Thursday, December 15, 2005

Bush puts Rice in charge of post-conflict strategy

Bush puts Rice in charge of post-conflict strategy

By Sue Pleming

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House said on Wednesday it had put the State Department in charge of U.S. efforts to stabilize and rebuild nations roiled by war or civil upheaval, seen as an attempt to avert the inter-agency bickering that plagued the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.

President George W. Bush signed the directive last week giving Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the lead in such missions, a White House statement said.

"(This will) empower the Secretary of State to improve coordination, planning and implementation for reconstruction and stabilization assistance for foreign states at risk of, in, or in transition from conflict or civil strife," it said.

The Bush administration was criticized for poor planning after the 2003 Iraq invasion, when disagreement between the Pentagon and State Department over rebuilding the shattered state was rife.

The statement said clarifying responsibility in this area would enable Washington to help governments prevent their territory being used as a haven for "terrorists, organized crime groups" or others posing a threat to the United States.

The announcement follows a recent Pentagon directive, also growing out of the Iraq experience, under which U.S. forces will add to their fighting skills the capability to restore and maintain order and meet humanitarian needs.

Bickering between the Pentagon and the State Department marked the early period of the Iraq occupation, when civil order broke down, facilitating the growth of the insurgency.

The new measure "puts on paper a very clear mandate that says that the Secretary of State has the responsibility to lead and coordinate the U.S. government response (in conflict zones)," said Carlos Pascual, the State Department official in charge of coordinating these efforts.


Asked whether the directive was aimed at preventing the kind of problems faced in Iraq, Pascual said: "We are now forcing ourselves to grapple with some of those tough issues in advance rather than actually dealing with it at game time."

Pascual said his office would draw from lessons learned in Afghanistan and Iraq but that it was not responsible for coordinating operations there because many more staff were needed.

The White House said when the U.S. military was involved in conflicts, Rice would coordinate with the Secretary of Defense "to ensure harmonization with any planned or ongoing U.S. military operations across the spectrum of conflict."

The statement said the United States would work with other countries and organizations to anticipate state failure and "avoid it whenever possible."

Indiana Republican Sen. Dick Lugar, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the move to give Rice the lead and said over the years U.S. governments had "cobbled" together plans in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Our ad hoc approach has been inadequate to deliver the necessary capabilities to deal speedily and efficiently with complex emergencies," Lugar said.

The State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction Stabilization, led by Pascual, will lead the effort. It has already been working on projects in trouble zones Sudan and Haiti, where teams are drawing up strategic plans on how to cope with crises in those countries.

The office, while not yet fully funded, comprises 55 people and has staff from the defense, labor and justice departments as well as the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

((BUSH-CONFLICT-PLANNING, Reporting by Sue Pleming, editing by David Storey; Reuters Messaging:; +1202 898 8393)