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White House challenges Pentagon

Washington, Oct. 7: President George W. Bush has ordered the White House to take tighter control over American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, an apparent sign of dissatisfaction with the Pentagon-led efforts on the ground.

His national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, is to head an “Iraq stabilisation group”, giving the White House a more active role. The change was seen as the closest the administration has come to acknowledging that the Pentagon’s post-war mission in Iraq and the state department’s reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan have not gone as planned.

With Bush’s ratings drooping amid declining confidence over his handling of foreign policy, his previous strength, it suggests that his advisers have seen the need for some good news from Iraq as next year’s re-election campaign draws closer.

It was also seen as part of a fight back by Rice, one of Bush’s closest aides, who is thought to have struggled in the past year to co-ordinate policy between Colin Powell, the secretary of state, and Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, the two feuding barons of the administration.

The new order was outlined in a confidential memorandum sent by Rice to Powell, Rumsfeld and the director of the CIA, George Tenet.

It was a “recognition by everyone that we are in a different stage now”, she said. For Rice it is a chance to convert her greatest asset in Washington, regular “face time” with the President, into some genuine clout.

When she took office almost three years ago she indicated that she did not want the National Security Council to be as involved as it was under Bill Clinton, who was known for his micro-managing of foreign policy.

But recently her softly-softly approach has been compared unfavourably with the more pugnacious style of Henry Kissinger and other of her predecessors.

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