Last night I wrote that it looked like the Joint Chiefs might have done an end-run around Don Rumsfeld on the UN resolution question. Then this morning a reader who knows a lot about these things told me he didn't think that was necessarily so, that Rumsfeld -- privately, at least -- had come around to a realization that a course correction was in order. Rumsfeld's the Secretary, and hated in the building as he may be, what he says goes.
But this article in Thursday's Post seems to say that an end-run is pretty close to what took place -- if not around Rumsfeld precisely, then the bulk of the civilian leadership at the Pentagon. The article is well-worth reading in its entirety. But the upshot seems to be this ...
We've known about the basic division between State and Defense on the UN question, with the former wanting a substantial internationalization of the occupation and the latter more or less opposing it. The Pentagon has operational control over what goes on in Iraq. So they've had the upper-hand. But in Washington it's been close to a stand-off between the two camps, with the advantage to DOD.
What changed, apparently, was that the Joint Chiefs went over to Powell's side. Not only did they come over to his position, but at some level they seem to have worked in concert with Powell's team at State to push the White House into shifting its position.
On the president's first day back from Crawford, says the Post ...
Powell, whose department had long favored such an action, informed the commander in chief that the military brass supported the State Department's position despite resistance by the Pentagon's civilian leadership. Bush and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, whose office had been slow to embrace the U.N. resolution, quickly agreed, according to administration officials who described the episode.
As the Post aptly puts it, Powell -- with the support of the Chiefs in hand -- presented the president with "something close to a fait accompli."
Much of what happened and is happening here still seems murky. And to a significant degree this change of direction is less a matter of shrewd bureaucratic in-fighting than a simple, dawning acquaintance with reality on the part of everyone in the administration -- a realization that, as Fareed Zakaria put it last week, Plan A wasn't working. It would also be fair to say that the people around Powell -- if not necessarily Powell himself -- would not only like to internationalize the effort but to make the shift in policy itself appear as much as possible as a bureaucratic victory for State. (The point being, who's leaking here and to what end?)
But even with all those caveats, given what's happened at the Pentagon for the last thirty months, a decision on the part of the Chiefs to take a more assertive stand toward the Pentagon's civilian leadership would be a development of potential momentous proportions.