The New Face of State

Juan Cole has some thoughts on the shake-up at the State Department. He summarizes the arguments on how Powell was marginalized and ineffective, but also adds an important counterargument:
But insiders in Washington have told me enough stories about Powell victories behind the scenes that I am not sure the marginalization argument is decisive. Powell had an alliance with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the two of them could sometimes derail the wilder plans of the Department of Defense. Blair, and probably Powell, convinced Bush to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan before going on to an Iraq war. Imagine how dangerous the situation would be if the US were bogged down in Iraq as it is now, but Bin Laden's 40 training camps were still going full steam! Likewise, I have it on good authority that Powell and Blair derailed a Department of Defense plan to install Ahmad Chalabi as a soft dictator in Iraq within 6 months of the fall of Saddam. Jay Garner had been given this charge, and Powell was able to get Paul Bremer in, instead, with a charge to keep the country out of Chalabi's corrupt hands. So at some crucial junctures, Powell has played an essential role in ensuring the implementation of a more sensible policy. Without him in the administration, hotter heads may well prevail.
If you thought our foreign policy was brazen and hardline as it is, imagine if Powell was absent from the equation during the last four years! Unfortunately, though, his replacement is just another "yes" person surrounding Bush. I don't think you can effectively conduct foreign policy in today's world without at least one person offering an opposing viewpoint. Bush has been praised for putting the war on terrorism in easy to understand, black and white, us v. them rhetoric, but the reality of the situation is anything but this stark. The opinions the President hears should reflect this. On the way into work this morning I was listening to Imus talk with Maureen Dowd. They were both commenting on how Bush's new appointees were essentially attempts to consolidate White House power over the few remaining institutions that aren't overtly partisan. With Rice in at State and Goss in at the CIA, we have two of our most vital foreign policy resources turning into extended wings of the White House. As both pointed out, this is not good for our safety. UPDATE: Josh Marshall agrees with Imus and Dowd.