Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Bush Cabinet Moves Seen as Stifling Dissent

Bush Cabinet Moves Seen as Stifling Dissent

By Alan Elsner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush is moving to concentrate power as he begins his second term, placing trusted members of his inner circle in key positions, but some analysts believe he risks stifling healthy debate within his administration.

"It is understandable that this president, like any president, wants his decisions to be taken as writ," said William Galston, a government professor at the University of Maryland, who served as a domestic policy adviser to former President Bill Clinton.

"However this president is running the risk of restricting the range of debate within the administration very seriously," Galston said.

Alarm bells rang in Washington's political circles last week when the new CIA director, Porter Goss, sent a memo to agency employees telling them their job was to "support the administration and its policies."

"As agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies," Goss said in the memorandum, which came after several top officers resigned.

Even Republicans criticized that choice of words, saying it was crucial for the CIA to retain its objectivity and ability to "speak truth to power." Democrats, noting that Goss until recently was a highly partisan Republican member of the House of Representatives, saw it as part of a disturbing pattern.

Bush moved swiftly after his Nov. 2 election victory to consolidate power. He installed trusted White House counsel Alberto Gonzales as attorney general and nominated national security adviser Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, while elevating her deputy, Stephen Hadley, to replace her. Loyalists from the inner circle will also take over as White House counsel and at the Education Department.

Some historians believe that with Republicans securely controlling both houses of Congress, Bush will begin his second term with more power and fewer constraints than any president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.


David Gergen, who served as White House adviser to four presidents, said the two dangers facing Bush were hubris and group-think, the tendency for everyone in an organization to adopt the prevailing view.

"By closing down dissent and centralizing power in a few hands, he is acting as if he truly believes that he and his teams have a perfect track record, that they know best and that they don't need any infusion of new heavyweights," Gergen wrote last week in The New York Times.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan last week denied that Bush was surrounding himself with "yes" men and women.

"Once a decision is made, the president expects the administration to work together," he said. "But he's always welcomed a wide diversity of views from members of his team."

Gary Schmitt of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, who served in the White House under President Ronald Reagan, dismissed the idea that alternative views would not be heard in inner circles as absurd.

"There's a massive amount of commentary, both inside and outside of government. You can't live in Washington, D.C., and not be exposed to all kinds of views," he said.

But political scientist Dean Spiliotes of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics said history taught that second term presidents often became increasingly impatient with and intolerant of dissenting views.

"Bush seems particularly susceptible to this because of his personal style. He doesn't like people in there playing devil's advocate. The result has been a higher risk of mistakes when you're all staffed with like-minded people," he said.

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