Published on Thursday, October 9, 2003 by the Financial Times/UK
White House Failed to Consult Rumsfeld on Shake-Up
by Guy Dinmore and James Harding in Washington and Peter Spiegel in Colorado Springs
The Bush administration's shake-up of its policymaking structure for Iraq was over- shadowed on Wednesday by an admission from the White House that Donald Rumsfeld, the defense secretary in charge of reconstruction, had not been consulted.
Mr Rumsfeld told the Financial Times on Tuesday he had not learnt of the Iraq Stabilization Group, a new co-ordinating body headed by Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser, until he received a classified memo from her. Mr Rumsfeld said he had not been briefed beforehand.
Speaking at a press conference on the first day of a gathering of Nato ministers on Wednesday, Mr Rumsfeld said he was not upset with Ms Rice over the handling of the restructuring, but again asserted the memo would not change administration decision-making.
He noted that Paul Bremer, the US-appointed administrator in Iraq, would still report to the Pentagon and sought to play down Ms Rice's initiative. "I'm really quite surprised by all the froo-frah about this memo," he said. "It's a little, short, one-page memo."
Mr Rumsfeld again acknowledged that he had not been brought into the process of forming the new group before it was established. But he said more junior officials at the Pentagon had been told about the reorganization.
"I get three or four memos from the NSC a day," he said.
Ms Rice had told the New York Times over the weekend that she had devised the new group together with Dick Cheney, vice-president, Colin Powell, the secretary of state, and Mr Rumsfeld in August.
On Wednesday Mr McClellan said that while Mr Rumsfeld was not consulted prior to issuing the memo, Mr Bremer had been.
Ms Rice's appointment at the helm of the group was viewed as an effort to restore the authority of the National Security Council, which has been criticized for handing over the reconstruction effort to Mr Rumsfeld's Pentagon.
But Mr Rumsfeld, a Chicago native, said his failure to be briefed beforehand should not be seen as significant. "With the Chicago Cubs in the play-offs and what's going on in California, we can find something more important than that."
With the president's poll ratings sagging, the administration's shake-up of its policymaking structure for Iraq was to be part of a week-long effort to retake the public relations initiative over reconstruction. Instead it exposed, rather than resolved, differences in the president's national security team.
William Kristol, an influential neo-conservative with close ties to the Bush administration, wrote in the latest Weekly Standard magazine that the administration had been virtually "invisible" in making its case for an extra $87bn in spending on Iraq and Afghanistan.
"One reason for this is that the civil war in the Bush administration has become crippling," he wrote. "The CIA is in open revolt against the White House. The State Department and the Defense Department aren't working together at all."
© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2003