Accessibility links

U.S.: Reported Shift On Iraq Administrator May Indicate Powell Influence

  • Andrew Tully

Some critics of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush say the Defense Department, under Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is taking over too many of the functions normally reserved for the State Department. Now it appears that a civilian -- a career diplomat in the State Department -- will be put in charge of administering Iraq, with seniority over even Jay Garner, the retired general who is now in charge. Some say that may be a sign that the Secretary of State Colin Powell is reasserting his influence, RFE/RL reports from Washington.

Washington, 5 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush has reportedly decided to name a longtime State Department official in charge of the transitional administration in Iraq.

L. Paul Bremer -- who was a senior aide to six secretaries of state during a 23-year career at the department -- will rank above even Jay Garner, the retired U.S. Army general who has been in charge of civil administration since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government.

Garner said today in Baghdad that he expects Bremer to arrive by next week and take charge of the political process in postwar Iraq. He said a "dedicated effort" is needed on the political side and that the appointment of someone like Bremer had been planned all along. Garner is expected to focus more on reconstruction issues.

Many of Bush's critics have complained that the U.S. Defense Department, which is running Iraq for the time being, has put too much of a military stamp on the administration. They say Garner, who was a career Army officer, epitomizes this.

Some say the appointment of Bremer, who has had a distinguished civilian career, is an effort to answer those critics. Others say his nomination is evidence that Secretary of State Colin Powell has successfully reasserted his right to conduct the country's foreign policy at a time when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seemed to be challenging it.

Ted Galen Carpenter, a foreign affairs analyst at the Cato Institute, a private policy research institute in Washington, told RFE/RL that Bremer's appointment shows that Powell might be the most resilient official in the Bush administration.

Carpenter said Bremer's close association with the State Department shows Powell's influence in deciding who will be in charge of administering Iraq until Iraqis can choose their own government.

Previously, Carpenter said, Bush administration officials like Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney were initially more influential with the president on matters like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the North Korea nuclear crisis, and whether to seek the United Nations' approval for a war in Iraq.

Ordinarily, such matters would be the province of the secretary of state. But in these and other cases, according to Carpenter, Powell managed to reassert his primacy, and has done so in this case, too.

"This is typical Powell. He never gives up. Even when it appears that he is defeated, he's always back, maneuvering, attempting to regain position. Powell, sooner or later, ends up in a significant and influential position on almost every policy issue," Carpenter said.

Although Bremer is most closely associated with the State Department, he will report directly to Rumsfeld, just as Garner now does. But Carpenter said he believes anything Bremer says to the defense secretary will be heard simultaneously by the secretary of state.

"I would venture to guess that, even though [Bremer] might officially be reporting to Rumsfeld, Powell is not going to be unaware of his conclusions and recommendations. I suspect there will be, whether officially or not, a dual reporting system," Carpenter said.

This, Carpenter suggested, will give Powell equal influence with Rumsfeld in how Iraq is administered.

Carpenter said it is too early to say whether Bremer is a good choice to direct the interim Iraq administration. He said much depends on whether he and Garner will get along. If they have differences, and if these differences descend into feuding, Carpenter warned, the delicate job of guiding Iraq toward democracy could be complicated further.

According to another analyst, it is too early to deduce anything from Bremer's reported appointment. Leon Fuerth, who served as national security adviser to Al Gore when he was vice president under Bill Clinton, Bush's predecessor, said Bremer's long State Department career may have no bearing on whether Powell or Rumsfeld influences the reconstruction of Iraq and its move toward democracy.

"Does the fact that [Bremer] once had a career in the State Department, but no longer does, mean that the State Department is in the driver's seat? I don't think so, not if he's reporting to Secretary Rumsfeld," Fuerth said.

Bremer has a reputation as a good manager, both from his days as the senior assistant to several secretaries of state and his work in the private sector. Henry Kissinger, who served as secretary of state under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford during the 1970s, made Bremer the managing director of the consulting firm Kissinger Associates Incorporated. Bremer served in that position for a decade.

According to Fuerth, the best clue to Bremer's allegiance -- and to his independence -- is whom he picks as his staff in Iraq, and whether he needs anyone's permission to appoint senior aides.

"A lot remains to be seen here in terms of the kind of apparatus that [Bremer] sets up to function as his staff. If he draws that apparatus entirely out of the Department of Defense, or if the only way it gets set up is if Secretary Rumsfeld blesses it, then I don't think this appointment means that there's been a shift of power," Fuerth said.

Fuerth -- now a professor of international affairs at George Washington University -- was asked if choosing Bremer is simply a public relations effort by the Bush administration to allay fears that it is relying too much on the U.S. military to conduct the country's foreign policy. Fuerth replied that, whatever Bremer's allegiances, he is likely an able man who will put an important civilian imprint on the administration of a country that has suffered three decades of dictatorship.

"I'll assume that they picked a guy who can do the job. So it's not, strictly speaking, P.R. I think it may be also an important affirmation of the principle of civilian control in political matters," Fuerth said.

Bremer began his State Department career in the 1960s and served in many foreign assignments, where he honed his expertise on the subject of terrorism. In the mid-1990s, he urged former President Bill Clinton to act more forcefully against states such as Syria and Iran, which the U.S. government says are sponsors of terrorism.

In 1999, Congress named him chairman of the influential National Terrorism Commission. In that capacity, he repeatedly warned Americans that they faced a tangible threat of catastrophic terrorist attacks. His appointment to that position came fully two years before the attacks of 11 September 2001.