Condoleeza Rice shake-up

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(Host) While all eyes are on California, commentator Bill Seamans says that there is a significant power-shift going on in Washington.

(Seamans) The question of accountability for what has gone wrong in Iraq is pressing heavily on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In broadcasting terms, his White House rating is slipping. Rumsfeld’s rating was high as the man who spearheaded the successful wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. But postwar is a different story.

Almost overwhelmed by the noise of the California political circus is the news about a massive reorganization of the effort to fix the chaos in Iraq. President Bush has put Condelezza Rice, his national security advisor, in charge of a new office called the Iraq Stabilization Group.

Rice will be empowered to coordinate all the efforts to fight terrorism and establish the new Iraqi political and economic infrastructure. Rumsfeld has been in charge up to now but Rice’s new job is seen as giving the White House more control over what’s going on. In brief, Condi is now in effect, Rummy’s boss. For example, our civilian viceroy in Iraq, Paul Bremer, can now bypass the Pentagon with his problems and report directly to Rice which, in effect, is reporting directly to the White House.

As our G.I. casualty toll keeps climbing, Rumsfeld’s TV face time has been reduced even though President Bush said the other day that he has not lost confidence in his Defense Secretary. That Bush felt he had to make that public statetment was regarded by Washington spin analysts as a sure sign that Rumsfeld’s aura was fading.

Even before the shakeup, The Washingtonian magazine said Rumsfeld is described by White House insiders as the architect of the strategy that won the war but bungled the peace. The magazine added, Congressional enemies including some leading Republicans have stepped up their criticism of Rumsfeld’s imperious ways.

And The Washington Post said that having demanded full authority for overseeing the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq, and elbowing the State Department aside, Rumsfeld is being blamed by many in Congress and the military establishment for problems facing the United States which include mounting U.S. casualties and costs exceeding one-billion-dollars a week.

The New York Times observed that this shakeup is the closest Bush has come to admitting that Rumsfeld’s plans are not working and that the result could become a threat to Bush’s re-election. But in Washington accountability is an elusive thing – one doesn’t get fired because that would admit a foul-up. One is just made honorably irrelevent.

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.

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