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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Rethinks Iraq, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON -- The White House has ordered a major reorganization of U.S. efforts to quell violence in Iraq and Afghanistan and to speed the reconstruction of both countries, according to senior administration officials.

The new structure, which includes the creation of an "Iraq Stabilization Group" that will be run by the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, appears to be part of an effort to assert more direct control over events.

It comes at a moment when polls show that Americans are less confident of Bush's foreign policy skills than at any other time in the past two years.

"This puts accountability right into the White House," a senior administration official said.

The reorganization, which aims to strengthen economic, political and counterterrorism efforts, was described in a confidential memorandum that Rice sent Thursday to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and the director of central intelligence, George Tenet.

The creation of the group grew out of frustration by Bush at the setbacks in Iraq and the absence of progress in Afghanistan. It is the closest the White House has come to an admission that its plans for nation-building in those countries have proven insufficient and that they were unprepared for the guerrilla war that has resulted.

In Iraq, there have been more American deaths since the end of active combat than during the six weeks it took to take control of the country.

"The president knows his legacy, and maybe his re-election, depends on getting this right," another administration official said. "This is as close as anyone will come to acknowledging that it's not working."

Inside the State Department and in some offices in the White House, the decision to create the Stabilization Group has been interpreted as a direct effort to diminish the authority of the Pentagon and Rumsfeld in the next phase of the occupation.

Senior White House officials denied that was the case, and said in interviews Sunday that the idea was created by members of the National Security Council and embraced by Rumsfeld, who has been a lightning rod for criticism about poor postwar planning.

"Don recognizes this is not what the Pentagon does best, and he is, in some ways, relieved to give up some of the authority here," a senior official said, noting that L. Paul Bremer, the head of the allied provisional authority in Iraq, will still report to the Defense Department. But one of Bremer's key deputies will sit on the new Stabilization Group, giving him a direct line outside the Pentagon.

Rumsfeld's spokesman, Lawrence DiRita, said Sunday night that the defense secretary was "aware of the new approach" and noted that Bremer's "relationship with Rumsfeld remains unchanged."

If Rumsfeld is giving up some authority, administration officials say, so is Powell. The State Department has been in charge of the Afghan reconstruction effort, but now the White House will assert new control over the interagency effort there.

"While the problems in Afghanistan are less complex," a senior official said, "the president wanted to know how come it took so long to get the highway under construction." That project has become symbolic of the slow pace of reconstruction, especially outside the capital.

The creation of the Stabilization Group appears to give more direct control to Rice, one of the president's closest confidantes, who signed the memoranda announcing the new organization.

State Department officials have complained bitterly that they have been shut out of decision-making about Iraq, even as attacks on American troops have increased, lights failed to go on and oil production remained stuck far below even prewar levels.

Asked about the Iraq reorganization on Sunday, Rice called it "a recognition by everyone that we are in a different phase now" that Congress is considering Bush's request for $20 billion for reconstruction and $67 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the interview, Rice described the new organization as one intended to support the Pentagon, not supplant it.

"The NSC staff is first and foremost the president's staff," she said, "but it is of course the staff to the National Security Council," which will in effect be taking more direct responsibility.