NPR's Talk of the Nation

Condoleezza Rice's Appointment To Head the New Iraq Stabilization Group

SCOTT SIMON: President Bush is reorganizing the American campaign to rebuild Iraq. Yesterday the president announced the creation of a new office called the Iraq Stabilization Group, and he put national security adviser Condoleezza Rice in charge. The White House wants to make it clear that the Department of Defense and civilian administrator Paul Bremer are still in charge on the ground. They say this new group is to facilitate their plans by slicing through any bureaucratic tangles and thickets back in Washington, DC.

But the announcement comes at a time when the news from Iraq is dominated by mounting casualties. Two more US soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were killed today in an attack south of Baghdad. And opinion polls in the United States show a majority of the public now question President Bush's handling of postwar Iraq, while the US Congress ponders an $87 billion request from the White House for the occupation and reconstruction of the country.

So how significant is this change? What does it tell us about the White House and how it's reassessing its progress in Iraq? And will a change in Washington, DC, spur changes on the ground in Iraq. We want to hear from you. What are your concerns about the reconstruction effort in Iraq? Perhaps what are your concerns about the costs, both personal and financial?

This reorganization may signal a new role for Condoleezza Rice, but it also indicates a change in administration policy toward the reconstruction of Iraq. We're joined now to talk about the policy implications of this reorganization—Ivo Daalder, senior fellow at The Brookings Institution and co-author of "America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy." He joins us from The Brookings Institution studios in Washington, DC. And Todd Lindberg joins us here in Studio 3A. He's editor of Policy Review and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. Thank you very much for being with us.

SIMON: And, Mr. Daalder, if I could begin with you, then Mr. Lindberg, just what's your general reaction to the president's announcement about this reorganization?

IVO DAALDER: In my view, it's a very welcome reorganization that unfortunately comes 10 months too late. It would have been nice if we had started off the entire project here with a recognition from the outset that when it comes to reconstruction, to reconstructing a country, the Defense Department is not the agency which you give control over that process but that it has to be situated within the White House so that everybody in the US government who has a stake and an expertise and the capabilities that are important for making this work has a voice at the table. I'm glad to see that on October 10, six-plus months after we started the war, we have finally recognized that essential truth.

SIMON: Mr. Lindberg?

TODD LINDBERG: Well, I think this is a very important step, and one that is really testimony to the difficulty of the task of reconstruction. Where I suppose I would disagree with Ivo is with the proposition that what we faced in terms of reconstruction was really knowable in advance. In fact, there is no playbook, no modern playbook for nation-building, for reconstruction on the scale at which we're trying to accomplish.

Unfortunately, you do learn a lot by making mistakes that you then have to correct. You know, it's perfectly good and, indeed, socially useful for people outside to sort of be critical and second-guess the process a bit. But I think all the people who went into this knew that they faced a monumental task and they also knew that there were things they didn't know about what this task was going to entail. And, you know, you learn by doing.

DAALDER: Yeah. No, no. I mean, I think that's right, we didn't quite know what was going on, but we had some experience. We had spent the last 10 years in various nation-building activities, and at each and every turn learned that you had to do this organization from the White House and that the White House is the organizational hub from which all else in these kinds of tasks takes place. And to have handed it over to the Defense Department just was not the kind of thing that was smart, and everybody who knew anything about these kinds of things said so at the time.

SIMON: Mr. Lindberg?

LINDBERG: The problem here is that what you've got in this case, unlike other cases, is a massive invasion and occupation, which is necessarily going to be run by the Defense Department. Now I certainly approve of the consolidation of the reconstruction effort in the White House. I think Condoleezza Rice, who is immensely capable—in fact, I think no one inside or outside of government is more capable to direct this task—is exactly the right person to be handling it. But again, you know, it's fine to talk about how all this could have been done differently, but, you know, you've got the facts that got you here in the first place, and that is the fact that we overthrew a government by force of arms using a large military.

KOHRAN (Caller): Yes, you have. I come from the region. I actually grew up in the Middle East, and I'm a physician here in Denver. And I have a question for the panel. Has Condoleezza Rice actually published or talked about any concrete steps—or the administration has talked about any concrete steps they would take in order to stabilize the region if, you know, now that the administration's trying to transfer it over to Condoleezza? And I'll take my answer off the air.

LINDBERG: Well, I think, you know, as far as a particular to-do list, I think she's going to be relying on regional experts within the government and who are involved in this process. In the broader sense, though, I think the administration has been quite clear in talking about a broader vision for the liberalization and democratization in the Middle East, something, by the way, which is by no means a partisan project. That's something that I think the Democrats too, who have been talking a lot about. Now obviously, there'll be differences over how you go about this and those differences may be sharpened because we're entering into a political season, but nevertheless, I think the broad goal of a region that is transformed over the coming years, is one that's widely shared.

SIMON: Let's now take a call from Bob in Grass Valley, California.

BOB: I just have a comment on what I have seen of Condoleezza Rice, and it's clear that she's an extremely skilled rhetoritician in support of the Bush or the neoconservative ideology. But it's not so clear that she has a strong commitment to the truth, and probably the best example of that is with reference to the whole nuclear flap—or nucular, as President Bush says. In reference to Iraqi nuclear weapons prior to the war, she coined a phrase, you know, that 'We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,' which is just bombast, and then later after the Joe Wilson flap, I saw her on "Tim Russert" tell Tim Russert that she or one of her underlings had simply forgotten to take the 16 offending words out of the president's State of the Union message—the 16 words referring to yellow cake from Niger, so...

SIMON: Well, Bob, just in the interest of time let me get our two guests to comment on that. I would infer you don't believe that Dr. Rice's reputation for public integrity is such that she should receive this added responsibility.

BOB: I don't think that she has public integrity. Whether or not she can handle the responsibility—I can't speak to that.

SIMON: All right. Thanks very much for being with us. Mr. Daalder.

DAALDER: I don't see any reason to question her integrity, and I think that there is nobody who is closer to the president than Condoleezza Rice, and as a result, if the president wants things to get done in Iraq in the right way, investing her with the responsibility for reorganizing the government, which, by the way, is her job when it comes to national security policy, is exactly the right thing to do. And I don't see that her statements or lack thereof on Niger or others are any different from much of the rest of the administration. I think she'll do a superb job now that she has gotten the power and the right to do that.

SIMON: Mr. Lindberg, do you have any comments on that, because she's going to have to sit down with a group of people, maybe to whom she has not spoken—I'm thinking of people in Iraq as much as anyone else—and the caller previously might have been quite explicit in the way he expressed those views, but that would be dim compared to the way some Iraqis might express those views.

LINDBERG: Well, I think some—yes, that's absolutely true. But again, we're engaged in a pretty big project here in terms of trying to put Iraq back together. I think it's in the interest of Iraqis to be helpful, and this is a good step in that way.