May 16, 2007 - With less than two years to go in his last term President George W. Bush has picked them man he hopes will take the blame for the conduct of his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is Lieutenant General Douglas E. Lute. If his appointment is confirmed by the Senate he will rank as Assistant to the President and Deputy Security Advisor. His unofficial titles will include War Tsar and Fall Guy in Chief. Since January the administration has been mining the ranks of retired Generals seeking someone who would agree to be stuck with the newly created post. There were no takers.
eneral Lute will not lose his military position when he transitions between the Pentagon and the White House. He will retain his status as an active duty military officer. That fact is important for a couple of reasons. As an active duty military officer, unlike the retired generals who have been offered and refused the post he was in no position to refuse to take the position when his Commander in Chief called. More importantly his appointment does violence to the principle of Civilian Control of the Military and blurs the military chain of command.
Three Star General Lute will be supervising the operations conducted by his superior officer, Four Star General Dan Petraeus. His “coordination” of Iraq policy will bypass the Pentagon cutting Defense Secretary Robert Gates out of the Washington-Doha loop. Secretary Gates has a tendency toward candor that has been disconcerting to Bush Administration Hawks and seems less confident that some in the surge policy that has yet to show concrete results. In his new position General Lute will have the authority to issue orders to the Department of Defense, the State Department, and other Federal Agencies. So much for the chain of command, civilian control of the military and, for that matter, George W. Bush’s role as Pitchman-in-Chief for the neo-con’s oil war.
The President seems to have begun to distance himself from the conduct of the war. His recent public speeches have focused on his domestic agenda as he reaches out to Democrats for the support on his immigration initiative that his own party has denied him. This appointment is part of this effort. For his part General Lute is late to support of the “surge” policy. As late as August 2005 he was telling Financial Times, “You simply have to back off and let the Iraqis step forward. You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq.” Even as the surge was being implemented he expressed a doubt that Iraqi forces would step up and perform as the policy required that they do.
Despite his doubts Doug Lute is stuck with primary responsibility for executing the policy. The Bush administration is hoping that the General will be the lightning rod for the political fallout from failure. Karl Rove is hoping that between now and November 2008 failing policy in Iraq and Afghanistan will become Doug Lute’s War.