WASHINGTON — Shortly before Bush administration officials presented Republican congressional leaders with a request for $25 billion in Iraq funding this week, Secretary of State Colin Powell was telling members of the Congressional Black Caucus that no such request would be forthcoming.
"I'm stunned he didn't know," Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, one of the Black Caucus members who met with Powell, said Thursday.
Powell's associates tried to downplay the mix-up. But it underscores the continuing rift between President Bush's departments of State and Defense and deepens the impression that the nation's top diplomat is being cut out of the decision-making process. "It's unbelievable that our chief diplomat is not being heard," said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., another Black Caucus member. "It's tragic and it's dangerous."
Powell recently denied a report in a book by journalist Bob Woodward that he's not on speaking terms with Vice President Cheney. This week, he had to tamp down fresh rumors that he's poised to leave the administration.
Even so, the secretary and his aides have been using the media to signal Powell's frustration with administration policy on Iraq, which has been dominated by the Pentagon and White House.
Powell told Woodward that he warned the president before the war that the United States would be responsible for rebuilding a broken country.
An article published this month in GQ magazine quotes numerous Powell associates complaining about efforts in the Pentagon and vice president's office to cut Powell and the State Department out of decision making on Iraq and other issues. The article describes Powell as "frustrated, exhausted and bitter." Powell's spokesman earlier this week denied the story's claim that the secretary of State doesn't want to continue in office if Bush is re-elected. But Powell refused to comment on his future plans.
"It raises a significant question as to whether the administration is coordinating with itself well enough to coordinate foreign policy," Rep. Artur Davis, D-Ala., said.
After word of the $25 billion Iraq funding request broke Wednesday, Powell called Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., to assure him he hadn't deliberately misled the caucus. Powell explained he hadn't been informed of the funding request because it was for the military, Cummings said: "Apparently the decision was held closely between the Pentagon and the budget offices."
Traditionally, the State Department takes the lead role in guiding nation-building efforts after a conflict. The Defense Department's insistence on maintaining substantial control over activities and funding in Iraq has been a source of friction in Congress; some members believe it would be easier to win Iraqis' trust, and other countries' assistance, if civilians had a more prominent role in the reconstruction effort.
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