The Maytag Repairman has nothing on Lieutenant General Douglas Lute. The newly nominated "War Czar" is about to become the loneliest man in the world.
During Lute's confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin (D-Michigan) told him that he would be, “responsible for bringing coherence to an incoherent policy, a policy that is still floundering after more than four years of war in Iraq.”
Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) said, “I just fear you are going to be placed in an impossible situation. It’s another public relations play rather than a significant change in strategy.”
Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) said, “You’ve been given a tough assignment. I share my colleagues’ concern that a good man has been put in a very difficult spot.”
Lute's in a difficult spot, all right. He's been ordered to march to the end of a long table and bend over.
Lute told the committee that: “America’s at war, and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan represent what we in the military call the main effort in the long war.”
Translation: "America is losing two wars."
Lute has a record of having opposed the current surge strategy, and said the results so far have been uneven. “Conditions on the ground are deeply complex and are likely to continue to evolve, meaning that we will need to constantly adapt.”
Translation: "I don't have a clue what's going on or what needs to be done."
He said that his job as War Czar will be to help “provide our troops and civilians in the field with increased focus, full-time, real-time support here in Washington.”
Translation: "I'm the new scapegoat."
Lute said that the aim of the War Czar billet is "…to bring additional energy, discipline and sense of urgency to the policy process.”
Translation: "It’s another public relations play rather than a significant change in strategy.”
Cheney of Command
Retired Marine General John Sheehan, a former top NATO commander, was one of several former four-stars who turned down the War Czar job. Sheehan said he believed that Vice President Dick Cheney were still more powerful than realists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks.'"
Sheehan's remarks about Cheney are notable because they illustrate the cockamamie nature of the chain of command in the Bush administration.
Militarily, young Mr. Bush is the military's commander in chief. Next in line is Robert Gates, the Secretary of Defense. After Gates come the combatant commanders, which in the case of both Iraq and Iran is Admiral William J. Fallon. Dick Cheney has no legal command authority. The only thing the Constitution authorizes him to be is president of the Senate. Operationally, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace has no command authority either. He is the president's adviser on military affairs. The individual service chiefs themselves are, in essence, administrative commanders, responsible for the manning, equipping, training and discipline of their individual services and for providing the combatant commanders with ready forces.
The National Security Adviser--a post created by Harry Truman during the Korean War--has no official status in the military chain of command either, nor does his staff, the National Security Council.
We have a dual chain of command in Iraq. Iraqi forces don't answer to U.S. commander in Iraq General David Petraeus, and if they don't want to show up to support any given operation, the Iraqi government doesn't make them. NATO supposedly has operational command of Afghanistan, but U.S. special forces conduct independent operations in that theater. Admiral Fallon supposedly controls all of the Central Command Area of Responsibility, but I can't for the life of me figure out what he actually controls, and suspect that he and his staff can't either.
Into this unholy mix we're about to throw three-star general Douglas Lute, and he's going to reach in and un-fritz the military command puzzle plus make things hum between the Department of Defense and all of the rest of the U.S. government agencies and private contractors involved in Iraq and Afghanistan? No, he's not going to do that. Superman couldn't do that. God might be able to pull it off, but I doubt he'd stoop to working for George W. Bush.
Earlier reports said that as War Czar, Lute would work under National Security Adviser Steven Hadley, but no. During his hearing, Lute revealed that Hadley will no longer have any role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Senator Jack Reed was aghast that the National Security Adviser was being taken totally off the hook for the two wars, and said that Hadley should be fired. (See the video of Reed's remarks at TPMMuckraker.)
Well, I wish Lute all the luck in the world. He'll need it. It may be that he'll facilitate a few things that otherwise would have fallen between the cracks.
But there's no way on earth he can recover four years worth of fumbles.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.