White House to Overhaul Iraq and Afghan Missions
New York Times
By DAVID E. SANGER
Published: October 6, 2003
WASHINGTON, Oct. 5 The White House has ordered a major reorganization of American efforts to quell violence in Iraq and Afghanistan and to speed the reconstruction of both countries, according to senior administration officials.
The new effort includes the creation of an "Iraq Stabilization Group," which will be run by the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. The decision to create the new group, five months after Mr. Bush declared the end of active combat in Iraq, appears part of an effort to assert more direct White House control over how Washington coordinates its efforts to fight terrorism, develop political structures and encourage economic development in the two countries.
It comes at a time when surveys show Americans are less confident of Mr. Bush's foreign policy skills than at any time since the terrorist attacks two years ago. At the same time, Congress is using President Bush's request for $87 billion to question the administration's failure to anticipate the violence in Iraq and the obstacles to reconstruction.
"This puts accountability right into the White House," a senior administration official said.
The reorganization was described in a confidential memorandum that Ms. Rice sent Thursday to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, and the director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet.
Asked about the memorandum on Sunday, Ms. Rice called it "a recognition by everyone that we are in a different phase now" that Congress is considering Mr. Bush's request for $20 billion for reconstruction and $67 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. She said it was devised by herself, Vice President Dick Cheney, Mr. Powell and Mr. Rumsfeld in response to discussions she held with Mr. Bush at his ranch in late August.
The creation of the group, according to several administration officials, grew out of Mr. Bush's frustration at the setbacks in Iraq and the absence of more visible progress in Afghanistan, at a moment when remnants of the Taliban appear to be newly active. It is the closest the White House has come to an admission that its plans for reconstruction in those countries have proved insufficient, and that it was unprepared for the guerrilla-style attacks that have become more frequent in Iraq. There have been more American deaths in Iraq since the end of active combat than during the six weeks it took to take control of the country.
"The president knows his legacy, and maybe his re-election, depends on getting this right," another administration official said. "This is as close as anyone will come to acknowledging that it's not working."
Inside the State Department and in some offices in the White House, the decision to create the stabilization group has been interpreted as a direct effort to diminish the authority of the Pentagon and Mr. Rumsfeld in the next phase of the occupation. Senior White House officials denied that was the case, and said in interviews on Sunday that the idea had been created by members of the National Security Council and embraced by Mr. Rumsfeld, who has been a lightning rod for criticism about poor postwar planning.
"Don recognizes this is not what the Pentagon does best, and he is, in some ways, relieved to give up some of the authority here," a senior official insisted, noting that L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the allied provisional authority in Iraq, will still report to the Defense Department. But one of Mr. Bremer's key deputies will sit on the new stabilization group, giving him a direct line outside the Pentagon.
Mr. Rumsfeld's spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, said Sunday that the defense secretary was "aware of the new approach" and noted that Mr. Bremer's "relationship with Rumsfeld remains unchanged."
If Mr. Rumsfeld is giving up some authority, officials say, so is Mr. Powell. The State Department has been in charge of the Afghan reconstruction effort, but now the White House will assert new control over the interagency effort there.
"While the problems in Afghanistan are less complex," a senior official said, "the president wanted to know how come it took so long to get the highway under construction." That project has become symbolic of the slow pace of reconstruction, especially outside the capital.
The creation of the stabilization group appears to give more direct control to Ms. Rice, one of the president's closest confidantes, who signed the memorandum announcing it. For the first two and a half years of Mr. Bush's presidency, Ms. Rice often seemed hesitant to take a more active role, eschewing the kind of hands-on approach for which Henry A. Kissinger and other national security advisers were known, and viewing her job chiefly as providing quiet advice to Mr. Bush.
Now, four of her deputies will run coordinating committees on counterterrorism efforts, economic development, political affairs in Iraq and the creation of clearer messages to the media here and in Baghdad.
Each working group will include under secretaries from the State, Defense and Treasury Departments, and senior representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency.
State Department officials have complained bitterly that they have been shut out of decision-making about Iraq, even as attacks on American troops increased, lights failed and oil production remained stuck far below even prewar levels.
Mr. Bush, a senior administration official said, made it clear that he wanted "all the powers of the government" turned toward making the reconstruction work in both Iraq and Afghanistan. "The president is impatient with bureaucracy," the official said.
In the interview, Ms. Rice described the new organization as one intended to support the Pentagon, not supplant it.
"The N.S.C. staff is first and foremost the president's staff," she said, "but it is of course the staff to the National Security Council." That group will in effect be taking more direct responsibility.
The council is made up of top advisers to the president who meet three times a week in the Situation Room. They have often seemed unable to coordinate efforts on the main issues relating to the occupation of Iraq. "The Pentagon remains the lead agency, and the structure has been set up explicitly to provide assistance to the Defense Department and coalition provisional authority," Ms. Rice said.
Other officials said the effect of Ms. Rice's memorandum would be to move day-to-day issues of administering Iraq to the White House.
The counterterrorism group, for example, will be run by Frances F. Townsend, Ms. Rice's deputy for that field. Economic issues from oil to electricity to the distribution of a new currency will be coordinated by Gary Edson. He has been the liaison between the National Security Council and the National Economic Council.
Robert D. Blackwill, a former ambassador to India, will run the group overseeing the creation of political institutions in Iraq, as well as directing stabilization for Afghanistan.
Anna Perez, Ms. Rice's communications director, will focus on a coordinated media message a response to concerns about the daily reports of attacks on American troops and lawlessness in the streets.