Colin Powell's Future Within the White House

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, August 4, 2003, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: As hard as he's worked, it is understandable that Colin Powell (search) would want to spend more time fishing or with his wife Alma. The White House, however, is denying a report that Powell would not join President Bush in a second term. But let's say Powell does leave the administration. Who takes his place?

Time magazine's Michael Weisskopf (search) joins us from D.C. And that is today's big question. Who would replace Powell as secretary of state? Does anybody know, Michael?

MICHAEL WEISSKOPF, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, the best thinking is it would be Condi Rice (search), following in the footsteps of Henry Kissinger (search) who made the same move under the Nixon administration. And she would, of course, allow for a smooth transition in the national security front and remain chief adviser to the president.

GIBSON: Let's back up. What is the best thinking, in your estimation, about why Powell would be leaving, even though he's denied it?

WEISSKOPF: Well, Powell has a reputation almost as large as the president's and a popularity to match or exceed it. There's a lot of the world he wants to conquer, a lot of the world he wants to participate in, other than in government. He's made that clear all along. And so he probably wants to try something else. He has had conflicts in this administration. On the whole, he seems to be rowing in the same direction. He, from the start, wanted a more multilateral approach on lots of issues, going all the way back to global warming, soon after the administration entered office… but in the end, [he] was a whooping supporter [of President Bush's Iraq policy].

GIBSON: But, nonetheless, he is perceived to be considerably more dovish than the president, the vice president, the secretary of defense, and for that matter, the woman you mentioned who might take his place, the National Security Adviser Condi Rice.

WEISSKOPF: I don't know if dovish is the right definition for him. He certainly is much more multilateral. He pays a lot more attention to our allies, and heeds their advice a great deal more. And so on issues affecting more than our own national interests, he is arguing for a broader, more diverse approach. There's no question about it.

GIBSON: But at the same time, if he is not correctly described as dovish and the others aren't correctly described as hawkish — they are more unilateralists. It would seem that of the candidates that might replace Powell at this moment, they're more in line with the thinking of the president, the vice president, secretary of defense, rather than the thinking of Powell as he sits today as secretary of state.

WEISSKOPF: Well, certainly. We talked a little bit about Condi Rice. Then there is Paul Wolfowitz (search), Rumsfeld's deputy at the department of defense. And he is probably the architect of the Iraq war policy, as much as anyone. He is generally considered more hawkish, more unilateral when it comes to what he defines as American national interests and also a man who has gained a tremendous trust of this president. The thinking is, because of his reputation as a big thinker, as a strategist, he might well be well suited for Condi's job at the NSC, if she shifted over to the State Department.

GIBSON: I couldn't help but notice that in one of the lists floating around as possible successors to Powell was Newt Gingrich (search), who is a FOX News political analyst and, of course, we all know his history. Does that seem like a serious “could happen” possibility?

WEISSKOPF: On the intellectual side, he's certainly up to that job and has fresh ideas and is a dynamic thinker. At the same time, you remember that Newt was given to faux pas and diplomatic gaffes. The job of secretary of state is such a delicate one that one could hardly consider him a favorite — at least of the Senate, which would have to confirm him. He also is a very controversial figure. The job of secretary of state, of course, requires a Senate confirmation. It is less likely that he would sail through.

GIBSON: Okay. The Bush administration is denying this and so forth, but let's assume this is all true for the moment. What are they thinking that they would like to have in a new secretary of state? Somebody who is more like the thinking of the president or somebody who throws contrarian ideas at him?

WEISSKOPF: It's hard to know precisely, John. The president has enjoyed the diversity of thinking which Powell has provided. And he also, of course, has enjoyed the political attention and support that came with Powell. The president spoke about appointing Colin Powell, even before he spoke of appointing Dick Cheney (search) as vice president. And Powell, of course, spoke of the Republican convention and this offered a great kind of umbrella of moderation for the president. And to the extent that he enjoys that dimension politically, a figure like Powell is important.

Within the councils of debate in his administration, it is just not clear how that dynamic works and to what extent the president likes one-hand clapping… or a kind of contradictory, conflict debate going on. If so, then a figure like Powell and the name of Dick Lugar (search), who is now the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is floated around. He is another centrist, who would be cut in the Powell mold. This would provide for that kind of dynamic.

GIBSON: We shall see. Michael Weisskopf of Time magazine. Michael, thank you very much.

WEISSKOPF: Pleasure.

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