When Paul Bremer, the US administrator for Iraq, flew back to Baghdad earlier this month from an emergency consultation at the White House, he carried some extra baggage in a secret compartment.
Meet Ambassador Robert D. Blackwill, deputy national security adviser to the president of the United States and George Bush’s newest personal Iraq watchdog, who has been quietly installed at US-led coalition administration headquarters, known as the Green Zone, in central Baghdad.
It is a well-kept secret in Washington and Baghdad that the silver-haired, bespectacled Blackwill (whose name is often misspelled Blackwell), actually outranks Bremer. His mission is to provide President Bush with a direct assessment feed on the situation in the Red Zones – or Iraqi areas – as well as on the performance level of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and of Bremer himself. Most of all, Bush asked for Blackwill’s impressions on how well US troops are coping with the increasingly tough guerrilla war waged against them by a coalition of pro-Saddam Iraqi insurgents and foreign combatants, including al Qaeda and Hizballah terrorists who enter the country from Syria and Saudi Arabia.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Washington report that if it is the intention of the Bush team to chart a new Iraq game plan, veteran diplomat and Harvard professor Blackwill is arguably the most experienced and best qualified strategic thinker available to prepare the ground with an on-the-spot evaluation of the elements on the table and recommendations of how best to deploy them.
He steps onto a well-trodden path. The White House has employed one expert after another in its quest for a quick, effective cure for the guerrilla hazard to American lives and objectives in the country. Former Central Command head General Tommy Franks led the way, followed by Bremer’s predecessor, Jay Gardner, General John Abizaid, who succeeded Franks and Bremer himself. Vice President Dick Cheney, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, have all tried their hand at eradicating the blight – without success.
Now it is Blackwill’s turn.
The President’s new emissary particularly asked for his mission to be kept low profile. He prefers a backroom role while leaving Bremer to continue to act as Washington’s front man in Baghdad and leading representative in crucial contacts with the interim government and ethnic leaders. In private, Blackwill will sign off on policy issues after checking back with the Oval Office.
The US military command structure in Iraq will undergo a similar reshuffle of authority. Lt.-Gen Ricardo Sanchez, commander of ground troops, who formally defers to Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers and his deputy, Gen. Peter Pace, will now take his orders on key operational matters from Blackwill, personal emissary of the commander-in-chief, President Bush.
Robert D. Blackwill combines the skills of a diplomat with the brainpower of a university professor. His last diplomatic post was US ambassador to India. At Harvard, he taught foreign and defense policy and qualitative public policy analysis for fourteen years, culminating in his appointment as Belfer Lecturer in International Security at the university’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Prior to his academic career, he spent 22 years in the US Foreign Service, serving under secretaries of state Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig and George Shultz. His Cold War experience included the posts of U.S. ambassador and chief negotiator at the Conventional Forces Negotiations with the Warsaw Pact in Vienna and special assistant to President George H. W. Bush for European and Soviet affairs in 1989-1990.
Blackwill has published numerous books and articles on arms control, East-West security, Middle East policy, transatlantic relations and Asia alliances.
His experience in the conduct of foreign and security affairs was put to use by the Republican Party who placed him at the head of its national security team for the George W. Bush election campaign. It was at his initiative that Arabs and Israelis met secretly at the informal Republican center for discreet strategic brainstorming at Airlie House in Warrenton, Virginia. Their private exchange of views was later woven into the Bush Middle East platform.
When the Bush circle talked about Condolleezza Rice as secretary of state in the next government, Blackwill was tapped as national security adviser. After the election, the former professor headed the security and intelligence transition team from the Clinton to the Bush White House. At the embassy in New Delhi, where he served from mid-June 2001 to the end of July 2003, Blackwill was responsible for promoting a striking growth in military, security and intelligence cooperation between the United States and India. Stressing the strategic partnership between the two countries, he encouraged increased defense cooperation between Delhi and Washington, including the supply of “defensive” nuclear, chemical and biological equipment.
During his tenure, that partnership was extended to the development of a strong security channel between India and Israel, and regional strategic understanding between the two countries that complements the US-India relationship. Israel now supplies India with some $1.2bn worth of hardware per year in such fields as military and electronic intelligence and missiles.