I guess I might as well break the suspense: Hey there, TPM readers -- Spencer Ackerman here from The New Republic. As Josh wrote below, the proprietor of this fine blog has handed me the keys while he enjoys some hard-earned R&R. For the next few days, I'll be trying my best not to turn TPM into an online version of Weekend At Bernie's, though I can't promise that Josh will return to Washington and find his liquor cabinet untouched. I hope you'll keep checking out the blog despite the absence of the mighty Marshall.
So, with that out of the way, let's get right to it.
With the handover of Iraqi "sovereignty" just two weeks away, there's no shortage of open questions about what exactly our behind-the-scenes role in Iraq will be. One particularly pressing question has been whether the interagency knife-fight between the State and Defense Departments over Iraq will finally draw to a close. You'll remember that the Pentagon essentially junked about a year's worth of laborious preparatory work for the occupation prepared at Foggy Bottom, and famously told the first U.S. proconsul, Jay Garner, that he couldn't hire its architect, Tom Warrick. Failures and recriminations have compounded and intensified ever since -- sometimes fairly, sometimes not. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration has tried to present a united front going into the post-June 30 phase, when our political efforts will be housed in a new U.S. embassy, under the control of the Department of State. At a forum last month at the U.S. Institute of Peace, the leaders of the State and Defense transition teams, Ambassador Francis Ricciardone and retired General Mick Kicklighter, exchanged the sort of photogenic handshake usually reserved for when belligerents mark the formal end of hostilities.
But it looks more like the conflict is about to enter its guerilla phase. Steve Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists has obtained a copy of the National Security Presidential Directive that governs the structure of our future presence in Iraq. (Warning: PDF.) Signed on May 11 by President Bush, it ensures that the Defense Department will have a significant foothold in the embassy. Sure, it specifies that
The Secretary of State shall be responsible for the continuous supervision and general direction of all assistance for Iraq.
But "all" doesn't exactly mean "all." Leave aside the fact that
Commander, USCENTCOM, under the authority, direction and control of the Secretary of Defense, shall continue to be responsible for U.S. efforts with respect to security and military operations in Iraq. In all activities, the Chief of Mission and Commander, USCENTCOM shall ensure the closest cooperation and mutual support.
The Centcom-Embassy structural conflict is one we all expected, and, given our maintenance of over 138,000 troops in Iraq, can't really be avoided. A few paragraphs later in the NSPD, however, there's something else:
I also establish ... a temporary organization within the Department of Defense to be called the Project and Contracting Office (PCO) to provide acquisition and project management support with respect to activities in Iraq, as requested by the Secretary of State and heads of other Departments and agencies. The Secretary of Defense in consultation with the Secretary of State shall select a Director for PCO. PCO personnel in Iraq shall be permanently or temporarily assigned under Chief of Mission authority. PCO shall provide acquisition and project management support to the Chief of Mission. PCO's service may include engineering, auditing, and other contract-related authorities.
That's all the NSPD says about this new office. The PCO looks to be the successor organization to the Program Management Office, the Pentagon's contracting office within the Coalition Provisional Authority. Clearly the Pentagon will play a role in overseeing the implementation of contractor projects, and that's no trivial matter: the $18.4 billion we're spending in Iraq is supposed to be an important aspect of our post-June 30 influence. But this is surely about more than just the reconstruction contracts. Remember that there are "security"-related contracts issued for Iraq as well--just ask Virginia-based CACI International, who sent employee Steven A. Stefanowicz to Abu Ghraib. And that "other contract-related authorities" responsibility designated to the PCO seems sufficiently broad to allow the PCO chief--chosen by Donald Rumsfeld, with input from Colin Powell--to exercise it as he sees fit. There's not a whole lot that's clear here, but it certainly seems like the NSPD doesn't give the State and Defense Departments the same sheet of music to sing from. Plus ca change...