When the White House announced it was reorganizing its approach to reconstructing Iraq, the obvious conclusion was that President Bush now understands things aren't going well there. At every opportunity, he says they are, but they're not. On one hand, it's encouraging that he finally seems to grasp that. On the other, his prescribed solution is a monumental disappointment.
The reorganization plan calls for National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to chair an Iraq Stabilization Group, which the White House described as a coordinator "of interagency efforts, as well as providing a support group" to the Pentagon and its chief U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer. "Stabilization" is an interesting word for the White House to use; it implies that the situation now is unstable.
What went unsaid, but has been abundantly clear this week, is that Rice's appointment was an attempt to end the fighting between the Pentagon and the State Department over Iraq policy. As one Washington insider said, it's like when two kids are fighting over a toy and a parent comes into the room. The toy gets taken away, and things settle down.
Also clear is that this was a stinging defeat for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Rice referred to prior conversations about the reorganization with Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet. But Rumsfeld angrily denied having such conversations or being involved in planning the new structure. His pique is an indication of just how much he's on the outs with the White House, the State Department, and even his neocon friends, over his approach to rebuilding Iraq.
So you have a mess in Washington and in Iraq. The answer surely isn't to add another level of bureaucracy in Washington. What's needed are wiser heads, and a lot of them, from a lot of countries, on the ground in Baghdad.
That's what the Bush administration appeared to seek a week ago when it offered a new draft resolution it hoped to get endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, which would lead the way to truly internationalizing the rebuilding effort in Iraq. The new draft gave little ground on U.S. control in Iraq, however, and brought scathing responses from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, France, Germany and Russia. Soft-spoken, usually circumspect Annan flat out said he would not risk the lives of more personnel for the marginal U.N. role outlined in the draft resolution.
With creation of the Iraq Stabilization Group just a couple of days later, the White House was thumbing its nose at the Security Council and signaling that it has given up on getting U.N. support in Iraq. The effort won't be internationalized; it will be bureaucratized.
It also will be spun and spun and spun. Rice and other senior administration officials already have embarked on a vigorous effort to get the message out that the situation in Iraq is better than the press portrays and improving every day, really. Which of course contradicts the pressing need for an Iraq Stabilization Group.
While they're at it, those officials will keep hitting away at the WMD issue, insisting that if Saddam Hussein didn't have them, he still wanted them, and thus the invasion of Iraq was fully justified. Never mind that the new message is about 180 degrees off the message delivered by Bush and his team before the war. Then, the threat from Iraq's WMD programs was so urgent that a preemptive war was justified. Not a preventive war, a preemptive war, implying imminent threat.
The Bush team was wrong as could be about that, and dollars will get you doughnuts that more spin and more bureaucracy will prove just as wrong for postwar Iraq.
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