October 09, 2003

Condi Watch OK, so Condoleezza

Condi Watch

OK, so Condoleezza Rice is going to head up the so-called Iraqi Stabilization Group. And Rummy isn't too happy about it-- despite these reports.

But this is what the National Security Advisor should have been doing all along. Condi should be acting as a Brent Scrowcroft type. By that I mean she shouldn't merely be synthesizing different policy recommendations as between State and Defense. She needs to act like a broker, to proactively mediate, to suggest policy perhaps different than Powell or Rummy (or Cheney) would put forward.

Put differently, the NSC advisor shouldn't merely be a conduit for policy proposals that happen to be dispensed by an individual the President is comfortable hanging with at Camp David or hitting the treadmills with.

Dan Drezner writes:

"Many have given the president a pass on these issues and blamed NSC advisor Condoleezza Rice for the kinks in the policy process. That would be grossly unfair. The only real leverage an NSC advisor has is the ear of the president, and that only matters when the president takes an interest in the process."

I don't think that's quite right. An NSC advisor has more leverage than the ear of a President. For one, they have their own sizable staff. They can bring some muscle into the policy-planning process. Think of Zbigniew Brzezinski, for instance.

Further, as alluded to above, NSC advisors are supposed to broker disputes as between and among outside agencies. That's a lot of power right there. You're, in essence, in a position to "make" the policy by ingeniously bridging the inevitable gaps that appear between State and the Pentagon (and sometimes the CIA).

Regardless, to say the "only" leverage a NSC Advisor has is the "ear of the president" is somewhat disingenuous. There's nothing more important than that in all of Washington! A huge part of the battle is having the ear of the President. It's often the determinative advantage in any Beltway policy battle.

It's pretty much common knowledge in Washington that Rummy and Wolfy appeal to Dubya's "heart" and Powell occasionally to his "head". In other words, Bush remains firmly ensconced emotionally in a 9/11 frame of mind. Homeland security is paramount. He views entire regions through that prism.

So Putin gets a pass on Chechyna. And Arik Sharon can go and bomb Syria for the first time in thirty years and Bush will talk about how Sharon shouldn't feel any "constraints" (with some modifying verbiage appended). After all, Arik's got to defend the homeland. And so does Putin.

But Bush is smart enough to adjust his policy for the U.S. national interest. He'd be tougher on Musharraf, for instance, given Pakistani-supported terror-like activities in India, were it not for the massive U.S. interest in Musharraf cooperating with the U.S. post 9/11 (though that's in some abeyance now).

My point? Too often, Powell hasn't had the President's ear. And Rummy/Cheney/Wolfy have more or less had a free rein because they appeal to Bush's heart and are all very capable individuals in their own right who couch their policy proposals in an intelligent manner.

But we are now nearing a stage in the Middle East where, I believe, serious policy errors are being made. We need to be less AWOL in terms of the brewing situation among Israel/Lebanon/Syria. We need to really think hard about the impact Turkish troops might have in Iraq. We need to (honestly, seriously) ponder whether we really have enough troops in Iraq.

To help these policy deliberations really get going, it would help to have a major broker role played by the NSC advisor.

Can she pull this off? I'm a bit skeptical. She's not a Middle East expert--so I'm not sure she will bring major insights in that realm. And her regional expert on the Middle East, Elliot Abrams, is pretty much going to tout a Wolfowitz type line on what we need to do in the region.

Further, Rummy, Cheney and Powell are skilled bureaucratic blackbelts and all have more Washington experience than her. So what am I saying? I guess I'm just not sure this new bureaucratic structure is going to make any difference.

And that's a bit concerning. We're six months into the nation-building effort in Iraq. Time is racing by. And we're simply not where we should be at this stage.

Too much doom and gloom over here in Belgravia? Maybe. But I think people like Tom Friedman are right. We need to get more sophisticated in our policymaking approach in the Middle East. And I don't think enough people really get that in Washington right now.

All this said, take a look at this bleak alternative. Gosh, Dean is certainly not ready for primetime:

"Regarding Iraq, Dr. Dean, who opposed the American invasion this spring, promised to bring National Guard and Army reserve troops home, leaving 70,000 American troops, and to add about 110,000 international troops, mostly from Muslim and Arab nations. "

Um, yeah, whatever.

Posted by Gregory at October 9, 2003 11:32 AM
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