State Department to Outrank Pentagon

Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley are emerging as the top aides picked by US president George W. Bush for executing his new strategy in Iraq, as DEBKA-NetWeekly‘s Washington sources reveal.

Their task will be to steer the Iraq war towards victory and prepare for the contingency that this proactive strategy leads the United States into military confrontation with Iran and Syria. With this course, the White House will break sharply away from the bipartisan path spearheaded by former secretary of state James Baker and ex-congressman Lee Hamilton, which would have expedited the US army’s exit from Iraq through accommodations with Tehran and Syria.

Both Rice and Hadley stood firmly against engaging Tehran and Damascus from the moment the proposal was floated last year.

Bush’s unannounced reshuffle of his team places the state department in the top rank for carrying through the stages of the coming confrontations and for sharing out tasks among the relevant departments, including the Pentagon. For the first time since 2002, when the 2003 invasion of Iraq was prepared, the department of defense is losing its senior position in conducting the Iraq War. The Pentagon will be left in charge of the Afghanistan War and the global war on terror – but not Iraq, Iran and Syria.

By entrusting Rice to manage the Iraq war from the statement department, Bush is making her the second most powerful figure in his administration.

That big changes were in the wind was apparent from a cunningly-planted crop of media disclosures and leaks in the last few days.

Wednesday, Jan. 3, John Negroponte was suddenly reported to be preparing to resign after only 20 months as national intelligence director, to become deputy secretary of state.

Negroponte took over in April 2005 as the first US intelligence chief with responsibility for overseeing all 16 spy agencies. He will return to his roots as a career diplomat to substantially boost the state department. Condoleezza Rice will gain the services of a topnotch intelligence expert and Iraq specialist, who served as US ambassador in Baghdad from 2004 through early 2005. It is also suggested that his presence would free her up for the run for president in 2008.


Condoleezza Rice as No. 2


Equipped with this experience, Negroponte will be able to hook into the decision-making process for Iraq and oversee its day-to-day execution. Hadley, Bush’s trusted national security adviser, will make up the threesome closest to the president and his ideas, to form the core team conducting a-war-to-win in Iraq.

This situation leaves vice president Dick Cheney on the sidelines of the magic circle and Robert Gates out in the cold.

Cheney’s light has dimmed in recent months. His response to the administration’s setbacks in last year’s mid-term elections and Iraq was to advise shoring up the US presidency whose prestige, he found, had faded in recent years. Bush did not argue this point, but did not see how this would help rescue America from its Iraq impasse. He suspected the vice president was really working to build a bridge between the White House, James Baker and the Democrats through his acceptance of some of Baker’s recommendations on Iraq.

By deciding against accepting Baker’s advice, Bush also rejected Cheney’s.

As for Gates, the president is restructuring his administration so as to block any attempt by the new secretary of defense to use his leverage in the Pentagon and Joint Chiefs of Staff to strike out in an independent Iraq policy that would lean further towards the Baker-Cheney line than the president’s. The leaked report of Tuesday, Jan. 2, that the US military commander in Iraq, Gen. John Casey‘s days are numbered, puts paid to any further attempts to draw the Iraq war into a withdrawal strategy, such as Gates might seek.

The head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, who is against further US investment in winning the Iraq war, is strongly outmaneuvered by Rice’s advancement to the center of policy-making on Iraq.

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