May 16, 2007

We already have a 'war czar'

This article appeared on

President Bush has named the Joint Chiefs of Staff Director of Operations to a newly created position innocuously titled the “assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan policy and implementation.” The more popular moniker for this position is the “war czar.”

This is not about Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute; by all accounts, he is a fine officer. This is about the need—or perhaps more importantly the wisdom—of creating such a position. We already have a czar for America’s wars – he’s called the Secretary of Defense. And we already have a war czar for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan – he’s called the Commander, U.S. Central Command (COMCENT).

Okay, I can hear the arguments already. The new position is in charge of not only the military aspects of our operations, but the civilian effort as well – the “hearts and minds” – in both countries. In other words, it spans the purview of both the Defense and State departments and requires a coordinator. Well, that’s part of the problem with the administration’s handling of the wars thus far. They need to realize that these are still wars and wars require a combat commander to run the show, not an “advisor.”

This is exactly how we got into the situation we now face in Iraq. The administration was so anxious to put a civilian face on the invasion of Iraq that it appointed a civilian administrator before the bullets stopped flying. We all know how well that turned out – Ambassador Jerry Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army and botched the security situation so badly that we are still there four years later fighting an insurgency that threatens to erupt into a full-scale civil war. Maybe if we had let the generals prosecute a war instead of letting an administrator manage the “transition” prematurely, it might have been over by now.

So, to continue the failed policy of portraying this as a political effort rather than the war that it is, the president appoints an Army general to the National Security Council to oversee the efforts of the Defense and State departments.

For those of us who served at the Pentagon in the late 1980’s, this is reminiscent of the tyranny of the National Security Council when field-grade military officers assigned to the White House dictated “policy and implementation” to the generals. We all know how that worked out. Anyone remember Iran-Contra?

We are fighting a war and we have a defined chain of command. The Constitution establishes the president as the commander in chief. The Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 establishes the military chain of command from the president (the commander in chief) to the Secretary of Defense, to the combatant commander, in this case COMCENT.

What happens when LTG Lute calls the Secretary of Defense (or State) and directs something be done and the Secretary disagrees? This sets up confusion and confrontation inside the administration. Then it has to go to the president for resolution.

Instead of creating yet another layer of authority between the president and troops in the field, how about some clear unambiguous direction to the Secretary of Defense and the field commander? The commander of the Central Command and the commander of Multinational Forces-Iraq need to hear orders loud and clear directly from the president and the Secretary of Defense, not guidance from an advisor.