Bush's faithful 'Warrior Princess' wins chance to drag dissenting department back into line

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The Independent US

Condoleezza Rice has always been an overachiever. At three she was a child prodigy pianist (her name derives from the Italian musical term meaning "with sweetness") and even now plays close to concert level.

Condoleezza Rice has always been an overachiever. At three she was a child prodigy pianist (her name derives from the Italian musical term meaning "with sweetness") and even now plays close to concert level.

She graduated from university at the age of 19. At 26, she was a professor, at 34 a top White House adviser, and at 36 she became provost - in effect, president - of Stanford University, California.

Now, at the age of 50, she becomes the first black woman Secretary of State, with the job of bringing to heel a department that under Colin Powell was frequently the odd man out in foreign policymaking.

Her nicknames give a taste of her style. "The Warrior Princess" she has been called or, less flatteringly, "the nanny". Ms Rice is not a founder member of the neo-conservative movement, but she has been an unswerving advocate of an assertive US foreign policy in general and the war in Iraq in particular.

Nor is she one to brook argument. "It's just nonsense to say that because we've confronted it, we've created more of it," she recently replied to those who contend that the Iraq invasion has increased the terrorist threat. "Does anybody think these people were just sitting around drinking tea?"

Most importantly of all however, as she takes the helm of US diplomacy, is her exceptional closeness to the President. Ms Rice was George Bush's chief foreign policy adviser in his 2000 campaign, and formalised that position as the White House national security adviser for the past four years.

She is trusted by Mr Bush, and considered virtual "family" by a political clan for whom loyalty is the supreme virtue. The unmarried Ms Rice often spends weekends as a guest of the Bushes at the presidential retreat of Camp David.

But in this closeness, many analysts say, lies the danger. Mr Bush is famously averse to hearing points of view different from his own; the last thing he needs is another top adviser telling him what he wants to hear. In the run up to the war, these critics note, Ms Rice never challenged the dubious intelligence that formed the case for war.

By sending Ms Rice to the State Department and promoting Stephen Hadley, her deputy, to the post of national security adviser, Mr Bush has strengthened his grip on the foreign policy process. Many foreign service veterans fear a purge at the higher echelons of the department.

Abroad, too, there may be wariness, with the departure of General Powell, correctly regarded as the Bush administration official most sympathetic to a foreign viewpoint.

But world leaders can be sure of one thing as they never were with her predecessor: that when she speaks, she speaks unequivocally for the President.

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