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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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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