PLEASE, MISS CONDI, MAY I?
by William Fisher
American Reporter Correspondent
Old Chatham, N.Y.
OLD CHATHAM, N.Y. -- President George W. Bush is famous for not admitting mistakes. But every now and then he tries to correct one - without fanfare and well under the radar. That's what he did on Dec. 7 when he tapped the State Department to replace the Defense Department as the lead agency coordinating reconstruction in Iraq, Afghanistan and all other nations at risk of civil strife.
So, after a thousand days of widely acknowledged failure in the job of rebuilding Iraq, the Pentagon now finds itself reporting to its archrival in the Washington turf wars.
Supporters of the policies of President Bush dismiss the change as an administrative adjustment. But others suggest it is symbolic of the administration's increasing frustration with the reconstruction performance of the DOD and its contractors.
The President's decision also offers some insight into how he goes about changing policy in Iraq: He exhorts the public to "stay the course" then changes it without fanfare and away from the poison pens of the Washington press corps.
According to Steven Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, Bush's directive is "a belated recognition that existing policy on reconstruction and stabilization has been woefully inadequate."
The reconstruction switch was made through a little-noticed December 7 Presidential National Security Directive. Its objective is "to promote the security of the United States through improved coordination, planning, and implementation for reconstruction and stabilization assistance for foreign states and regions at risk of, in, or in transition from conflict or civil strife."
The Directive says, "The Secretary of State shall coordinate and lead integrated United States Government efforts", coordinating these efforts with the Secretary of Defense to ensure harmonization with any planned or ongoing U.S. military operations across the spectrum of conflict."
It explains that to maximize the effectiveness of U.S. rebuilding efforts, "a focal point is needed (i) to coordinate and strengthen efforts of the United States Government to prepare, plan for, and conduct reconstruction and stabilization assistance and related activities in a range of situations that require the response capabilities of multiple United States Government entities and (ii) to harmonize such efforts with U.S. military plans and operations."
To achieve the objectives of the Directive, the Secretary of State will appoint a Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization with wide-ranging responsibilities.
These include "developing and approving strategies ... for reconstruction and stabilization activities directed towards foreign states at risk of, in, or in transition from conflict or civil strife: develop guiding precepts and implementation procedures for reconstruction and stabilization which, where appropriate, may be integrated with military contingency plans and doctrine; and coordinate reconstruction and stabilization activities and preventative strategies with foreign countries, international and regional organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and private sector entities=E2=80=A6(and) identify lessons learned and integrate them into operations."
While reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been made far more difficult by security concerns, they have also been plagued by massive corruption, overcharging by many American contractors, lack of transparency and accountability in the contracting process, and confusion about lines of responsibility among U.S. Government agencies, and between the U.S. and Iraqi governments.
The State Department has now been tasked to "resolve relevant policy, program, and funding disputes among United States Government Departments and Agencies with respect to U.S. foreign assistance and foreign economic cooperation, related to reconstruction and stabilization... ."
The Bush Directive, which is global in scope and not limited to Iraq and Afghanistan, also established a Policy Coordination Committee (PCC) for Reconstruction and Stabilization Operations. The PCC will be chaired by the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization and a member of the National Security Council (NSC) staff.
The State Department will lead U.S. Government efforts to prevent countries at risk "from being used as a base of operations or safe haven for extremists, terrorists, organized crime groups, or others who pose a threat to U.S. foreign policy, security, or economic interests."
Problems with contractors and with financial management in general have dogged the DOD for many years. Over the past 20 years, government accountants have never been unable to complete a satisfactory audit of DOD expenditures. The agency's contracting procedures have been widely condemned.
In one much-publicized case, the department's most senior contracting official received a prison term for conflicts of interest and other offenses involving the Boeing Corporation, one of the largest military contractors. Other DOD contractors have also proved problematic; in particular, the Halliburton Company has been accused of substantial over-charges on many of its no-bid contracts and has become the poster child for a broken system.
An independent auditor for Congress revealed that DOD contractors have received $8 billion over five years in bonuses on weapons programs that were often plagued by significant cost overruns, performance problems and delays.
The Pentagon's home-country contractor management problems have only been exacerbated by its work in Iraq. While the agency secretly pays Iraqi journalists to write 'good news stories' about all the schools and clinics that have been rehabilitated, much of Iraq's drinking water remains unsafe, raw sewage runs in the streets, electricity output is below pre-invasion levels, and the increased oil production that neoconservative war boosters claimed was going to pay for the country's reconstruction is nowhere to be seen.
Whether Condoleeza Rice can succeed where Donald Rumsfeld failed remains to be seen.
AR Correpondent Bill Fisher is a former American diplomat who blogs on many topics at http://billfisher.blogspot.com/.