Friday, April 13, 2007

There's a big job opening in Washington, but nobody seems to want it

WANTED: Prosecutors of an unpopular, disastrous war seek military expert for newly created job of “war czar.” Must be willing to conspire with his superiors in a PR operation designed to snow the public into believing that something positive is actually being done to mop up the mess. Must be willing to knock heads with a vice president who has a vested interest in perpetuating the disaster. Must be willing to cede all credit to the commander-in-chief, in the unlikely event that progress is really achieved. Must be willing to play the fall guy, and shoulder all the blame, in the more likely event that nothing changes whatsoever, thereby providing some small and ephemeral measure of political protection to the commander-in-chief.

In so many words, that’s basically what the White House has been circulating, as it looks for a war “czar” to preside over President Bush’s debacle. I’m not kidding about this. In case you missed the story the other day, Bush is really seeking such a person – and he has already been turned down by three military leaders who apparently have no desire to climb aboard the Titanic just as the water floods the First Class cabins.

This search for a "czar" would also seem to imply that the president doesn't have confidence in his own team (Defense chief Robert Gates, State's Condoleezza Rice, National Security advisor Stephen Hadley) to run the show anymore, or at least to effectively coordinate policy among themselves. This will hardly help Bush with the American majority that has already written him off.

One of the applicants who rejected the job, retired Marine Gen. and former NATO commander John Sheehan, even talked on the record about his reasons for demurral. Referring to Bush and his fellow war planners, he said: “The very fundamental issue is they don't know where the hell they're going."

But the troops in Iraq certainly know where they’re going: Nowhere.

Two days ago, Bush’s war team announced that the tours of the soldiers currently fighting in Iraq will be extended by three extra months in order to comport with the Bush “surge” strategy. (The soldiers seem to be less than thrilled about the news.) What’s most striking about this announcement, in political terms, is that it totally undercuts one of the president’s key rhetorical attacks against the congressional Democrats.

You may recall that on April 3, in the Rose Garden, Bush contended that unless the Democrats speedily forked over all the money he wants for the war, on an open-ended basis with no strings attached, then the troops would be hurt and the Democrats would have to shoulder all the blame. Here’s what he said: “Congress’ failure to fund our troops on the front lines will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines….That is unacceptable to me, and I believe it is unacceptable to the American people.”

He said the same thing on Tuesday of this week, in a speech to the American Legion. Yet one day after the Legion speech, his Pentagon announced the "unacceptable" tour-of-duty extension, which means (to paraphrase Bush) that some of our military families will wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines.

In other words, the growing strains on the military are directly attributable to Bush’s war strategy. Thanks to the actions of his administration, he has thwarted his own attempts to pin the blame on the Democrats.

The White House has a creative explanation for all this, of course. When a reporter asked Bush flak Dana Perino to explain yesterday why Bush had declared a Democratic-driven tour-of-duty extension to be "unacceptable," even while his own Pentagon was preparing to announce such an extension, she replied: "I’m not aware that the President knew that there was going to be — that Secretary Gates had come to any decisions."

Translation: The deputy press secretary is unaware of whether Bush was aware that a decision had been made by a key subordinate to extend the tours of soldiers in Iraq....But wait a minute, isn't Bush supposed to be the Decider?

No wonder those prospective czars said no. What better way to soil one’s career than to join up with a band of lame ducks that can’t even win the PR battle in Washington?


And finally this week, why is it that Washingtonians seem so fixated on czar, as a descriptive word for a policy tough guy? It all started in 1974, when President Nixon appointed William Simon as his energy "czar," and nobody questioned the word back then, either.

I'll just cede the floor to John Oliver, from The Daily Show: "This is a critical time in the (Iraq) conflict, one that calls for a strong leader. And what better title for that leader than one evoking an ineffectual, tyrannical dynasty ultimately slaughtered by Communists in a filthy basement deep in the Ural Mountains?"