Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A miracle, and then some gossip (Updated June 12)

Well, it is nothing short of a miracle. The one thing that could have happened to halt—even if ever so briefly—Iraq’s descent into darkness did indeed happen: Zarqawi was killed. And to sweeten the deal, mysterious forces conspired to keep his face intact even after registering what two 500 lb. bombs can do. Not only that, but Zarqawi lived to see himself surrounded and manhandled by “Crusaders” and Iraqi soldiers.

This happy news came at the worst of times for Iraqis, and I personally have faith in the redemptive power of hope. I think some powerful forces have decided that Iraq will work itself out after all. Bombs will go off, and violence will continue, but the most terrible part of the storm has passed, I believe. I look forward to the future.

And now, unto some gossip:

Washington: I don’t know how Zarqawi’s death will change Meghan O’Sullivan’s imminent plans for a career switch. As of a week ago, she seemed intent on jumping ship at the most dire time for the Bush administration. This is especially worrying given that she is the last stop when it comes to explaining what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan (two places that have been in the news lately…) to President Bush and then transmitting his directives to the various agencies that deal with both countries.

Meghan O’Sullivan’s big flashy title was “Special Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan” and she had been offered the now-vacant post of Director of Studies at the Council for Foreign Relations by her ex-mentor Richard Hass. According to several sources, she was seriously considering the new job.

But that was all before the news from Iraq turned positive yesterday, and she may opt to stay at the White House and claim authorship over any successes there.

God bless opportunistic bureaucrats.

Baghdad: Well, it just goes to show you how much I know about how things are really working in Baghdad: I was told on June 7 that everyone had settled on Gen. Abdel-Qadir Jasim for Defense and Jawad Al-Bolani for Interior. I responded, “No way! Hakim would have none of it.”

But I was wrong. Let’s also keep our fingers crossed that I also turn out to be wrong about Bolani’s administrative prowess, and let’s hope both gentlemen succeed.

UPDATE (June 12, 2006):

There is a puff piece by Elisabeth Bumiller in today's New York Times on Meghan O'Sullivan (see full text in the comments section) that seems to indicate that O'Sullivan is going to stay at her job at the White House. Although cashing-in her "source-reporter" favors in return for a favorable profile in the Times instead of the Washington Post is an act interesting in itself...Maybe she is preparing Manhatten for her stint at CFR...and putting out the word to eligible New York bachelors that she is on the market (...the Bumiller piece goes out of its way to point out that O'Sullivan is single and on her way up in the world).

All I have to say is, interesting timing.


Blogger AngloGermanicAmerican said...

"I personally have faith in the redemptive power of hope. I think some powerful forces have decided that Iraq will work itself out after all. Bombs will go off, and violence will continue, but the most terrible part of the storm has passed, I believe. I look forward to the future."

Agreed. So simple, so true. Perhaps I should make a shortcut to this post when my faith is "tested", as it surely will be, in the future.

11:02 AM, June 09, 2006

Blogger Cutler said...

Why would Hakim "have none of" Jawad Al-Bolani? Is there tension between SCIRI and Hezbollah? Over what issues? Both support regional autonomy in the south. Both have their problems with the Fadhila/Virtue party in Basra.

I'm impressed that you had an opinion about the Bolani selection. Even if it has not been born out by events, I'd be curious to know what you had in mind when you anticipated tension between Hakim and Bolani.

12:25 PM, June 09, 2006

Blogger Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي said...

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
The New York Times

June 12, 2006 Monday
Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Column 1; Foreign Desk; Pg. 10

LENGTH: 1299 words

HEADLINE: Adviser Has President's Ear As She Keeps Eyes on Iraq




At the end of each day, President Bush gets a three-to-four-page memo from the National Security Council staff about developments over the previous 24 hours in Iraq. The document, said to be written in the crisp, compelling style that the president prefers, can cover a range of issues -- the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, new nominees for cabinet posts or the progress, or lack of it, in ending the three-year insurgency.

The person responsible for the memo is someone who is largely unknown outside the administration, but who colleagues say is instrumental in shaping Mr. Bush's views: Meghan L. O'Sullivan, the 36-year-old deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan, and the most senior official working on those nations full time at the White House.

With Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, Ms. O'Sullivan briefs the president in person on Iraq up to several times a week. Over the weekend she helped to prepare the agenda for Mr. Bush's war cabinet meetings on Monday and Tuesday at Camp David and will be on hand throughout the sessions.

Ms. O'Sullivan, who spent more than a year in Baghdad as an aide to L. Paul Bremer III, then the top American civilian administrator in Iraq, also helps to prepare the agenda for the president's weekly National Security Council meetings on Iraq.

She coordinates the political, security and reconstruction efforts for Iraq throughout the agencies of the government. Not least, she briefs the president before all of his phone calls and meetings with Iraqi leaders.

Although Ms. O'Sullivan does not make major decisions -- the administration's policy is run by Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Iraq, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- she is important because of her closeness to the president and her role in helping to form his thinking.

''She's able to go to the president and say, 'Look, here's what's happening,' and distill a complex mass of developments into something more penetrable,'' said Larry Diamond, a former senior adviser to Mr. Bremer.

Ms. O'Sullivan, who was crisp and wary in a recent interview in her office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, would say little more about her conversations with Mr. Bush. But people who have seen her brief the president say she has been succinct, unpretentious, full of facts and cheerful -- exactly what Mr. Bush likes.

Colleagues say that Ms. O'Sullivan holds to the view, reflected in the president's public statements, that rebuilding Iraq's civic institutions and persuading Iraqis to accommodate one another politically is a way out of the sectarian violence. She is more optimistic about the political process than others in the administration.

In Baghdad, Ms. O'Sullivan is remembered as a pragmatic centrist who had a guarded but tenacious confidence that the United States would eventually prevail. ''That doesn't mean that I don't see all the difficulties there on a daily basis,'' she said.

The question that even her supporters raise is whether she is too close to see the landscape of problems. ''I do think she is so into this that she sees it from the inside out,'' Mr. Diamond said.

He added, ''And I'm not sure she adequately grasps all the mistakes we have made.''

In Baghdad, American Embassy officials sometimes use the phrase, ''Let's not Meghan-ize the problem,'' meaning, let's not try to impose order on the chaos of Iraq with one of her five-point presentations. Her supporters counter that she is more aware of the reality on the ground than many others in the administration.

Ms. O'Sullivan's point of view comes from her intense months in Baghdad, where she had one major harrowing moment. In October 2003, when she was immersed in the negotiations over Iraq's first post-invasion constitution, a rocket hit her hotel in Baghdad. The blast jammed Ms. O'Sullivan's door shut, and she escaped by inching along a narrow ledge outside her 10th-floor window.

She eventually made her way to the Baghdad streets and then her office at Saddam Hussein's former palace on the banks of the Tigris. The explosion killed an American colonel and wounded 16 others.

''It was a dangerous place to live, and I was constantly reminded of that because I had Iraqi friends who were killed,'' Ms. O'Sullivan said matter-of-factly. ''But it's amazing how you can function, and also how much more there is going on in Iraq besides the violence.''

For much of her time in Baghdad, Ms. O'Sullivan spent days and nights shuttling between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to help forge the deal on the interim government of June 2004.

''There's nobody in the administration today who knows Iraq as well as she does, who knows the personalities, who knows the terrain,'' said Robert D. Blackwill, the former Iraq director on the National Security Council and Ms. O'Sullivan's onetime superior.

One of Ms. O'Sullivan's chief responsibilities in Baghdad was keeping abreast of developments within the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or Sciri, one of the main Shiite parties. She covered herself from head to toe for meetings with Abdul Aziz Hakim, the party leader, and earned his trust.

Ms. O'Sullivan also forged such a crucial relationship with the party's candidate for prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, now vice president, that Mr. Bremer used her as a frequent go-between. At one critical moment, Mr. Bremer recalled in a recent interview, he sent Ms. O'Sullivan to see Mr. Mahdi when he could not figure out why Mr. Mahdi was upset about the November 2003 agreement that set forth the American transfer of power to Iraq.

''She came back and very accurately conveyed to me what his problem was, and offered a way to get out of it,'' Mr. Bremer said. ''I called Adel in and worked on everything she had told me.''

Ms. O'Sullivan's background shows an early curiosity about the world. Growing up in Lexington, Mass., she chose to write a second-grade report about Palestinians.

Ms. O'Sullivan went on to Georgetown University, where she majored in economics and government and modeled at local department stores for pocket money. She became a foreign policy research assistant for Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat, and received her master's and doctoral degrees from Oxford.

Ms. O'Sullivan moved back to Washington, where she became a fellow at the Brookings Institution, edited a book on economic sanctions, ''Honey and Vinegar,'' with Richard N. Haass, then went to work for Mr. Haass when he became director of policy planning at the State Department in Mr. Bush's first term. Her second book, ''Shrewd Sanctions: Statecraft and State Sponsors of Terrorism,'' was published in 2003.

Early in 2003, Colin L. Powell, then the secretary of state, lent Ms. O'Sullivan to the Pentagon to be part of an early administrative team to go into postwar Iraq. She went there in March 2003 with Jay M. Garner, a retired lieutenant general who was Mr. Bremer's predecessor, left in June 2004, and by July was working for Mr. Blackwill on the National Security Council staff. When Mr. Blackwill left in November 2004, Ms. O'Sullivan assumed many of his duties.

She lives not far from the White House, is single and tries not to work seven days a week. Her future is tied to Iraq: her colleagues say she could be national security adviser someday -- or something much less.

''The reality is that if Iraq implodes, she'll probably go nowhere,'' Mr. Diamond said. ''Because she will have been associated in an integral way with one of the biggest failures in the history of American foreign policy.''

Ms. O'Sullivan is undaunted. ''I'm able to focus on the fact that we're building a relationship with Iraq,'' she said, ''that will have benefits to Iraq and America over the long term.''

11:01 AM, June 12, 2006

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