Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Meet the new war czar

After a month of searching, a "war czar" has been found.

President Bush on Tuesday chose Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the
Pentagon's director of operations and a former leader of U.S. military forces in the Middle East, to oversee the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as a war czar.

Lute seems like a fine soldier, but he's way down the administration's wish list for the position. The authority and doability of the job aside, it's unclear whether such a relative unknown will have the personal force and charisma necessary to break logjams and keep everybody moving in the same direction.

There's also the question of whether we should put much trust in anyone who helped oversee combat in Iraq between 2004 and 2006, years in which the situation there spiraled out of control. There's always the question of whether to blame the generals or their political overseers, and Lute wasn't the overall commander in the theater. But at first blush it's not a great recommendation.

Here's what some military folks think of the pick. They think Lute's a fine officer, but wonder how a three-star general is going to order around four-star generals and Cabinet members.

And here's an interview (pdf) Lute did with Charlie Rose in January 2006, when he was director of operations for Centcom.

In it he says Al-Qaeda is weakening and losing support as a result of the war. But the example he gives has nothing to do with Iraq; he cites the bombing of a wedding in Amman, Jordan, and the collapse in AQ support afterward. Is anyone surprised that when AQ attacks Muslim targets, those Muslims don't like it?

He also discusses -- in a sort of premonition of his new job -- the need to fight networks of terrorists with networks of agencies and governments:

The other thing I would point to, Charlie, is the importance of taking this on, not simply as a military fight, but as a multi-agency fight where different arms of the government, the intelligence arm, the military arm for sure, the State Department, diplomatic arm, economic arm, those who bring law and order systems into a post-conflict scenario, that all these arms come together in an integrated networked way.

That's what he's been hired to do. Let's hope he is able -- and allowed -- to do a good job.

Update: Here's the video of part II of Charlie Rose's interview of Lute, conducted a few days after the interview I link to above. The segment with Lute starts around the 38-minute mark.

This time he discusses the strain on the military from our deployment in Iraq, in which he argues that while the soldiers' private lives are strained, most of them want to return to Iraq and, as a long-term upside, we're developing a large core of combat veterans. The first argument is a little bit of "happy talk." Our troops tend to be motivated, but dedication to the mission starts to wane after the third or fourth tour. The second part, while true as far as it goes, assumes those veterans stay in the service.

He also talks up the Iraqi army, a confidence that was proven to be a bit misplaced in the year that followed. He heaped praise on Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad -- a charter member of the neocon club who departed a year later (amid mounting chaos) to become our ambassador to the United Nations, a post about as important to this administration as the embassy in Liechtenstein (which is actually handled by the ambassador to Switzerland). He also discusses the military and political changes needed to succeed in Iraq.

He comes across as smart, but his role as spokesman and obvious cheerleader damages his credibility and doesn't give a true sense of the man.

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