A circular firing squad, with Rice in the middle

Magazine says Bush's conservative advisors are urging him to dump his secretary of state.

Published July 26, 2006 2:47PM (EDT)

Draft Condi or dump her?

If Insight Magazine is to be believed, conservatives are choosing the latter. With the president's foreign policy failings on display for the world to see, Insight says that George W. Bush's "conservative national security allies" -- including some in Dick Cheney's office -- are urging Bush to bag the "incompetent" Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state and move her into some kind of advisory role.

The problem, as they see it: Rice lacks knowledge about the Middle East, and the appeasers and wimps at Foggy Bottom have co-opted her into an insufficiently aggressive foreign policy. "Condi was sent to rein in the State Department," a senior Republican congressional staffer tells the magazine. "Instead, she was reined in."

The staffer is quoted anonymously, but not all of Rice's critics are. Writing in the Washington Post last month, Richard Perle blamed Rice for Bush's "blinking" on Iran. "What matters is not that she is further removed from the Oval Office; Rice's influence on the president is undiminished," Perle wrote. "It is, rather, that she is now in the midst of -- and increasingly represents -- a diplomatic establishment that is driven to accommodate its allies even when (or, it seems, especially when) such allies counsel the appeasement of our adversaries."

Newt Gingrich delivers a similar message, albeit without as much of a Rice-specific attack. The former House speaker and possible presidential candidate tells Insight that the administration is "sending signals today that no matter how much you provoke us, no matter how viciously you describe things in public, no matter how many things you're doing with missiles and nuclear weapons, the most you'll get out of us is talk."

It's hard to imagine that the famously loyal Bush would hand Rice the public humiliation of a demotion -- her failures on Iraq, after all, were already on the books when he promoted her to secretary of state in the first place -- but "critics" tell Insight that it may be coming after the November elections, when they say Bush will see that relying on diplomacy alone won't work to stop Iran's nuclear ambitions. "At that point," one GOP source says, "Rice will be openly blamed and Bush will have a very hard time defending her."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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