Rummy Sends a Shot Across Rice's Bow
Is Rummy moving off the Bush reservation, or being scapegoated? According to a story just released by the Financial Times, Rummy is perplexed at how Condi Rice has handled the creation and announcement of the Iraq Stabilization Group (ISG).
Donald Rumsfeld, US defence secretary, said on Tuesday he had not been told by President George W. Bush or the National Security Council that the White House was to restructure the handling of postwar Iraq before the media were briefed on the plan by NSC officials.
Rummy appears to be recoiling in a face-saving way from the rollout of the ISG by telling the media that there is nothing new to what Rice will be doing now, and that by inference it is stuff she should have been doing already.
In an interview with the Financial Times and three European news organisations, Mr Rumsfeld insisted that the new NSC role appeared to be no different from the policy-co-ordinating structure that had existed for more than a year.
He said he did not know why Ms Rice, Mr Bush's national security adviser, had felt it necessary to send a memorandum about the new organisation to cabinet officials or brief the New York Times about the move.
"That's what the NSC's charter is," Mr Rumsfeld said. "The only thing unusual about it is the attention. I kind of wish they'd just release the memorandum."
Mr Rumsfeld added: "My impression of it is that that is what is the charter of the National Security Council, and I haven't been able to detect any difference from the memo - unfortunately it's a classified memo, it shouldn't be, there's nothing in it that's classified."
It does make you wonder what is in that memo that Rummy would like to see released.
Rummy seems to be peeved at how Rice spun this to the media and grandstanded for herself.
Mr Rumsfeld declined to comment on the perception that the move was an attempt by the White House to strip control of the rebuilding from the tight grip of the Pentagon. He sought to portray it as a reiteration of existing policy and seemed perturbed that Ms Rice had decided to draw attention to the memo by "backgrounding" the media.
"I don't know quite what the purpose of the backgrounding was . . . she gave a background, she said what she said, and the way I read the memorandum is that it is basically what the responsibility of the NSC is and always has been, which is what's been going on," he said.
So much for any attempts by Rove to show this as a new initiative and Bush taking charge. Rummy just said that Bush and Rice should have been doing this all along. Again, the inference here from Rummy is that there is nothing here for anyone to assume he was being spanked, and that in fact Rice was taking credit for something she should but hasnít been doing all along.
In light of these comments from Rummy today, if you now re-read the original Times article announcing this change, you could come away with the impression that the whole Iraq Stabilization Group initiative is nothing more than a political face-saver from Rove designed to make it look like Bush is unhappy and taking charge through Rice. In fact, the original Times story paints Rummy as a scapegoat who was being sidelined because of the political problems for Bush caused by ongoing fiascoes in Iraq and Afghanistan, which serves to explain Rummyís attitude today.
In the original Times story over the weekend, Rice states that the ISG idea and memo was jointly written by Rice, Powell, Cheney, and Rummy, whose spokesperson affirmed that Rummy was aware of the reorganization. Of course, in hindsight that is not the same as saying you were involved in its development and approved of it. So was Rice lying again about something, only this time to be outed by someone inside?
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.
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 postwar planning.
"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."
Rummy claims today that he is not upset at not seeing the memo before Condi told the media about it, but not everyone buys that.
Mr Rumsfeld said he was not upset that he had not been told about Ms Rice's memo beforehand. Senior administration officials frequently produced such policy memorandums and distributed them to "principals" without informing them the missive was being produced.
But people close to the Pentagon said on Tuesday that Mr Rumsfeld's account appeared to be at odds with that of Ms Rice who told the New York Times that she had devised the new structure with Mr Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, the secretary of state, and Dick Cheney, the vice-president.
Ouch. The comments from Rummy, no matter what he says, are fairly pointed towards Rice. So much for close harmony amongst the cabal. Does Rummy feel that he is being hung out to dry by a media-hording NSC and a cabal that wants a scapegoat to protect the president from blame?