White House admits Rumsfeld slighted

Another crack in the administration clique appeared last week when the White House admitted the reshuffling of its policymaking system for Iraq was not discussed with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld is in charge of Iraq reconstruction. Scott McClellan, White House press secretary, said last week that Rumsfeld had been “very involved in this process.” By mid-week he admitted: “Maybe I should not have characterized it that way.” Rumsfeld told the Financial Times he knew nothing of the Iraq Stabilization Group until he received a memo from Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser, who heads the group. Rumsfeld said there was no previous briefing for him. The defense secretary tried to play down the apparent slight by the White House. “I’m really quite surprised by all the froo-frah about this memo,” he said. “It’s a little, short, one-page memo.” Rumsfeld said he was not bothered by Rice taking over direction of the group, but asserted it would have no effect on changing administration decision-making. He said Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator in Iraq, would continue to report to the Pentagon. Rumsfeld acknowledged junior officials at the Pentagon had been informed of the new group before it was established, but he was not. Rice told The New York Times she formed the new group together with Vice-President Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, secretary of state, and Rumsfeld last August. McClellan said while Rumsfeld was not informed before the memo was issued, Bremer had been. Some observers see the maneuver as an effort to re-establish the authority of the National Security Council, which was criticized for turning the reconstruction program over to Rumsfeld. As Bush’s poll ratings drooped, the shakeup of the policy-makers was seen as an effort to seize the public relations initiative over Iraq reconstruction. Instead, it showed a schism in the president’s national security team. William Kristol, an influential neo-conservative writer with close links to the Bush camp, wrote in the conservative Weekly Standard that the administration has been nearly “invisible” in making its case for $87 billion to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. “One reason for this,” Kristol wrote, “is that the civil war in the Bush administration has become crippling. The CIA is in open revolt against the White House. The State Department and the Defense Department aren’t working together at all.” The recent scandal in which former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife was revealed as a long-time CIA officer, and other actions by the Bush administration have alienated the CIA, the State Department and the military.

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