War Czar Job a Tough Sell
The president is looking for a “war czar” and isn’t finding any takers.
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.
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.
While my initial reaction to the idea mirrored Bruce McQain‘s description as “one of the dumber ideas floated by the administration to date,” it has some merit once you get beyond the title.
The administration’s interest in the idea stems from long-standing concern over the coordination of civilian and military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan by different parts of the U.S. government. The Defense and State departments have long struggled over their roles and responsibilities in Iraq, with the White House often forced to referee.
The highest-ranking White House official responsible exclusively for the wars is deputy national security adviser Meghan O’Sullivan, who reports to national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and does not have power to issue orders to agencies. O’Sullivan plans to step down soon, giving the White House the opportunity to rethink how it organizes the war effort.
Unlike O’Sullivan, the new czar would report directly to Bush and to Hadley and would have the title of assistant to the president, just as Hadley and the other highest-ranking White House officials have, the sources said. The new czar would also have “tasking authority,” or the power to issue directions, over other agencies, they said.
Now, Bruce is right that the president has the necessary authority to issue orders, although it’s not quite as simple as “Step up and take charge of the problem. State Department won’t cooperate? Find people who will. DoD playing games? Let the game players know in no uncertain terms the game has just changed.”
Presidents can’t and shouldn’t micromanage wars. Nor is this a purely military exercise, which could ably be overseen by the combatant commander and the SECDEF. Interagency coordination is vital here.
The problem, as Steven Taylor points out, is that it’s rather late in the game to be trying to figure out how to handle the interagency process. Someone will ultimately take the job, I suppose, but it’s going to be hard to find anyone with the gravitas to pull it off who is willing to take on such a daunting task.
UPDATE: Thomas Barnett argues that this is just a ham-handed way of avoiding the inevitable creation of a “Department of Everything Else.”