Washington, 14 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- If one word could define the second Bush cabinet, it might be loyalty.
Loyalty, analysts say, was a key consideration in Bush's choices to replace nine cabinet secretaries who announced their resignations ahead of the president's second term, which officially begins next month.
Patrick Basham of the Cato Institute in Washington told RFE/RL that the new administration will fundamentally differ from the old one. He said that Bush and his top advisers, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, appear to believe that the time for policy debates has come and gone.
"There was a debate early on in the president's first term over the larger strategy of foreign policy," Basham said. "And the president had his mind changed -- was convinced by his more neoconservative advisers that there was a certain way to go. He has bought into that wholesale, and so as far as he is concerned, the debate has occurred. It is over."
"While trying to balance these two competing values -- that is, wanting loyal people in top positions, but also wanting an honest debate over important policy options -- I think the Bush administration has gone too far in emphasizing loyalty and not [far] enough in emphasizing full examination and vetting of ideas."
In this light, analysts say the most significant cabinet change is at the State Department. Bush has selected Condoleezza Rice -- his fiercely loyal national security adviser -- to replace Colin Powell as secretary of state.
For the last four years, Powell has reportedly engaged in wide-ranging -- and at times acrimonious -- policy debates with Rumsfeld and Cheney. Few believe that Rice will question key policies as did Powell, who argued, for example, against invading Iraq.
Robert Spitzer, a professor of politics at the State University of New York at Cortland, said that by ending the debate, the administration now faces an imbalance in decision making that could lead to problems, especially in foreign policy. In fact, he said, that imbalance already has led to some problems.
"While trying to balance these two competing values -- that is, wanting loyal people in top positions, but also wanting an honest debate over important policy options -- I think the Bush administration has gone too far in emphasizing loyalty and not [far] enough in emphasizing full examination and vetting of ideas," Spitzer said. "Certainly, no better example comes to mind than the invasion of Iraq."
Besides Rice, the other key cabinet changes include the resignation of Attorney-General John Ashcroft. The deeply conservative Ashcroft was widely criticized for a crackdown on Muslims and foreigners after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Human rights groups say the crackdown jailed hundreds of people without affording them due process under law.
But Ashcroft's successor, former White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez, is not expected to change much at the Justice Department. He too is considered to be deeply conservative and fiercely loyal to the president.
Bill Frenzel was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for two decades. Frenzel said he believes it is valid to criticize the president if he seems to want to hear only a reflection of his own views from his cabinet secretaries.
But the former Minnesota congressman from Bush's Republican Party said that every president has his own prerogatives.
"I think it's normal for a president to want to exercise very close control," Frenzel said. "I think that can be reasonably criticized, but it can also be a reasonable method of operation by which a president tries to make the departments work for him."
Basham, for one, agrees. He said that the cabinet changes appear to have been planned long and are in line with Bush's much-publicized efficiency, which includes discipline on everything from punctuality to control of leaks to the news media.
Basham also said that some secretaries may have welcomed the news that they weren't wanted for the second term.
"The president's people had people [potential cabinet secretaries] lined up who they thought would do a better job -- less because of any policy differences, but simply because they would be fresher, more ambitious, perhaps more politically savvy [sophisticated]," Basham said. "The president had several cabinet members who had really been through the ringer [difficult times] politically and -- probably in most of those cases -- were happy to have a chance to move on to something else."
But Bush's cabinet changes are as significant for who is leaving as for who is staying.
Rumsfeld has faced more criticism than any other secretary, including calls for his resignation after a series of torture scandals involving U.S. troops in Iraq.
At Bush's request, Rumsfeld is set to remain at the Pentagon for another four years.