Thursday, January 04, 2007

Negroponte to State

The news is that John Negroponte, the recently-created Director of Intelligence who supposedly guides and serves as filter for the entire intelligence community, will become deputy Secretary of State. On paper this is a demotion, from the top intelligence guy in government to number-two in a State Department that has seemed increasingly irrelevant. I suspect it's a last-ditch effort to rescue administration Iraq policy.

Creating the new position never made a whole lot of sense. Putting Negroponte, a career diplomat, in charge made a certain amount of sense in that he had been a consumer of intelligence and might have been expected to know what people who use intelligence in formulating policy need. But he had not been an executive or in the intelligence old-boys club before, and it's doubtful he had much luck in getting all the long-standing intelligence agencies, especially military intelligence, to snap to when he gave orders or change the way they had been mishandling their responsibilities very much. He might have become frustrated at how little real influence he had, despite the fact that it's oh-so-prestigious to give the president his daily intelligence briefing.

There's also a certain amount of evidence that Condie Rice needed a rescue operation over at State. She's been almost invisible lately. This is not surprising. Though she held the post of Provost at Stanford when I interviewed her years ago, which is essentially an administrative position, her background was as an academic. She had little operational experience in the big world outside academe. She's obviously intelligent, but she doesn't command much respect. It may be impolite to point it out, but while things are changing oh-so-gradually, women still aren't taken very seriously in the Middle East, and many of our current foreign policy crises are centered in the Middle East. This was a problem when Madeleine Albright was Secretary of State, though hardly anybody chose to mention it.

Negroponte was the first U.S. ambassador to Iraq in the post-Saddam era, but he spent little time in that post. While he has undertaken projects there, Negroponte is hardly a certifiable expert on the Middle East. So I'm reluctant to predict, as some are, that his move to State reflects a desire for more solid expertise about Iraq. He may be more open to it than you-know-who, but he doesn't have much of it himself, which may affect the way he receives and processes information.

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