War Czar as Figurehead? Errand Boy? Bush’s Messenger?

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Michael Hirsh writes in Newsweek that new war czar Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute faces almost insurmountable problems in his new job, problems that will essentially reduce him to being a high profile mouthpiece for the White House. He’ll be the public face of the war effort, and he’ll ferry the president’s orders to various departments around Washington, but he won’t be coordinating any fighting. Or giving orders to anyone, really.

Says Hirsh:

[Lute is] just a three-star general, and he’s still on active duty. What this means is that while nominally he’s the president’s man—his title puts him on par with national-security adviser Steven Hadley—militarily he’s still inferior in rank to four-star Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the multinational forces in Iraq. Neither will he be in a position to tell Defense Secretary Robert Gates or Rice what to do. “The term ‘war czar’ is terribly misguided,” says [retired Gen. Barry] McCaffrey. “I do think he’ll be an extremely able White House operative.”

Hirsh also notes that Bush is setting the poor guy up to fail. After all, if you’re a messenger for an inattentive president who has no substantive messages to deliver, how can you possibly hope to improve things?

The only way for Lute to be even marginally effective is if a president who has been consistently uninterested in the details of the Iraq conflict for the past four years—and in the nitty-gritty of Afghanistan for most of the last five years—starts obsessing over those details with just 18 months to go in his term. And that’s unlikely to happen.

We wrote at the onset of the surge that assigning the smart-as-a-whip General Petraeus to lead the fighting in Iraq was like throwing good money after bad — we were wasting a huge portion of the Army’s talent on a lost cause. And when that talent inevitably goes down swinging in September 2007 or February 2008 or whenever, the Bushies can say they did all they could. The situation with Lute feels very much the same. Perhaps that’s why the White House had so much trouble finding someone to fill the post.

Should have hired this guy.

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