Joel Mowbray

When the new Iraqi interim government took the formal reins of power this past week, there was another official transfer of authority: from the Defense to the State Department overseeing the U.S. presence.

But while the new Iraqi government will almost surely make its own mark, the handover from the Pentagon to State will yield little, if any, change.

Why?  Because State had long ago taken control of the political arena in the now-disbanded Coalition Provisional Authority, despite public appearances that it was the Pentagon?s show.

The State Department, of course, is not willing to own up to its role to date.  Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told National Public Radio on Monday, ?Clearly, the Department of State is taking the lead now.?  He failed to mention that this was largely a continuation of what has existed for months.

Another facet of State?s PR offensive was inviting its favorite pliant reporter, the Washington Post?s Robin Wright, to publish a puff piece.  She complied.

Just below the lead, Wright informed readers, ?Career diplomats in charge of crafting foreign policy often grumbled about being marginalized or vetoed on Iraq policy by political appointees at the Defense Department.?

State hardly should be complaining about having not enough influence in Iraq.  If anything, the situation Wright described would have been more accurate if it was flipped.

What happened in Iraq, in fact, is a classic case study in how legal authority means little when operational control lies elsewhere.  Although the U.S. administrator in Iraq, Jerry Bremer, reported to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the State Department held far greater sway.

When Bremer was staffing up his inner circle, State sent as many of its people as it could.  Defense, on the other hand, sent hardly any.  Only two of the 30-plus members of the political team were from the Pentagon, and none of the 18 senior advisors were from the Defense Department.

The civilian employees in the policy-making divisions at the Pentagon, who are largely appointed by President Bush, are lionized as possessing near-mystical powers in some circles.  A surprising number of pundits and commentators credit (or accuse) this small group of policymakers?often referred to as the so-called ?neocons??as being responsible for the war in Iraq.

Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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