Despite having some distaste for the administration and an inkling that he might step down as secretary of state, Colin Powell, it turns out, got the boot from Bush’s then-chief of staff, Andrew Card, who said simply: “The president would like to make a change.”
“The president would like to make a change,” Card said, using a time-honored formulation that avoided the words “resign” or “fire.” He noted briskly that there had been some discussion of having Powell remain until after Iraqi elections scheduled for the end of January, but that the president had decided to take care of all Cabinet changes sooner rather than later. Bush wanted Powell’s resignation letter dated two days hence, on Friday, November 12, Card said, although the White House expected him to stay at the State Department until his successor was confirmed by the Senate.
After four long years, Powell had anticipated the end of his service and sometimes even longed for it. He had never directly told the president but thought he had made clear to him during the summer of 2004 that he did not intend to stay into a second term.
There had been public speculation as the election drew near that the president might ask the secretary of state to reenlist, at least temporarily. Powell was still the most popular member of Bush’s team, far more popular with the public than the president himself. Senior Powell aides were convinced that the secretary anticipated an invitation to stay, and they were equally certain that he intended to accept. The approaching elections in Iraq, hints of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the rumored departure of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a principal Powell nemesis, made the next six months look like a rare period of promise for diplomacy.