The No. 2 job in the State Department is technically a step down from John Negroponte’s present post of director of national intelligence. But the reported return to the foreign policy fold of this former ambassador to Baghdad, and, before that, to the UN, has a certain logic to it. The diplomacy-challenged Bush administration could surely use the help. We hope that Negroponte can provide Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with the intellectual and bureaucratic reinforcement she so desperately needs to help guide the administration to a wiser course on Iraq.

Negroponte is known as a canny, and sometimes ruthless, bureaucratic player. What he doesn’t have, unfortunately, is much of a reputation for challenging the unwise policy presumptions of his bosses. If Negroponte made a serious effort to jolt his bosses back to the real world, there is no public record of it.

That will have to change if he is to have any chance of improving things. Before confirming him, the Senate should make sure he understands that asking hard and unwelcome questions is an essential part of the job. Even then, Bush must find a replacement for Negroponte, one who is willing to jolt his bosses with the truth. This administration’s record of failures in Iraq is matched only by its failures on intelligence. — The New York Times