Bush fiddles while the world burns

President Bush is continuing the shuffle of his military, intelligence and foreign policy team that began with the dismissal of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his replacement by former CIA Director Robert Gates.

This past week he moved Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte to the number two slot at the State Department and brought in retired National Security Agency Director Mike McConnell to replace Negroponte.

The White House was at pains to stress that this was not a demotion for Negroponte and indeed the job of deputy secretary of State is a prized diplomatic assignment and doesn’t lack for duties and responsibilities.

Negroponte has been a key player in the Bush administration and in its Iraq policy — ambassador to the U.N. from 2001 to 2004, when the U.S. got the resolution the administration said justified intervening in Iraq, and ambassador to Baghdad from 2004 to 2005 before taking on the newly created post of director of National Intelligence.

However, the White House has shown a worrisome dilatoriness about filling these sensitive posts.

The deputy secretary of State’s job has been vacant since last August. The deputy director of National Intelligence slot has been empty since Michael Hayden left it last May to become CIA director.

And even though Congress created the post of director of National Intelligence in late 2004, Bush didn’t get around to naming Negroponte until mid-February. He took over in April 2005, and now he’s leaving it after only 21 months.

The president has known since the summer of 2005 that the Senate was unlikely to confirm John Bolton, his nominee as U.N. ambassador. Bolton has been there in an acting capacity that expired this past week, plenty of time for the White House to have selected his replacement. Yet with Bolton gone Bush is only now prepared to name the current U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, to the job.

The new Democratic-controlled Senate should set an example and quickly confirm these nominees when their names arrive on Capitol Hill.