October 14, 2003

Condi Redux Dan Drezner courteously

Condi Redux

Dan Drezner courteously links my thoughts on the NSC Advisor's performance.

But he goes on to directly contradict my post, particularly, the part about how Condi needs to actively broker/mediate, ie. play a Brent Scrowcroft role.

I wrote:

"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."

Drezner writes:

"For those tempted to criticize Rice's management skills, it's worth remembering that her attitude of what the NSC advisor should do is a direct copy of Brent Scowcroft's management style. H.W.'s administration is considered to be an exemplar of foreign policy management. The problem isn't with the management style -- it's with the President and the foreign policy principals that have been selected."

Dan's simply wrong on this one. Check out, for instance, Larry Kaplan in the current TNR (subscription required):

Money graf:

"But the fault hardly rests with the Pentagon alone. The White House--and, specifically, the NSC--bears ultimate responsibility for the conduct of the war in Iraq and its aftermath. It does so because it is the responsibility of the president and his national security adviser to have the final say on matters of foreign and defense policy and, as such, to mediate the frequent disputes between State and Defense. They have done neither.

Rather than coordinate the positions of the State and Defense departments, Rice has been overpowered by them. On Iran, North Korea, the United Nations, and Iraq, the United States has not one, but two policies."

The efficaciousness of the "management style" of an NSC Advisor--first and foremost--is judged by how well disputes between the ever bickering State and Defense Departments are mediated. Brent Scrowcroft, to take one example, did that well. Condi hasn't been--at least she hasn't been effectively--particularly on the big issues.

And when, as in this Administration, you've got virtually open trench warfare between State and Defense--this NSC Advisor brokering role is even more important. Perhaps critical even, vis-a-vis the successful implementation of foreign policy by the President.

Nor should Condi get a pass because of allegedly mystifying and unbridgeable philosophical divides between Rummy and Powell. Put differently, there is no mission impossible here. A new Secretary of State or Defense need not be appointed to assure smooth policymaking takes place.

It's about hammering out smart policy in the midst of strongly held and often differing views. And it's simply not happening often enough. So we've got dangerous drift (see Iran, NoKo, Middle East peace process, Iraq).

And, as Kaplan points out, creating a new layer of bureaucracy won't solve the problem. A more forceful Condi (or new NSC Advisor) might.

Important too, and this coming from an often Dubya fan, the President is not Nixonian in his foreign policy facility and apercus. All the more important that he be provided with forcefully and intelligently brokered policy options he can expeditiously act on.

We can't have him get off the phone with Powell thinking one thing, and then talking to Cheney or Rummy and feeling another. Too often, the President then goes on to emit confusing signals to foe and friend alike.

Note: In all fairness, Condi's role is made more difficult by the presence of an uncommonly (unprecedentedly?) powerful Veep who appears to have assembled his own NSC. Dan Quayle (even ably assisted by Bill Kristol!) he ain't.

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