Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Iraq Stabilization Who?

This priceless tidbit was lifted from The New Republic:

"Remember the Iraq Stabilization Group? Unveiled with much ballyhoo back in October, it was seen as Condi Rice's attempt to tear Iraq policy-making away from the fumbling Pentagon and centralize things at the White House.

In today's Washington Post, [The New Republic] alum and national treasure Dana Milbank presents a timely update on what has become of the four NSC staffers who were tapped to head the group:

"We're making good progress in Iraq," Bush said when asked about the group [in October]. "Condi's team is going to make sure that the efforts continue to be coordinated so that we continue to make progress." As described by administration officials, the group would have four components: counterterrorism, run by Frances F. Townsend; economic development, run by Gary R. Edson; political transition, run by Robert D. Blackwill; and public relations, run by Anna M. Perez.

And where are they now?

Perez has decamped for Hollywood, taking a job last month overseeing communications for NBC as it acquires Vivendi Universal Entertainment. The Hollywood Reporter ran a statement from Perez saying, "There couldn't be a more exciting time to join NBC as it prepares to become one of the world's largest and most dynamic media companies." Perez has been succeeded by Jim Wilkinson.

Townsend, too, has turned her attention to non-Iraq matters. Bush announced April 30 that she would become his homeland security adviser -- continuing to hold down her counterterrorism duties "until a replacement has been identified."

Edson remains on the job, but only nominally. Colleagues say he is focused almost entirely on being Bush's "sherpa" for the upcoming Group of Eight summit of world leaders, which the United States is hosting in Georgia next month.

That leaves Blackwill, the former ambassador to India, who is functioning as a one-man Iraq Stabilization Group. And while Blackwill remains devoted entirely to Iraq, he is being spread a bit thin: Bush announced April 19 that in addition to working with the United Nations and concentrating on "issues related to Iraq's governance," Blackwill would also become Bush's "presidential envoy to Iraq," serving with the new ambassador, John D. Negroponte.

What's really amazing about this is that the original purpose of the Iraq Stabilization Group was to do what the NSC was supposed to be doing anyway -- coordinating national security policy. When Condi Rice announced that she had created a splashy new group to do just that, it was the equivalent of, say, Communications Director Dan Bartlett announcing that he had assembled a group of press aides to coordinate the administration's communications strategy. That is, of course, his job.

So what happened to Rice's group? There are probably two possibilities. One is that Rice tried and failed to get control of the administration's Iraq policy. The other is that the announcement of the group was mostly just a public relations gimmick meant to help change the story back during a patch of rough news in October. Either way, the interagency process on Iraq still seems dysfunctional."

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