Eleanor Clift of Newsweek asserted on this past weekend’s McLaughlin Group that John Negroponte was moving from the role of Director of National Intelligence to become the number two man at the State Department because Vice President Cheney and President Bush wanted a yes man in the intelligence position who would "support their desire to make war with Iran." Clift also portrayed Vice President Cheney as a bully on intelligence matters as she claimed that had Negroponte remained the Director of National Intelligence, "he’d spend the next two years agreeing with Dick Cheney that we have to wage war with Iran, or he’d be pushing back unsuccessfully."
Yet in her indictment of the President and Vice President over wanting war with Iran, Clift neither condemned any of Iran’s provocative actions, nor did she mention paths the Bush administration is pursuing to avoid war, such as working through the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions.
Clift’s co-panelists suggested more reasonable explanations as to why Mr. Negroponte was changing roles in the Bush administration. Mort Zuckerman of US News and World Report asserted that the job at the State Department was "the job that he [John Negroponte] wanted." Zuckerman further noted that Mr. Negroponte had spent most of his career with the State Department and that is why he was making the move. And panelist Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute highlighted that there are multiple vacancies in the State Department’s leadership and "they [the Bush administration] need a person of stature who can get through confirmation."
The fact that Mr. Negroponte is a career State Department official and is someone who can get confirmed to be Undersecretary of State by the Senate seem to be more plausible reasons why he is changing jobs than a grand conspiracy by Bush and Cheney to go to war with Iran, as enunciated by Ms. Clift.
The transcript of the exchange follows:
John McLaughlin: "Question, Negroponte is giving up his cloak and dagger for a vest and pinstripes. What's behind the Negroponte change in status? We'll try you, Norm."
Norm Ornstein, American Enterprise Institute: "You know, we've had a gap in leadership at the Department State for quite a while. We haven’t had a number two or a number 3; it's been a real problem. They need a person of stature who can get through confirmation, and that's why Negroponte’s making the move."
John McLaughlin: "Do you think this is a squeeze on Condoleezza Rice?"
Mort Zuckerman: "Let me just say also, Negroponte's entire career was spent in the State Department."
John McLaughlin: "37 years."
Mort Zuckerman: "What he really wants to be, if he had an ideal job, he would pick deputy."
John McLaughlin: "What's the point?"
Mort Zuckerman: "The point is this is the job that he wanted, and this is the job where they needed him."
John McLaughlin: "Somebody's gotta talk to the Iranians, and she [Condoleezza Rice]can't do it because she's been saying all of these threatening things to and about the Iranians. Somebody's gotta talk to the Syrians; somebody's gotta talk to the Jordanians; somebody’s gotta talk to the UAE."
Mort Zuckerman: "And he knows the Iraq brief better than anybody in that department."
John McLaughlin: "Do you think he's qualified."
Eleanor Clift: "He brings a much needed professional expertise to the State Department? But he also knows that if he had stayed in that intelligence job, he'd spend the next two years having to agree with Dick Cheney that we have to wage war with Iran, or he’d be pushing back unsuccessfully. He's smart to get out of that spot."
John McLaughlin: "So the president is fortifying himself. The president and maybe Rice if she’s -- depending on which way she's going -- they're fortifying themselves against the Dick Cheney reaction to this?"
Eleanor Clift: "No. They're -- I'm saying that Dick Cheney and the president want somebody in that intelligence job who will support their desire to make war with Iran, and I don't think -- I think Negroponte is too smart for that; he wanted out."
Mort Zuckerman: "Absolutely. He's very qualified."