Sometimes the hardest thing about being Secretary of State is managing relations with 191 other countries across the globe. And sometimes it's just making nice with three or four of your colleagues in the Cabinet. Colin Powell once told his British counterpart, Jack Straw, that intramural squabbling in Washington kept him from traveling. Every time he stepped onto an airplane to fly overseas, Powell said, someone in Washington stuck a knife in his back.
A shiv in the ribs is one worry Condoleezza Rice doesn't have. As she flew across Asia last week in her latest overseas trip, holding private meetings with leaders of six nations and appearing almost everywhere on TV, it was clear that in two months in office, Rice has consolidated her power as the chief exponent of the Administration's foreign policy, a perch bolstered by her exceptionally tight relationship with George W. Bush. Rice and Bush are closer than any other President and Secretary of State since Bush 41 and James Baker did their memorable duet 16 years ago. And Rice and Bush may have an advantage over that team: unlike Baker, Rice doesn't have to worry about becoming bigger and more popular than her boss. She already is.
In Asia last week, she garnered big headlines and huge photos by saying and doing perfectly ordinary things. She schmoozed election workers in Kabul, did the normal round of interviews on local TV and flung herself into a bear hug with Hawaiian-born sumo superstar Konishiki in Tokyo. Reporters from Washington to New Delhi pressed her on whether she would run for President in 2008. Her reply: a not-quite-Shermanesque no. "She brings the spotlight with her wherever she goes," an aide says.
Around the globe, diplomats are busy comparing notes on what they see--and they aren't talking about her stiletto boots. To some, Condi's rise augurs a return to a more pragmatic U.S. diplomacy for an Administration exhausted by war, occupation and ideological infighting. That perception was given a boost last week by Bush's announcement that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the chief architect of the war in Iraq, would leave the Pentagon to take over as head of the World Bank--another sign that Rice and her realist deputies have gained the upper hand over their neoconservative rivals at the Defense Department. In policy, too, the Administration has shown a new willingness to work with allies, most recently by signing on to European efforts to negotiate an end to Iran's nuclear program. Says a French diplomat: "We have heard things and seen things that were unthinkable a month ago, and she's part of it."