Rumsfeld said in an interview with the Financial Times and three European news organizations that he did not learn of the new Iraq Stabilization Group until he received a classified memo about it from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on Thursday.
Rumsfeld was asked several times why the changes were necessary. 'I think you have to ask Condi that question,' he said, according to a transcript posted on the Web site of the Financial Times.
Pressed, he said: 'I said I don't know. Isn't that clear? You don't understand English? I was not there for the backgrounding.'
Rumsfeld's tart remarks offer a window on the tensions among members of President Bush's war Cabinet, which are vividly described by administration officials but are rarely visible to outsiders. Rumsfeld's bluntness has occasionally rankled allies and caused headaches for the White House, but Bush is said to remain supportive.
The new group, headed by senior Rice aides at the National Security Council, gives the White House a stronger role in overseeing the reconstruction effort, which is under attack on Capitol Hill as poorly planned and unexpectedly expensive. Republican sources said the White House realizes that the consequences could be dire if the pace of the reconstruction does not improve markedly before the 2004 presidential election campaign begins.
Rumsfeld said he has not talked to Bush about the changes. When an interviewer said it sounded as though Rumsfeld had not been briefed about the changes before the memo and an interview Rice gave the New York Times, he replied, 'That's true.':
Rove sees disaster ahead. Rumsfeld has served his purpose; now his incompetence makes him a liability. Look out below ...