Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Long Live the War Czar

Hey, boy, our problems in Iraq and Afghanistan are over now. We have a war czar, ladies and gentlemen. Happy days are here again.

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 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 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.


  1. Anonymous5:56 PM

    I really hope that you are right on this one.


  2. MME,

    I hope I am too.

  3. Anonymous4:19 PM

    Thanks again for your insight and and analysis, I seem to put off to often my expression of gratitude for your sharing your thoughts and experiences. I truly do hope this slant may be true also, but, its getting difficult not to lose heart at this point in time. I am not a religious person but , i find myself praying for our future and our children' future.


  4. EdNSted12:26 AM

    I have no personal knowledge as to the either character or the competency of Gen. Lute -- and in such cases, I start by giving that person the benefit of the doubt.

    I will say though, that I have 6 years of experience with the Bush administration. And I know that real power with these people is held in a very, very small circle. The worker bees in this administration are often given titles but are rarely granted the authority to perform the job their title suggests.

    For example, Alberto Gonzales is Attorney General in name only. In fact, he remains counsel to the president and nothing more. It is crystal clear that as Attorney General, Mr. Gonzales wields no real power. His strings are being pulled -- 100% -- by those above him. He was named to the position of Attorney General not because he is well qualified and dedicated to serving the people but because he grovels to pleasure the president.

    This administration has demonstrated time and time again that loyalty is value far more than competency. I have a very hard time believing, regardless of whatever fine qualifications and chgaacter General Lute has, that he will be granted the real power and authority to do the job he has been tasked with performing. Could I be wrong? Of course. But if I was a betting person, I'd bet on this being just one more giant CF from the gang that can't shoot straight. No slight of General Lute is intended.


  5. morinao7:04 PM

    I don't buy that the war czar was invented by the sane military establishment to register disapproval; if Gates et al have to appoint a flunky to deliver their nasty notes to the President rather than confronting him face to face, they don't have the spine to resign.

    No, I think the war czar was invented by Cheney et al as part of their eternal bureaucratic turf war with the State Department. They've always griped about the diplomats dragging their feet; now they finally have a channel through which Defense can control State directly. I'm sure that's what Hadley envisions; currently he's the one relaying orders from Defense to State via his White House office and he'd like to offload that chore.

    Possibly Cheney et al had more grandiose ambitions for the war czar, as evidenced by the timing. In February, a ploy to rattle sabers at Iran is shot down by Admiral Fallon, whose job as the new CENTCOM is to supervise the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In March, the administration starts trying to hire a general whose job as the new war czar is to supervise the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In April, five retired four-stars decline the job. And in May, the job is filled by a three-star whose low rank and active duty status preclude him from exercising any significant authority in the Defense Department, but not in the State Department.

    So a win over State, but not over CENTCOM.

  6. Good observations, Morinao. Thanks for posting,



  7. "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?"
    He shoots... He scores...

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