Wednesday, October 8, 2003

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Tightening the reins?

Here's one indication that the White House has decided that it may be tolerating too much "creative tension" among the key bureaucracies when it comes to Iraq. From Knight-Ridder: 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."

Here's a link to the Chicago Tribune story as well.

One sign that bureaucratic politics have spun out of control -- when cabinet-level officials talk about "unholy alliances."

UPDATE: Another sign is the following from the Washington Post:

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said yesterday that he was not told in advance about a reorganization of the Iraq reconstruction, which he heads. He said he still does not know the reason for the shake-up.

Rumsfeld said in an interview with the Financial Times and three European news organizations that he did not learn of the new Iraq Stabilization Group until he received a classified memo about it from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on Thursday.

Rumsfeld was asked several times why the changes were necessary. "I think you have to ask Condi that question," he said, according to a transcript posted on the Web site of the Financial Times.

posted by Dan on 10.08.03 at 10:11 AM


So then the Holy Alliance is the Powell/Rice pairing that convinced Bush to go the the UN before invading Iraq? Anyway, this seems like pretty impressive hand-writing on the wall. What I don't get is why Rummy made a big deal of being out of the loop? It makes him look even weaker than he already is. Then again, maybe he doesn't realize how weak he is. I'd say look for Rummy to be the fall guy during the campaign. Bush> "We've taken steps to ensure that we aren't lead into war without an exit plan again."

posted by: Gary on 10.08.03 at 10:11 AM [permalink]

Uh, "senior level administration official?" Same one you leaked the Plame name?

Also, senior level administration official does not equal cabinet level post.

posted by: Norman on 10.08.03 at 10:11 AM [permalink]

My first instinct says that this is a move to consolidate message-setting within the WH. That seems to be how Condi perceives her job, anyway. This comes out right after that report saying that America need to do a better job with propaganda, and so that makes sense. Rumsfeld is saying that he wasn't informed of the change, but that it is a basic restatement of the function of the NSC. But he was testy, testy, testy. I think he's in trouble. Read Mike Allen in today's Post for more info. Another Allen article on the Condi/PR thing.

posted by: praktike on 10.08.03 at 10:11 AM [permalink]

This is just a start. Right now we're seeing President Bush start with his own appointees. It will get really interesting when he goes after the various national security bureaucracies which have institutional interests, not to mention internal factions, at variance with those of his administration. The Wilson/Plame affair is a tipoff to this.

See Zygart's _Flawed by Design_ for a description of the overall process, and Mylorie's _Bush vs. The Beltway_ for an unintentional, and almost comic, depiction of Zygart's process as applied to 9/11 and afterwards.

But that is not all which is happening. It is one thing for a President to have to deal with unresponsive national security bureacracies whose interests lie anywhere but their intended mission, and quite another for a President in wartime to face aid by those bureacracies and/or some of their factions to his domestic political opposition because of dislike for his national security policies.

It is almost traditional for a President to keep a discredited, politically vulnerable, leader of a national security bureacracy in place to ensure that leader's bureacracy does not pose a domestic political threat to the President. Clinton did that with Chief of Naval Operations Kelso after Tailhook. This President Bush has done so with FBI Director Freeh and CIA Director Tenet.

But Tenet has not adequately protected Bush against political sniping from within the CIA. That Bush is now tightening up his own appointees' leashes does not bode well for Tenet or the CIA.

This could be fun.

posted by: Tom Holsinger on 10.08.03 at 10:11 AM [permalink]

Dear all,

Bill Oreilly said something sensible in his book and in a recent interview. He said that he was taken in by the WMD argument and that the President owes the American people an accounting over WMD; that they can forgive mistakes but the President needs to explain things to him. Likewise Oreilly asserted that the post-war planning of Iraq was clearly not prepared for and that the President needs to come clean to the American people about that as well.

Frankly as a barometer of public opinion, if the Admin has lost Bill Oreilly on WMD and post-war Iraq then the Admin has a serious credibility problem.

This credibility problem will not be solved by new spin via Condi. The Admin may be used to being able to silence its critics by using the bully pulpit to confuse the public, but spin does not stop bullets or make body bags go away. There is rioting in the the streets of Baghdad and it's not only the Sunnis this time. The Admin had better wake up to reality and start figuring out that it cannot run an entire country full of pissed off people with guns with empty promises, or things will get very bad over there.

I disagree with people who say that things are like Vietnam over there. My personal experience with Vietname tells me it is not so. It however has the potential to be far worse. It took years and decades for Vietnam to degenerate and develop its insurgency. A similar process here is happening in months with dangerous warning signs already occurring. The admin had better wake up to reality or we are all going to be in trouble.

posted by: Oldman on 10.08.03 at 10:11 AM [permalink]

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