The Senate held hearings the other day to confirm Lt. General Douglas Lute to be President Bush’s “War Czar”– a special assistant to the President directly overseeing the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.* Remember, this is the job that 3 or 4 (to our knowledge) retired Generals turned down. Lute, on active duty in the Army, could hardly say no.
I wonder– how on earth is he going to be able to do anything in this job? In the report on his confirmation hearing, Lute offered a “dour assessment” of Iraq:
President Bush’s nominee to be war czar said yesterday that conditions in Iraq have not improved significantly despite the influx of U.S. troops in recent months and predicted that, absent major political reform, violence will continue to rage over the next year.
Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, tapped by Bush to serve as a new high-powered White House coordinator of the war, told senators at a confirmation hearing that Iraqi factions “have shown so far very little progress” toward the reconciliation necessary to stem the bloodshed. If that does not change, he said, “we’re not likely to see much difference in the security situation” a year from now.
As the president’s point man on Iraq, Lute would be charged with helping to ensure that Iraqis can achieve those goals. But he expressed doubt about whether the Iraqis have the ability to change and whether the United States has the ability to force them to do so. “I have reservations about just how much leverage we can apply on a system that is not very capable right now,” he said.
Reservations. But look where’s he’s going to work! If they have reservations, they’re for a different restaurant.
In our briefings in Iraq in these last few days, General Petraeus underscored the fact that the enemy tactics are barbaric … that we can expect more violence as they try to destroy the hopes of the Iraqi people. But they told me as well of the progress that’s been made in fighting al-Qaeda terrorists, seizing weapons, and getting actionable intelligence. The job now is to persevere in every area of operations – from Baghdad, to Anbar Province, to the border areas. And I think General Petraeus’s own words put it best: “We cannot allow mass murderers to hold the initiative. We must strike them relentlessly. We and our Iraqi partners must set the terms of the struggle, not our enemies. And together we must prevail.”
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, I have to rely on reports like everybody else does, obviously. I’ve spent today here basically in our embassy and the military headquarters in the green zone, so I can’t speak from personal experience in terms of what’s going on all across Iraq.
I can say that based on the conversations I’ve had today, and most of those conversations were with Iraqis and Iraqi leaders – some of them in the government, some of them not – that they believe the situation has gotten better. They cite specifically the statistics on sectarian violence, Sunni-on-Shia and Shia-on-Sunni violence that they think is down fairly dramatically.
I think everybody recognizes there still are serious security problems, security threats; no question about it.
But the impression I got from talking with them – and this includes their military as well as political leadership – is that they do believe we are making progress, but we’ve got a long way to go.
Lets not forget who he’s working for. Bush’s idea of the victory that Lute should coordinate:
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You say you want nothing short of victory, that leaving Iraq would be catastrophic; you once again mentioned al Qaeda. Does that mean that you are willing to leave American troops there, no matter what the Iraqi government does? I know this is a question we’ve asked before, but you can begin it with a “yes” or “no.”
THE PRESIDENT: We are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. This is a sovereign nation. Twelve million people went to the polls to approve a constitution. It’s their government’s choice. If they were to say, leave, we would leave.
Q — catastrophic, as you’ve said over and over again?
THE PRESIDENT: I would hope that they would recognize that the results would be catastrophic. This is a sovereign nation, Martha. We are there at their request. And hopefully the Iraqi government would be wise enough to recognize that without coalition troops, the U.S. troops, that they would endanger their very existence. And it’s why we work very closely with them, to make sure that the realities are such that they wouldn’t make that request — but if they were to make the request, we wouldn’t be there.
So what do we have now?
Yes, I’m — there’s — certainly, there’s been an uptick in violence. It’s a snapshot, it’s a moment. And David Petraeus will come back with his assessment after his plan has been fully implemented, and give us a report as to what he recommends — what he sees, and what he recommends, which is, I think, a lot more credible than what members of Congress recommend. We want our commanders making the recommendations, and — along with Ryan Crocker, our Ambassador there — I don’t want to leave Ryan out.
And so it’s a — you know, to Axelrod’s point, it’s a — no question it’s the kind of report that the enemy would like to affect because they want us to leave, they want us out of there. And the reason they want us to leave is because they have objectives that they want to accomplish. Al Qaeda — David Petraeus called al Qaeda public enemy number one in Iraq. I agree with him. And al Qaeda is public enemy number one in America. It seems like to me that if they’re public enemy number one here, we want to help defeat them in Iraq.
This is a tough fight, you know? And it’s, obviously, it’s had an effect on the American people. Americans — a lot of Americans want to know win — when are you going to win? Victory is — victory will come when that country is stable enough to be able to be an ally in the war on terror and to govern itself and defend itself.
One of the areas where I really believe we need more of a national discussion, however, is, what would be the consequences of failure in Iraq? See, people have got to understand that if that government were to fall, the people would tend to divide into kind of sectarian enclaves, much more so than today, that would invite Iranian influence and would invite al Qaeda influence, much more so than in Iraq today. That would then create enormous turmoil, or could end up creating enormous turmoil in the Middle East, which would have a direct effect on the security of the United States.
Failure in Iraq affects the security of this country. It’s hard for some Americans to see that, I fully understand it. I see it clearly. I believe this is the great challenge of the beginning of the 21st century — not just Iraq, but dealing with this radical, ideological movement in a way that secures us in the short term and more likely secures us in the long term.
THE PRESIDENT: — that’s really the crux of it. And — let me finish, please, here. I’m on a roll here. And so now that we have, does it make sense to help this young democracy survive? And the answer is, yes, for a variety of reasons.
One, we want to make sure that this enemy that did attack us doesn’t establish a safe haven from which to attack again. Two, the ultimate success in a war against ideologues is to offer a different ideology, one based upon liberty — by the way, embraced by 12 million people when given the chance. Thirdly, our credibility is at stake in the Middle East. There’s a lot of Middle Eastern nations wondering whether the United States of America is willing to push back against radicals and extremists, no matter what their religion base — religious bases may be.
And so the stakes are high in Iraq. I believe they’re absolutely necessary for the security of this country. The consequences of failure are immense.
And Lute is to make all this happen. So, again, tell me how Lute can going to be at all effective in doing these things?
Although senators from both parties praised Lute and made clear they plan to confirm him, Democrats took issue with Bush’s decision to create the post more than four years into the war. Lute would serve as an assistant to the president who would brief Bush every day and manage the U.S. government’s civilian and military efforts in Iraq.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) also questioned Lute about Vice President Cheney’s role. Lute responded that Cheney is “an important participant in policy development” and that “I’ll be working with the vice president and his staff.”
“Well,” Clinton replied, “I wish you well. Because certainly that’s turned out to be a difficult situation for many.”
To say the least.
Good Luck General, i think you’re really going to need it.
*Normally, presidential aids do not require Senate confirmation. However promotions and new assignments for active duty flag officers do require Senate approval, and since Lute is a Lt. General in the Army, his new job requires Senate approval.