A disturbing bit of news in the New York Sun today: Eli Lake reports that the Sunni sheik who was assassinated Thursday was supposed to be in the United States last week, but his trip was delayed. The State Department says a problem with the paperwork held up the visa, but a military official told Lake that State Department officials deliberately sabotaged the trip:
Yesterday, a State Department spokesman confirmed that Sheik Abdul Sattar al-Rishawi had applied for a visa to visit Washington. “We cleared him with absolutely no reservations, and the visa was being held up due to paperwork with the application and sponsor,” the spokesman said. […]
An American military official yesterday said the delay in Abu Risha’s visa was in part political. This source pinned the decision to scuttle the trip on senior leaders at the State Department. However, the State Department spokesman yesterday dismissed the charge.
According to the military official, the State Department in particular is wary of following through too much on General David Petraeus’s “bottom up” strategy. “There were howls of complaints when Abu Risha met with President Bush over Labor Day,” this official said. “The truth of the matter is that the more we strengthen the tribes, the less cooperation we are going to get from the Sunnis in Baghdad.”
I asked a former State Department official who currently works for the Pentagon if there was a danger that this sort of infighting could undermine Gen. Petraeus’s strategy. He said that as long as Petraeus had the full support of the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, dissent at Foggy Bottom would likely remain limited to these sorts of petty squabbles. “[Crocker] isn’t doing one thing that hasn’t been approved by the Secretary of State,” he said. ”There are debates within the State Department, of course, but Condi Rice has made the decision and Ambassador Crocker is being a loyal soldier.
“Dissent within the State Department, particularly from a guy who doesn’t like the administration, who goes outside the policy and tries to put focus on himself, there’s nothing unusual about it,” he said, adding that most career diplomats were Democrats. “If you don’t have dissent at the State Department, there’s probably a Democrat in office.”