the overriding goal is to try to help the Iraqis and Afghans achieve political victories and build new states. There aren't military solutions to either of those problems."