Published: October 6, 2003
WASHINGTON, Oct. 5 — The White House has ordered a major
reorganization of American efforts to quell violence in Iraq and
Afghanistan and to speed the reconstruction of both countries, according
to senior administration officials.
The new effort includes the creation of an "Iraq Stabilization
Group," which will be run by the national security adviser, Condoleezza
Rice. The decision to create the new group, five months after Mr. Bush
declared the end of active combat in Iraq, appears part of an effort to
assert more direct White House control over how Washington coordinates
its efforts to fight terrorism, develop political structures and
encourage economic development in the two countries.
It comes at a time when surveys show Americans are less confident of
Mr. Bush's foreign policy skills than at any time since the terrorist
attacks two years ago. At the same time, Congress is using President
Bush's request for $87 billion to question the administration's failure
to anticipate the violence in Iraq and the obstacles to reconstruction.
"This puts accountability right into the White House," a senior
administration official said.
The reorganization was described in a confidential memorandum that
Ms. Rice sent Thursday to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, Secretary
of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, and the director of central intelligence,
George J. Tenet.
Asked about the memorandum on Sunday, Ms. Rice called it "a
recognition by everyone that we are in a different phase now" that
Congress is considering Mr. Bush's request for $20 billion for
reconstruction and $67 billion for military operations in Iraq and
Afghanistan. She said it was devised by herself, Vice President Dick
Cheney, Mr. Powell and Mr. Rumsfeld in response to discussions she held
with Mr. Bush at his ranch in late August.
The creation of the group, according to several administration
officials, grew out of Mr. Bush's frustration at the setbacks in Iraq
and the absence of more visible progress in Afghanistan, at a moment
when remnants of the Taliban appear to be newly active. It is the
closest the White House has come to an admission that its plans for
reconstruction in those countries have proved insufficient, and that it
was unprepared for the guerrilla-style attacks that have become more
frequent in Iraq. There have been more American deaths in Iraq since the
end of active combat than during the six weeks it took to take control
of the country.
"The president knows his legacy, and maybe his re-election, depends
on getting this right," another administration official said. "This is
as close as anyone will come to acknowledging that it's not working."
Inside the State Department and in some offices in the White House,
the decision to create the stabilization group has been interpreted as a
direct effort to diminish the authority of the Pentagon and Mr. Rumsfeld
in the next phase of the occupation. Senior White House officials denied
that was the case, and said in interviews on Sunday that the idea had
been created by members of the National Security Council and embraced by
Mr. Rumsfeld, who has been a lightning rod for criticism about poor
"Don recognizes this is not what the Pentagon does best, and he is,
in some ways, relieved to give up some of the authority here," a senior
official insisted, noting that L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the
allied provisional authority in Iraq, will still report to the Defense
Department. But one of Mr. Bremer's key deputies will sit on the new
stabilization group, giving him a direct line outside the Pentagon.
Mr. Rumsfeld's spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, said Sunday that the
defense secretary was "aware of the new approach" and noted that Mr.
Bremer's "relationship with Rumsfeld remains unchanged."
If Mr. Rumsfeld is giving up some authority, officials say, so is Mr.
Powell. The State Department has been in charge of the Afghan
reconstruction effort, but now the White House will assert new control
over the interagency effort there.
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"While the problems in Afghanistan are less complex," a senior
official said, "the president wanted to know how come it took so long to
get the highway under construction." That project has become symbolic of
the slow pace of reconstruction, especially outside the capital.
The creation of the stabilization group appears to give more direct
control to Ms. Rice, one of the president's closest confidantes, who
signed the memorandum announcing it. For the first two and a half years
of Mr. Bush's presidency, Ms. Rice often seemed hesitant to take a more
active role, eschewing the kind of hands-on approach for which Henry A.
Kissinger and other national security advisers were known, and viewing
her job chiefly as providing quiet advice to Mr. Bush.
Now, four of her deputies will run coordinating committees — on
counterterrorism efforts, economic development, political affairs in
Iraq and the creation of clearer messages to the media here and in
Each working group will include under secretaries from the State,
Defense and Treasury Departments, and senior representatives from the
Central Intelligence Agency.
State Department officials have complained bitterly that they have
been shut out of decision-making about Iraq, even as attacks on American
troops increased, lights failed and oil production remained stuck far
below even prewar levels.
Mr. Bush, a senior administration official said, made it clear that
he wanted "all the powers of the government" turned toward making the
reconstruction work in both Iraq and Afghanistan. "The president is
impatient with bureaucracy," the official said.
In the interview, Ms. Rice described the new organization as one
intended to support the Pentagon, not supplant it.
"The N.S.C. staff is first and foremost the president's staff," she
said, "but it is of course the staff to the National Security Council."
That group will in effect be taking more direct responsibility.
The council is made up of top advisers to the president who meet
three times a week in the Situation Room. They have often seemed unable
to coordinate efforts on the main issues relating to the occupation of
Iraq. "The Pentagon remains the lead agency, and the structure has been
set up explicitly to provide assistance to the Defense Department and
coalition provisional authority," Ms. Rice said.
Other officials said the effect of Ms. Rice's memorandum would be to
move day-to-day issues of administering Iraq to the White House.
The counterterrorism group, for example, will be run by Frances F.
Townsend, Ms. Rice's deputy for that field. Economic issues — from oil
to electricity to the distribution of a new currency — will be
coordinated by Gary Edson. He has been the liaison between the National
Security Council and the National Economic Council.
Robert D. Blackwill, a former ambassador to India, will run the group
overseeing the creation of political institutions in Iraq, as well as
directing stabilization for Afghanistan.
Anna Perez, Ms. Rice's communications director, will focus on a
coordinated media message — a response to concerns about the daily
reports of attacks on American troops and lawlessness in the streets.