Thursday, May 17, 2007

You're Drifting Off to Sleep, With Your Teeth In Your Mouth

Ralph Peters ponders the prospects for the new "War Czar" to rectify the mess in Iraq and pronounces his reign dead on arrival. The reason: despite the grandiose title, the War Czar will lack the authority to truly command the various nodes of Executive branch power. He is, as Peters describes him, a "Toothless Tiger":

On paper, the appointment of three-star Gen. Douglas E. Lute as White House "war czar" - after five retired four-stars turned down the job - makes perfect sense. It's about time somebody took charge.

The reality is something else: The whoppingly mislabeled "czar" will have neither the authority to force departments and agencies to do what they were supposed to do all along, nor the vital power of the purse.

He'll have to rely on persuasion. In D.C., that's a joke.

Lord knows, the administration needs a grown-up to make its brats do their homework, to ensure that our commanders and troops get the support they need and to look ahead instead of forever scrambling to fix yesterday's goofs.

But the problem with past "czars" has been that they were handed big missions and zero clout. Despite the hoopla surrounding their appointments, they were little more than nags in the government kitchen. At most, they provided the illusion that a problem was taken seriously. [...]

The fundamental issue is this: How much authority will the war czar have? If the usual pattern prevails, the feudal domains on the Potomac will nod politely when he speaks, but ignore him when their parochial interests are threatened.

Will he be able to order the State Department to send its cowering personnel to fill the empty slots they've left in Iraq? I guarantee you that the answer is "no."

Will he be able to command the intelligence agencies to refocus their in-house priorities to better support our troops? Nope.

Will he be able to shift Pentagon resources to support the wars we face instead of the fantasy wars we'd like to fight someday? Not a chance. The services know how to defend their toy boxes, and the Capitol Hill porkmeisters would knock out any teeth his office might have.

Will he at least be able to persuade the Department of Agriculture to send enough experts to Iraq to make a difference? Not if the Aggies ain't in the mood to plant date palms.

And the elephant-with-dysentery on the White House South Lawn is, of course, the spectacularly corrupt and incompetent private-sector involvement in Iraq. Will the American people's war czar be able to force corporate carpetbaggers to fulfill the contracts for which they've received billions?

Will he have the authority to regulate and discipline the private security firms whose thugs have done so much to undermine our relations with the average Iraqi? [...]

In Washington, if you can't fire people, prosecute them or take away their money, you're a joke.

He's got a point. Of course, there is one person in Washington who could take control of the "administration" and its "brats" and compel them to execute the plan laid out by the Commander in Chief. That person happens to be...why, the Commander in Chief himself, President Bush.

So if Lute's mission is doomed because he doesn't have the authority and "clout" that the President has, it does sort of make you wonder why the President doesn't, you know, do all of those things Lute would do if he only could. Or at least take Lute's suggestions and give him some dental implants.

What a curious fiction. Peters would have us all pretend that a President who has openly embraced a style of governance that has maximized the authority and prerogatives of an all powerful "unitary executive" is still utterly powerless to act in a role that has traditionally, and textually, been well within his office's purview.

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