Top Bush Team Divided over Next Iraq Moves
Returning home Sunday, December 7, from a one-day visit to Kirkuk and Baghdad, US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he plans to accelerate even further the deployment of Iraqi security forces – even if it means putting them on the job with a bare minimum of training. To subscribe to DEBKA-Net-Weekly click HERE.
Rumsfeld`s haste is one more symptom of the clash of views dividing the top Bush team over Iraq policy since an emergency consultation that took place in the White House in mid-November.
No one seems to question the need to speed up the transfer of government into Iraqi hands. This will be achieved by means of assemblies for selecting a new government in place of the interim Governing Council operating alongside the US administration in Baghdad. The arguments center on the role US military forces will play in the transition period; whether they should take charge of securing the civic processes afoot or leave the task to the tens of thousands of hastily conscripted barely-trained Iraqis. Should US troop resources be divided between safeguarding the transition and fighting off guerrillas? Or should they stick to field combat plain and simple?
Above all, military operations and the political process must be brought into smooth sync. This raises the question of which authority is competent to hand down orders and priorities to the military command in Iraq during the uncertain period of changeover. The Pentagon? The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? The US administration in Baghdad?
The defense secretary and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz certainly sense that their standing on the Bush team is on the line if they are cut out of positions of authority in the political process and left only with the conduct of the military.
A discreet move by President George W. Bush preceded Rumsfeld’s lightning trip to Baghdad and hinted at what lie ahead. Paul Bremer, the US administrator for Iraq, was not alone when he flew back to Baghdad earlier this month from an emergency consultation at the White House.
With him, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly 135 revealed on November 28, was Ambassador Robert D. Blackwill, deputy national security adviser to the president and Bush’s newest personal Iraq watchdog 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. He was entrusted with providing the President 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 Iraq 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 the Bush team wants 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. He is the fifth strategist the administration has put into Iraqi this year. Former Central Command head General Tommy Franks led the way, followed by Bremer’s predecessor, Jay Garner, 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. None have come up with a fast cure for the ongoing and increasingly complex Iraq war.
mg class=”picture” src=”/dynmedia/pictures/BLACKWILL.jpg” align=”left” border=”0″>The new watchdog combines the skills of a diplomat with the brainpower of a university professor. His last diplomatic post was US ambassador to India. From mid-June 2001 to the end of July 2003, Blackwill promoted a striking growth in military, security and intelligence cooperation between the United States and India, encouraging increased defense cooperation, including the supply of “defensive” nuclear, chemical and biological equipment. He also established a strong security channel between India and Israel and a 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.
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, Blackwill spent 22 years in the US Foreign Service, serving under secretaries of state Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig and George Shultz. When the Bush circle talked about Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state in the first Bush administration, Blackwill was tapped as national security adviser.
As Bush’s new man in Baghdad, the ambassador particularly asked for a low-profile and backroom role, leaving Bremer as America’s front man in dealings with Iraq’s communal leaders. But the last word rests with Blackwill as it does with regard to the US command.
While Lt.-Gen Ricardo Sanchez, commander of ground troops, 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, the last word rests with Blackwill, personal emissary of the president and commander in chief – provided it is endorsed by Bush.
The hierarchical shake-up aroused a chorus of dissent from Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Chairman of the Joint chiefs of staff Gen. Richard Myers, who complained that commanders in Iraq would find themselves in the confusing situation of still having to work with Bremer while fully aware that the out-of-sight Blackwell was calling the shots behind the administrator’s office. “It’s a bad and unhealthy scene,” a senior source told DEBKA-Net-Weekly.
Bush quashed their objections and moved forward with a step that has begun the process of eroding the authority of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz in the conduct of civic and political issues in Iraq.
Within days of his arrival in Baghdad, Blackwill made two major recommendations to the President and Bremer, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington and military sources.
The first, that the US administrator’s handpicked 25-member Iraqi Governing Council served no useful purpose and should be dissolved forthwith, ahead even of the transfer of sovereignty next June.
The second, that the US military command’s tactics for fighting the pro-Saddam insurgency and its imported allies including al Qaeda and associated terrorists, are misconceived and should be revised.
While minimizing casualties is necessary and laudable, that alone is no way to win a war, said Blackwill. He went on to put his finger on what he regards as the real problem: Not just American losses, but the increasing number of Iraqis killed and maimed every day, both at the hands of Saddam’s guerrillas and marauding criminal gangs. This figure while unpublished is staggering. Blackwill finds that the steeply rising Iraqi civilian casualty toll is instilling in the country the sense that the United States is incapable of bringing security to Iraq. More and more Iraqis are consequently volunteering to join up with Saddam Hussein’s forces.
His advice therefore was for American troops to spread out in large units in the streets of the towns and villages to protect the Iraqi population and enforce law and order. As long as they sit behind concrete blast walls, American forces cannot expect to be respected or obeyed, he concluded.
The time has come, says Blackwill, to start counting how many Iraqis are dying for lack of order and security – not just Americans.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources, Bremer sat down with Sanchez to try and persuade him to turn over a new tactical leaf in line with Blackwill’s recommendations to the President. The furious general refused point blank. He is quoted as saying that any fresh orders must come down to him through proper channels, the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the meantime, his troops were fully engaged in keeping up the pressure on the guerrillas and thwarting terrorism. He had none to spare for street duty. Blackwill’s recommendations, he declared, would have the effect of raising US and Iraqi casualties alike – achieving the opposite effect to the one sought
debkafile‘s military sources, updating the DEBKA-Net-Weekly exclusive of November 28, noted that during President Bush’s surprise Thanksgiving trip to Baghdad on November 27, Sanchez and Bremer, who flanked him when he addressed US troops, showed signs of their strained relations.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is still a power in the Republican Party, was not talking out of the top of his head when he criticized the Bush administration in a Newsweek interview for putting too much emphasis on a military solution and slighting the political element.
The US went “off a cliff in Iraq,” he said, adding “Americans can’t win in Iraq. Only Iraqis can win in Iraq.”
In a rejoinder to calls from Democratic senators for a greater international role in Iraq, Gingrich in NBC’s “Meet the Press” this week stressed the need for more Iraqi involvement. He criticized the Bush administration for failing to “put the Iraqis at the center of this equation.”
But his slogan: The key in Iraq is “not how many enemy do I kill but how many allies do I grow,”
is strangely reminiscent of the motto posited by presidential envoy Blackwill to count “not how many Americans are killed but how many Iraqis are killed.”
The former Republican powerhouse sounds suspiciously as though he may be testing his chances of swimming back to the front of the Washington political arena through the hot water of the hidden battles in Washington over Iraq. His utterances strongly indicate that those battles are far from over.