President Bush's nomination of John Negroponte, the current United States Ambassador to Iraq, to be the nation's first National Director of Intelligence (DNI) is puzzling, if not troubling.
Leaving aside Negroponte's qualifications for the job, the President's removal of Negroponte from Baghdad at this critical moment adds instability to an already unstable situation. It is especially ironic in light of President Bush's repeated statements that that Iraq is the frontline in our war against terrorism and yesterday's testimony by CIA Director Porter Goss that the war in Iraq "has become a cause for extremists." As notable as President Bush's appointment of Negroponte is the sudden vacancy in Baghdad.
The real question is not whether Negroponte lacks the management capabilities and experience in the intelligence community to succeed, but whether he is the strongest candidate for this incredibly important job. Among the challenges the Director of National Intelligence will face are:
- Will he be able to make the tough, necessary, and frequently unpopular decisions to manage and lead the 15 established agencies that make up the Intelligence Community?
- Will he have the fortitude to go toe-to-toe with the infamously truculent Donald Rumsfeld, whose department currently controls more than 80 percent of the estimated $40 billion intelligence budget?
- Will he be able to quickly hire staff and create his office (when even the president conceded today that he does not know where it will be) in order to quickly establish his new authority?
Many news outlets have reported that Negroponte, a loyal servant to the president, was not the president's first choice for this job; he was not even his third choice. Like many of the president's personnel choices, Negroponte has one thing going for him: he is confirmable.
In an era of Abu Ghraib and newly aggressive intelligence, serious questions about Negroponte's record on human and civil rights abuses must be addressed by the Senate. Negroponte will and should face questions during his confirmation hearings regarding his involvement with—or inattention to—the human rights abuses perpetrated by Honduran death squads during his tenure as ambassador to Honduras from 1981-1985.
There is important work to be done in overseeing the intelligence community. The new DNI will have enormous responsibilities in managing the intelligence community, serving as the president's chief intelligence adviser, and establishing his new office.
It is regrettable that the president has undermined the attempt to secure Iraq's future to produce a nominee. Negroponte has his work cut out for him.