Thursday, January 4, 2007

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Condoleezza Rice's powers of persuasion

After Condoleezza Rice became Secretary of State, she (well, not only she) convinced Robert Zoellick to leave the U.S. Trade Representative's position to take the Deputy Secretary of State position. In the hierarchy of Washington positions, this was viewed by many as a step down in rank.

Since Zoellick left last July, the position had been vacant... until now. Condi's found a replacement, according to the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has persuaded John D. Negroponte to leave his post as director of national intelligence and come to the State Department as her deputy, government officials said last night.

Negroponte's move would fill a crucial hole on Rice's team. She has been without a deputy since Robert B. Zoellick left in July for a Wall Street firm. It also comes as President Bush plans to announce a new Iraq strategy; as former Iraq envoy, Negroponte would be expected to play a major role in implementing that plan in his new role.

Negroponte's decision to step down as the nation's top spy for a sub-Cabinet position marks a sudden reversal. Rice had earlier sought to recruit Negroponte -- as well as other high-profile figures -- for the job, but last month he insisted he was staying at his post.

Over at the New York Times, Mark Mazzetti explains why this move is so puzzling: "On paper, the director of national intelligence outranks the deputy secretary of state, raising questions about why the White House would seek — and why Mr. Negroponte would agree to — the shift."

Maybe there are hidden perks to the dSoS position. Possibilities include:

1) A sweeter parking spot;

2) Unlimited refills at the Foggy Bottom Starbucks

3) A heavy-duty stapler that actually works

4) A lower profile position so that years later, when autopsies of this administration are written, Zoellick and Negroponte are more in the background and less front-and-center.

5) The position is actually more powerful

That last one is suggested by Kessler:
Rice gave Zoellick wide berth as her deputy. He had primary responsibility for relations with China, the crisis in Sudan, Latin America, economic affairs and Southeast Asia. In a first for a deputy secretary of state, he frequently allowed reporters on his plane when he traveled abroad.
Whoa! Talking to the press!! Where do I sign up for this job?!

UPDATE: Greg Dejerejian offers his explanation:

The likely reason Cabinet level people like Zoellick and now, Negroponte, will take a Deputy slot is because, in reality, they know they will often be serving as quasi-Secretaries of State given how weak their boss has proven (Zoellick on Sudan, China etc, Negroponte on a to be determined portfolio, very likely to include Iraq). Sorry to be so plain about it, but there it is, no?
Ed Morrissey thinks this is more about Negroponte than the vacant dSoS position: "The change reflects a possible loss of confidence in Negroponte, especially given his proximity to the President and the obvious opportunity to influence his decisions on policy on a whole range of issues."

UPDATE: More speculation from James Joyner, related to point #5 above -- it's not that dSoS is so great, it's that DNI is so bad a position.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Nelson Report proffers this answer:

Negroponte’s immediate past includes Ambassador to Baghdad, and it is within the context of the Administration’s total immersion in the Iraq situation that his acceptance of the job must be seen, our sources argue.

“The President makes his big speech next week, and he’s desperate to make it look like he has a real strategy, and not just a revised process,” says an informed observer. “Negroponte helps them [Bush and Rice] ‘re-brand’ the policy because he seems credible, and he has personal overseas friendships and contacts. This Administration has almost no one it can deploy for this purpose.”

In other words, “see this as more about Rice, in some ways, than Negroponte. She’s articulate, but if you know something about the topic, you usually see it’s mostly glib salesmanship. She has no serious credibility overseas, she owns no personal relationships with any international leaders which are valuable, deployable in private, face-to-face diplomacy.”

posted by Dan on 01.04.07 at 07:57 AM


Another explanation:

This Administration has continuously done tons of stuff that doesn't make any sense to anyone, possibly not even to themselves. Why stop now?

posted by: Elephant on 01.04.07 at 07:57 AM [permalink]

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