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New State Dept. Office Aimed at Postwar Aid

Agency Would Lay Groundwork for Rebuilding Nations

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 25, 2005; Page A17

The State Department has a plan for avoiding a repeat of the prewar planning mistakes that marred the U.S. occupation and reconstruction of Iraq. But, like many initiatives in Washington, it will require some money.

When President Bush sent Congress an $82 billion supplemental request last month for emergency funding for U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it included $17 million in start-up funds for a State Department office that would help manage the aftermath of war and stabilize countries torn by civil conflict.

Carlos Pascual, former ambassador to Ukraine, is head of the State Department's Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization. (Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)

The Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization would bring together civilian experts in such fields as political administration, law enforcement and economics and give them a seat at the table alongside the military during the planning of U.S. intervention in troubled states, Carlos Pascual, the head of the new office, said yesterday in a briefing with reporters.

The office, relying in part on relationships with other federal agencies and private-sector groups, would accompany military troops in the field and lay the groundwork for rebuilding countries crumbling under conflict, Pascual said. It also would serve as an early warning system, monitoring a "watch list" of nations at risk of sliding into the kind of dysfunction that gives rise to terrorism and civil strife.

"If we don't put in sufficient investment and time and energy, then the country goes back into conflict," said Pascual, a former ambassador to Ukraine.

Analysts have argued that the administration needs to do a better job of shoring up troubled states and ensuring that countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan get the support they need in the aftermath of military intervention by the United States and its allies. They have said policy squabbles and turf battles between State and the Defense Department crippled planning efforts for postwar Iraq, contributing to the rise of the insurgency and the difficulty in restoring basic services such as electricity and public safety.

"We're increasingly facing post-conflict transitions, transitions from authoritarian regimes that want to become democratic," said J. Brian Atwood, a former head of the U.S. Agency for International Development. "There's no question there's a need for this kind of thing."

But there are the questions of organization and money.

The office was created in July, but it still has no dedicated funding. That has forced Pascual to assemble a skeleton staff of 37 people, borrowed from elsewhere in State and other agencies, such as the CIA and the Treasury Department. He eventually hopes to have a headquarters staff of 80 people and an "active response corps" of 100 State employees who can be deployed when needed. The administration is seeking $100 million for the effort in the budget for fiscal 2006.

So far the administration is not getting what it asked for. The House last week approved the supplemental war funding but reduced the $17 million emergency request for the office to $3 million, Pascual said. The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take up the bill next month.

"How much I can do is going to depend, in part, on what happens in the budget process," Pascual said. ". . . If we can't get the resources from Congress, then what we're doing is going to be little more than a hypothetical exercise."

Atwood said money is not the only issue. While he respects Pascual's abilities, Atwood said the new office is not well positioned bureaucratically to achieve its mission, or get the attention from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that it needs. The best Foreign Service officers are reluctant to stray from the regional geographic bureaus, he said, and Pascual will have to go outside his domain for the talent he needs.

"The real question is, is Carlos simply going to be an interagency coordinator, or is he going to have all of the personnel and equipment necessary to do the job in his little bureau?" Atwood said. "And I think it's the former: He's going to be a coordinator, and he's going to have to draw on the offices that have the money and the equipment and the personnel."

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