By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 2, 2007
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has tapped Eliot A. Cohen, a prominent writer on national security strategy and an outspoken critic of the administration's postwar occupation of Iraq, as her counselor, State Department officials said yesterday.
Cohen would replace Philip D. Zelikow, a longtime Rice associate who left the administration earlier this year to return to teaching history at the University of Virginia. Despite Cohen's sometimes caustic views on administration policies, officials said he has impressed both Rice and President Bush with his writings, especially "Supreme Command," a study of the relationship between civilian commanders in chief and their military leaders.
In hiring Cohen, a professor at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies whose son served a tour of duty as an Army officer in Iraq, Rice has lured a leading figure of the neoconservative movement as her policies toward North Korea and Iran draw fierce attack from the Republican Party's right wing. Cohen has connections in that circle and deep roots in the military establishment, and he is likely to concentrate initially on Iraq and Afghanistan and on reshaping the State Department to better handle post-conflict environments.
The counselor position is unique to the State Department. It was once one of the top jobs at Foggy Bottom -- formerly held by such luminaries as George F. Kennan, Robert Lansing and Helmut Sonnenfeldt -- but it laid dormant during Bush's first term until it was resurrected by Rice. Zelikow played a critical role for Rice as an intellectual sounding board, operating as a one-person think tank who churned out policy papers on a variety of issues and took on special tasks while unencumbered with managerial responsibilities.
Cohen, in an interview, said Rice's job offer surprised him. "I have known her for a long time, but we did not have a close relationship," he said. He received a call from her office that Rice wanted to discuss policy, but once he arrived at her office, she got straight to the point and said she was interested in hiring him.
Cohen said he made sure to discuss his views on a range of issues but Rice appeared to value his different perspective and was unbothered by the prospect of internal disagreements. He declined to discuss his opinions yesterday, saying he planned to provide "unvarnished and discreet advice" to Rice. "I already have teeth marks on my tongue," he said, though he acknowledged his long paper trail will provide fodder for journalists.
"I'm sure you guys will have fun with that," Cohen said.
In a 2005 article for The Washington Post titled "A Hawk Questions Himself as His Son Goes to War," Cohen wrote that while the decision to invade was sound, "what I did not know then that I do know now is just how incompetent we would be at carrying out that task." He derided what he called "cockamamie schemes" in creating the Iraq army and the "under-planned, under-prepared and in some respects mis-manned Coalition Provisional Authority."
"The scholar in me is not surprised when our leaders blunder, although the pundit in me is dismayed when they do," Cohen wrote. " What the father in me expects from our leaders is, simply, the truth -- an end to happy talk and denials of error, and a seriousness equal to that of the men and women our country sends into the fight."
When Rice was named secretary of state after four years as national security adviser, Cohen wrote in the Wall Street Journal that the administration's foreign policy had "backbone and clarity of vision" but also "sheer stubbornness, culpable tactlessness and more dangerously, a lack of realism." He described the decision-making circle overseen by Rice as a "small, intimate coterie," saying such "policy-making groups become contemptuous of disagreement, indifferent to contrary arguments and at the end, impervious to reality itself."
But Cohen was also fiercely critical of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group report, writing in the Wall Street Journal that "a fatuous process yields, necessarily, fatuous results." Cohen, who has described himself as sympathetic to Israel, also denounced a paper last year by two prominent professors on the influence of the "Israel Lobby" as "inept, even kooky academic work" that was undeniably anti-Semitic.
Cohen is a member of Defense Policy Advisory Board and has on several occasions met with Bush to provide advice on Iraq, but he said he generally has been "perched on the margins [of government] for some time." He said he felt an obligation to serve when the country is at war, "when family is serving, students are serving and friends are serving."
The job does not require Senate confirmation. Cohen is expected to formally take the post in April, after finishing classes at SAIS, though he will begin working as a consultant to Rice before then.