Jewish World Review Oct. 9, 2003 / 13 Tishrei, 5764

Joseph L. Galloway

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With Condi at helm, NSC asserts itself in Iraq


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | The White House, under pressure from Congress, Democrats and the American people, is trying to build a better, swifter way to put urgently needed resources and people into the Iraq reconstruction effort and clear away some of the bureaucratic hurdles to success.

President Bush has tapped national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to chair a new Iraq Stabilization Group amid increasing Democratic criticism of administration fumbling in postwar Iraq, congressional questioning of the president's proposed $87 billion Iraq spending package and the chaotic postwar situation in Iraq's effect on his approval ratings.

"Some might see this as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," said one senior administration official, who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, "But it is a serious attempt to make the National Security Council more functional and remove some of the elements that have made it dysfunctional."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, with the backing of Vice President Dick Cheney, has long run roughshod over the NSC, the State Department, the CIA and other government agencies, and at times even the wishes of the president himself.

"With this new system you can control and dampen some of that and make it much more apparent when someone is meddling with policy," the official said, adding, "That way the White House can run policy instead of this unholy alliance."

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The first goal is to get people and money moving into Iraq to bolster civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer's efforts to get things working again in that beleaguered nation of 24 million citizens.

At one point six weeks ago, the assignments of more than 220 civilian administrators, including 60 badly needed Arab language translators, were being held hostage on the desk of a Rumsfeld deputy, Douglas Feith. Why? Because they were State Department people, or they had opposed a Feith favorite, Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi, or for no apparent reason at all. That number has slowly shrunk after repeated State Department complaints to Rumsfeld.

Ambassador Bremer will continue to report to the Defense Department, but there is hope that additional staff and resources - plus having someone in the White House in his corner to clear away obstructions - will allow him to get on with the job with less interference and second-guessing from the Pentagon.

The question is whether Rice is strong enough to stand firm in the face of a powerful vice president backing a strong defense secretary determined to exercise total control over everything on his horizon. Perhaps, just perhaps, she might be, with some backing from the man from Crawford, Texas.

The Iraq Stabilization Group will be composed of committees focused on politics, economics, counter-terrorism and the media. They will still have to route decision-making to the deputies' and principals' meetings that bring all department and agency leaders and their seconds-in-command together at the White House.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell, indicating that he plans to double the number of State Department officers in Iraq, has put out an urgent call for volunteers among Foreign Service officers for duty with Bremer and his civil administration in Baghdad. Powell, a former general, has let it be known if he doesn't get enough volunteers his office may have to begin selecting "volunteers" for those jobs.

According to administration insiders a new and hitherto unknown committee has also begun taking shape inside the NSC. Rice has brought in a good friend, Ambassador Robert D. Blackwill, to create a new strategic policy planning cell in the NSC staff composed of specialists from Defense, State and other agencies.

The goal is to give the NSC the tools it needs so the White House can begin to shape events instead of simply react to them - a problem that plagued Bill Clinton's White House and many other administrations before his.

The administration official said, "This has the potential to be a very significant action, giving NSC the opportunity to become something more than a crisis management committee. That has been the nature of the beast for too long. They become too involved working 18-hour days, seven days a week doing current operations and have no time to look ahead and plan ahead."

Blackwill this summer wrapped up a two-year tour as U.S. ambassador to New Delhi. Although he has both sharp elbows and a sharp tongue, he's given high marks for helping to cool tensions between India and Pakistan. Rumsfeld and Powell may be harder to manage.

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Joseph L. Galloway is the senior military correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers and co-author of the national best-seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young." Comment by clicking here.

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