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

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


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.

MOTHER JONES NEEDS YOUR HELP

Straight to the point: Donations have been concerningly slow for our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, over the next few weeks so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

payment methods

MOTHER JONES NEEDS YOUR HELP

Straight to the point: Donations have been concerningly slow for our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, over the next few weeks so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate