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A moderate voice leaves the world stage

WASHINGTON -- The impending departure of Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, with the mutual consent of President Bush, signals the final fadeout of the leading moderate voice on the Bush administration's foreign policy team.

The news that Powell would leave when a successor is confirmed -- perhaps in January -- came as Powell appeared poised to reengage with the Mideast peace process after the death of Yasser Arafat, to nudge the administration toward greater engagement with North Korea, and work to repair US relations with Europe.

All three priorities, which Powell pursued despite the skepticism of neoconservatives who dominate the administration's foreign-policy thinking, now face a period of uncertainty.

The news of Powell's departure prompted immediate expressions of regret from those who share his perspective around the world.

''It's a big loss for me personally, it's a big loss for the state of Israel, and it's a big loss for the peace in the Middle East," said Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom, standing with Powell yesterday outside the State Department.

Powell spent the last four years locked in interagency battles with the Defense Department, the Vice President's office, and the National Security Council, all of which elevated the goal of transforming the world through democracy -- sometimes achieved through regime change and military force -- above the more pragmatic objectives favored by the State Department.

''His legacy outside will be the getting the short end of the stick, having been outflanked frankly by a more hard-line agenda," said Patrick Cronin, a former USAID assistant administrator under Powell. ''Powell represented the internationalists' and moderates' viewpoint within the Bush administration, and now the question becomes, what is the balance of political power in Bush's Cabinet? Will it be more conservative, less conservative, or the same?"

Even as Bush campaigned for reelection on a promise to promote freedom around the world, many self-described foreign-policy ''realists" in the United States and abroad hoped Powell would stay in office and perhaps even gain influence in a second Bush term.

The White House would not comment on a Powell successor, but three State Department officials said they believed their new boss would be national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, a Cold War specialist who has generally sided with the neoconservatives in the Defense Department on Iraq and other major foreign-policy issues.

Still, the State Department officials predicted more continuity than change if Rice replaces Powell, since the two talk daily on various foreign policy issues, and since Rice's office at the White House already controls so many key areas of US foreign policy.

But Rice is considered less experienced and more hawkish than Powell, a former career soldier who developed a reputation of a reluctant warrior during his 40 year of service, which included two combat tours in Vietnam and stints as Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and national security adviser.   Continued...

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