Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Delegating disaster

The White House is looking for someone to take over responsibility for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House wants to appoint a high-powered czar to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies, but it has had trouble finding anyone able and willing to take the job, according to people close to the situation.

The snark in me is asking "isn't that Bush's job?" But I realize that's unfair. We're talking day-to-day management of the war, which isn't a presidential duty.

No, the real telling thing is that nobody wants the job.

At least three retired four-star generals approached by the White House in recent weeks have declined to be considered for the position, the sources said, underscoring the administration's difficulty in enlisting its top recruits to join the team after five years of warfare that have taxed the United States and its military.

"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," said retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks,'" he said.

You don't make general in the military without being able to smell a fiasco from miles away. Not that you really needed a special Spidey sense in this case. Not when the Pentagon is extending the tours of all Army soldiers in Iraq to 15 months, administration supporters like Bob Novak are saying the "surge" isn't working and Bush is preparing to sit down with Democrats to discuss ways to get continued funding for the wars.

What's more interesting is the view expressed by Sheehan, who retired after a 35-year career in the Marines.

"I've never agreed on the basis of the war, and I'm still skeptical," Sheehan said. "Not only did we not plan properly for the war, we grossly underestimated the effect of sanctions and Saddam Hussein on the Iraqi people."

In the course of the discussions, Sheehan said, he called around to get a better feel for the administration landscape.

"There's the residue of the Cheney view -- 'We're going to win, al-Qaeda's there' -- that justifies anything we did," he said. "And then there's the pragmatist view -- how the hell do we get out of Dodge and survive? Unfortunately, the people with the former view are still in the positions of most influence."

That, folks, is a Marine saying the war was a mistake, Cheney is a problem and we should be looking to withdraw, not get drawn in further.

Maybe Cheney can take the job.

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