Outside editorial: Is Lute Gen. Fix-it or Gen. Exit?

Posted: Tuesday, May 22, 2007

This editorial appeared in the Seattle Times:

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Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute takes on the oddest job in Washington. Ostensibly, he is President Bush's war czar to oversee fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he really has been promoted to a hopeless, futile position.

None of the descriptions appended to his task sound accurate. He is a three-star general in a four-star world, and he will be a deputy national-security adviser. Emphasis on deputy. He will not have the unlimited power of a czar or the authority of a referee to call operational or policy fouls.

Lute will attempt to coordinate a war with no discernible strategy. Why is this job necessary going into the fifth year of a disastrous conflict? Where is the president, variously self-described as the commander and the decider for the war?

Did the secretary of defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff, secretary of state and Lute's immediate boss, national-security adviser Stephen Hadley, fall off the face of the Earth?

Lute will not manage any of those folks, nor is he likely to boss around senior commanders in the field. One cannot imagine Army Gen. David Petraeus deferring to a junior-ranking interloper.

Creation of the job reveals a sad truth and hearty measures of wishful thinking. For four bloody years of fighting in Iraq, key players in the top military and civilian tiers of the Bush administration would not or could not talk to one another. Lute is a desperate attempt to bridge those gaps.

Subject to Senate confirmation, he will make the best of a job with no direct budget authority and no control over the civilian and military tasks needed to advance a war policy that is not defined by the administration.

Lute does bring superior skills in operations, coordinating and carrying out complicated assignments. He is the perfect choice to start lining up the C-130 transports for removing troops and equipment from Iraq.

Maybe he was not hired to be Gen. Fix-it, but more as Gen. Exit.

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