Why Do We Need a War Czar?

17 May

I’m very skeptical about this latest decision by our MBA chief executive.

Some Iraq experts were encouraged. "This is an unusually talented guy," said Ellen Laipson, president of the Henry L. Stimson Center, who returned from Iraq yesterday. "He’s one of those intellectual soldiers who also exudes strong personal leadership qualities."

Yet Lute will face enormous obstacles four years into the war. "The most serious problem everyone has in any coordinated approach to Iraq is that the problems are beyond his control — including relations between the White House and Congress," said Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "He is also a coordinator who works for a White House that has no long-term plan or strategy."

That was the reason given by other generals who turned down the job, including retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan. "I wish the guy luck," Sheehan said of Lute yesterday. "He’s got his work cut out for him." Critics said the appointment underscores Bush’s failures. "Whatever the name of the position is, this proves the president is throwing in the towel when it comes to directing the military, and is giving up his constitutional role," said Jon Soltz, co-founder of the antiwar VoteVets.org. "The troops are now depending on Lt. Gen. Lute to do something the president wouldn’t — listen to commanders who are telling him we need more diplomacy, not escalation."

Intel Dump’s Phillip Carter says what I wanted to say better than I can (which reminds me of what Mark Schmitt says about electing politicians, not for their ideas, but for their ability to make policy):

1) Isn’t this guy supposed to be the "war czar"? If he can’t make the interagency process work by knocking a few heads and firing a few cabinet officers, who can?

2) What’s going to happen the first time that Lt. Gen. Lute doesn’t get his way? Imagine a hypothetical where Gen. David Petraeus asks for more Justice Department personnel to promote the rule of law , and Al Gonzales tells him to go swimming in the Tigris. What’s a 3-star general to do? Will the White House back Lute and tell Al to cough up the people? Or will Lute get steamrolled? Assuming the latter happens, will he suck it up and soldier on, resign quietly, or resign noisily?

3) How are the other agencies going to react to having yet another general in charge of policy? Maybe about as well as State reacted to having Jay Garner appointed as the head of ORHA during the early stages of the war? I understand that the military is the main effort right now in Iraq. I also understand that’s a deeply flawed organizational paradigm, because counterinsurgency is a political endeavor, and it may make a lot more sense to put a political animal (someone like Robert "Blowtorch Bob" Komer) in charge. (What? You’ve never heard of Blowtorch Bob? Read this! And this!)

4) How broken is the U.S. national security apparatus that we need a "czar" to run it? Is the NSC that f—ed up that it needs a 3-star with some juice in the Pentagon to make things work? (This is a rhetorical question; the only possible answer is yes.) Or are the agencies that stubborn? (Again, yes.) Where and how did the National Security Act and Goldwater-Nichols Act run aground that we’ve come to this? (Long story.) Could it be that we have the greatest military in the world, capped by the most ineffective and bloated bureaucracy ever created?

Van Galien asks another question I would, but because I dread the chance that withdrawal is an option any politician or officer would take now:  "And: being a critic of the surge, will this mean that he will advocate a withdrawal (via Jules Crittenden) if the surge won’t produce the results Bush hopes it will?"

In other words, is this our fall guy? Is this guy that dumb, or that ambitious? We should elect this kind of president the first time around, not wait for the mistakes.

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