Lieutenant General Douglas E. Lute, active duty Army, has agreed to take a job that at least five retired four-stars declined. Presently serving as chief operations officer on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Lute will move ahead of many seniors as he assumes authority to deal directly with cabinet secretaries and top military commanders.
Why Lute? "General Lute is a tremendously accomplished military leader who understands war and government and knows how to get things done," Mr. Bush said. One has to wonder: if Lute understands war and government and knows how to get things done, what's he still doing in the Bush administration?
According to National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, Lute had been skeptical of he "surge" strategy, arguing that additional troops in Iraq would do little good unless matched by equal diplomatic and economic efforts. "He had the same skepticism a lot of us had," Hadley said. Interesting. That remark leads one to believe that Hadley was skeptical about the surge plan, and to wonder how the plan got adopted if he National Security Adviser was so skeptical about it.
One might also suspect that Hadley's skepticism was the reason he was so eager to establish a war czar. Coordinating the efforts of cabinet secretaries and military commanders in time of war is supposed to be the National Security Adviser's job. By pawning that job off on a three-star general, Hadley rids himself of a giant headache.
John Sheehan, one of the retired generals who turned down the war czar post, said of Lute, "I wish the guy luck. He's got his work cut out for him."
Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies is even more sanguine about Lutes' prospects for success. "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," Cordesman said. "He is also a coordinator who works for a White House that has no long-term plan or strategy."
Jon Soltz of the antiwar VoteVets.org. has an even more cynical view of the war czar post. "This proves the president is throwing in the towel when it comes to directing the military, and is giving up his constitutional role," he said. "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."
Lute's wariness of the troop escalation in Iraq is not an opinion he arrived at recently. In a January 2006 interview, he told PBS's Charlie Rose that the military wanted to see "a smaller, lighter, less prominent U.S. force structure in Iraq." The smaller footprint, Lute explained, would lessen the perception of "occupation" and prevent a "dependency syndrome," a belief by the Iraqis that U.S. forces would do everything necessary to provide security and prevent the need for local forces to stand up.
Did Lute really believe that back in January 2006? More importantly, does he believe that now? If he does, he's just signed on to support a strategy he's opposed to.
It may be, though, that Lute is part of a movement within the military to wrest control of the war strategy away from the think tank neoconservatives. The escalation plan, after all, did not come from U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus or from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. It came from Frederick Kagan and retired general Jack Keane, prominent members of the American Enterprise Institute. Are we witnessing an ever so subtle "revolt of the generals?"
Gareth Porter of Antiwar.com suggests that perhaps we are.
When Admiral William Fallon was nominated to head Central Command, many wondered why a naval aviator had been chosen to lead a unified command in which two land wars were taking place. Some observers (including me) surmised that a naval aviator like Fallon was the perfect choice to oversee an air and maritime campaign against Iran. But Porter paints a very different picture.
Adm. William Fallon, then President George W. Bush's nominee to head the Central Command (CENTCOM), expressed strong opposition in February to an administration plan to increase the number of carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf from two to three and vowed privately there would be no war against Iran as long as he was chief of CENTCOM, according to sources with access to his thinking.
Porter cites an anonymous source who met privately with Fallon during his confirmation process who quoted Fallon as saying that an attack on Iran "will not happen on my watch." Fallon told the source that he was not alone. "There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box," Fallon reportedly said.
Porter also suggests that it was Fallon's influence that reversed the Bush administration's policy of not engaging in direct talks with Iran about the security situation in Iraq--a policy generally thought to have been championed by Dick Cheney. Cheney, presumably, is among those who Fallon referred to as "the crazies," and "several of us" most likely refers to a key group of four-star officers who, like Fallon, are trying to reform policy from within the establishment.
In that light, Lute's appointment as war czar makes a certain amount of sense. As a three-star, he certainly can't ride roughshod over four-star commanders and cabinet secretaries. But he can carry his superiors' mail to the White House, and make it clear to young Mr. Bush--in a way that Steven Hadley can't--that the grown ups are sick of the neocon nonsense.
Granted, we're trying to read tealeaves here, but it's been relatively clear that military and foreign policy experts (including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Joint Chiefs of Staff) have been opposed to the escalation strategy --and Bush foreign policies in general--for some time.
And it's looking more and more like the key shakers and movers are sending a signal to the White House--we've already written our resignation and retirement letters. You either stop listening to the "crazies" and start listening to us or we'll all click on the "print" button.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.