Also on the foreign policy front, deputy national security adviser Douglas E. Lute moved off the Iraq portfolio recently to focus exclusively on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Dennis Ross, who'd been handling Iraq at the State Department, moved over to the White House. But Ross is senior director for the Central Region. This has apparently caused some confusion about precisely who's the point person for Iraq. Ross? Foreign policy advisor Denis McDonough? National Security Council chief of staff Mark Lippert? Biden also has taken on a leading role in Iraq matters.
I've been told that Lute, before he was reassigned, was expressing frustration over the new team's supposed inattention to Iraq policy. It seems hard to believe that Ross, who has his hands full figuring out Iran, and probably also sharing his deep knowledge of the peace process, can be involved in the details of Sunni-Shiite-Kurdish relations in Iraq. The designation of Biden to focus on Iraq seems an acknowledgement that the current national security structure has something of a gap in that area. To the extent Biden is plugging the gap, his national security advisor, longtime aide Antony Blinken, will be a key player. But keep in mind that Lippert is a reservist who has actually served in Iraq as recently as 2007.
To the extent there's lingering confusion, though, they'd better figure it out quick.