New U.S. “War Tsar” chosen on 6th attempt

U.S. President George W. Bush has chosen Lieutenant General Douglas Lute to serve as the new Deputy National Security Adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan, or the “War Tsar”, as the position was mischievously labelled by The Washington Post.

Lute is not a high-profile big-time operator, but commands universal respect for his integrity and intelligence. Indeed, he was shooting from the hip at the Senate hearing, alluding to Counterinsurgency Doctrine, pioneered by General Petraeus.

“The question in my mind is not to what extent can we force them or lever them to a particular outcome, but rather to what degree do they actually have the capacity themselves to produce that outcome,” the then-nominee stated.

It proved to be quite an ordeal to find a man for the newly created position to manage the forlorn mission. Five 4-star generals had the guts to say “nuts” to the White House offer, before a 3-star general decided to bail out his Commander-in-Chief.

A former NATO commander, retired Marine 4-star general, Jack Sheehan, was considered the shoo-in candidate. However, he swiftly declined the all the president’s men probing. “The very fundamental issue is, they don’t know where the hell they’re going,” the general said. He also expressed concern that Cheney’s “chicken hawks” still have more clout than pragmatists, who are looking for a way out from the Iraqi tar baby.

Even supporters of Douglas Lute, like James Robbins at the American Foreign Policy Council, admit, that “What is called for is a more revolutionary approach to interagency coordination. We need less tsar and more Lenin.”

Sceptics claim this is subcontracting responsibility for the most pressing foreign policy crisis. Carlos Pascual, former State Department Iraq reconstruction coordinator, didn’t beat around the bush, stating “An individual can’t fix a failed policy. So the key thing is to figure out where the policy is wrong.”

On the one hand, bureaucratic creativity with new agencies, like Homeland Security, or positions, like “War Tsar”, is not a substitution to a viable long-term strategy. On the other hand, Lt. Gen. Lute may try to nudge the president to embrace “real politics”.

It’s possible but highly improbable, that he will repackage the “hit & run” anathema into a graceful exit strategy to sell it upward. The war tsar dog-tag might be an omen, especially if you remember the fate of the last Russian tsar. Senator Hillary Clinton, before the confirmation of Douglas Lute’s appointment by the Senate, didn’t hesitate to share her doubts, saying “I don't know why you would put yourself in this position, but I wish you well in a position that many of us believe is an impossible one.”

Time will tell, whether this idea is a stroke of genus or just “cover your back” tactics, to pass the buck for the wrong strategy to the right scapegoat.