National Security Adviser Steven J. Hadley is still looking for someone to take a high profile job that folks in Washington are referring to as the "war czar." The war czar, as Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times explains, "would brief Mr. Bush every morning on Iraq and Afghanistan, then prod cabinet secretaries into carrying out White House orders."
Or as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put it, the war czar would do "what Steve Hadley would do if Steve Hadley had the time.” One has to wonder what's keeping the National Security Advisor from having enough time to deal with our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Hadley admits that he doesn't have the kind of star power it takes to make everybody move and shake on the same page. “What we need,” he said, “is someone with a lot of stature within the government who can make things happen.”
It takes bit more than "stature" to order a cabinet secretary around. It takes authority, and the only person with that kind of authority is the president. Anybody he delegates as his mouthpiece is nothing more than that. Cabinet secretaries who blow off Steve Hadley are just as likely to blow off whoever might be foolish enough to take the war czar job. What's more, we already have too many war chefs stirring the broth. Throwing in an extra one, especially one who has no real authority to make decisions and give orders, will only make things worse.
What's the administration's real motive in wanting to establish a war czar? David J. Rothkopf, author of Running the World, a book about the National Security Council, says, "It’s kind of a desperation move.” Rothkopf describes the war czar position as “a tactic to separate the national security adviser from Iraq.”
It looks more to me like a long-term strategy to separate the entire upper tier of Bush's inner war council from its fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan. We've already seen Donald Rumsfeld and Generals John Abizaid and George Casey disappear under the bus. Robert Gates and David Petraeus are next in line. If they swim, great; if they sink, oh well. Anybody crazy enough to take this wacky war czar job will merely be another layer of protection for the guys at the top, most notably Bush and Cheney.
Former National Security Adviser and current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is just one member of the inner circle looking for sandlot asylum. She's fighting a subpoena that orders her to testify before the House Committee on Government Oversight regarding the way the White House handled pre-war intelligence. Rice says, "It's a separation of powers issue -- to testify before a congressional committee is an important constitutional issue."
It's a separation of powers issue, all right. Rice could wind up separated not only from her powers as a cabinet member, but from her freedom to walk city streets and shop for shoes. Government Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-California) has threatened to find Rice in contempt if she refuses to appear.
You can safely bet a Halliburton executive's paycheck that the White House will call in every marker it's handed out to make sure Condi doesn't have to sing for Waxman's committee. If Congress can crack a Cabinet Secretary, it can crack anybody in the executive branch below that level (which is everybody in the executive branch except for Bush and Cheney). And brother, the minute all these loyal Bush appointees get the notion that their options are to a) face real jail time or b) take immunity and spill the beans, Congress will have a pot full of high crimes and misdemeanors to slap Bush and Cheney upside the head with.
The "I" Word
"Impeachment" has crossed the lips of congressional Republicans and Democrats alike. I'm not sure how serious anyone is about impeaching Bush or any members of his administration. It may be that specter of impeachment, perhaps of Bush and Cheney, serves as a political lever in the ongoing struggle over Iraq policy.
It's tempting to decry this sort of political maneuvering in a time of war, but we have to keep in mind that war is the ultimate political act, and that despite what some would have us think, there's no real separating domestic politics from foreign policy. Mr. Bush wants to continue this war through the end of this tenure. We can't say for certain what his complete motives are, but among them certainly must be a desire to avoid being the first U.S. president to lose two wars. Congressional democrats justifiably feel the people voted them into power to bring the Iraq war to a timely conclusion. If the threat, veiled or otherwise, of impeachment can help the Democrats (and their Republican allies) achieve their aims, they would be remiss not to employ it.
And don't think for a moment that Bush Republicans aren't playing politics with the war either. House Republican Leader John Boehner has taken to calling withdrawal timetables "surrender dates," and the standard line-up of right wing pundits is handing out the standard line of "defeat-ocrat" bull.
What happens after Bush vetoes the emergency appropriation bill is anybody's guess, but it's a good bet that this issue will continue to heat up as November 2008 approaches.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.