The missing player: a 'czar' to manage the Iraq war
The White House has envisioned a coordinator role for the multibillion-dollar, multiagency effort, but is having trouble finding a willing candidate.
It's been a problem for the Bush administration since the outset of the Iraq war four years ago. Now the key question of who is in charge of coordinating the war effort is resurfacing in the midst of an escalation of the US commitment.Skip to next paragraph
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The White House has recognized the need for higher coordination and decisionmaking for the multibillion-dollar, multiagency effort, and it has envisioned a position that will carry out these responsibilities, though it has not publicly committed to the role. So far, however, any candidates for such a post have reportedly turned it down, expressing reluctance to take on such a tough task – one that concerns an increasingly unpopular war, in the administration's twilight.
"If this [search for a coordinator] was happening a lot earlier in the Iraq story, things might be different. But no one wants to jump on board when others see the boat listing to one side and are deciding to get off," says Patrick Lang, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who consults with the government on Iraq issues. "People see this as a losing policy, and no one wants to be remembered as 'the man who lost Iraq.' "
The debate over coordination and implementation of Iraq policy is percolating just as Gen. David Petraeus, named by President Bush to carry out the military "surge" plan, is briefing Washington on the security operation's initial results.
Personnel and interagency squabbles
Officials say a combination of factors have the White House considering the idea of a coordinator or "czar" for both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. One is the imminent departure from the White House of Mr. Bush's key day-to-day overseer of Iraq policy, Megan O'Sullivan. Meanwhile, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley already handles an overwhelming variety of dossiers.
In addition, squabbles between the Defense and State departments over who should be handling what in Iraq – a recurring irritant during Donald Rumsfeld's reign at the Pentagon – have continued.
Indeed, some officials and experts say, Iraq policy in particular has suffered from a lack of coordination – and the presence of someone of high enough rank to quickly settle inter-agency battles.
More specifically, a number of experts who have seen the administration's Iraq policymaking from the inside say it has lacked a clear strategy and a defined chain of command all along.
"One of the problems in Iraq from the beginning – and really even before we entered Iraq – has been this lack of sufficient integration and coordination between the military and political tasks," says Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution who advised the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq on governance in 2004. "The disjunctive military and political efforts have been a factor in our lack of success, as has the absence of clear lines of authority from Washington."
Even some experts more sympathetic to the administration's handling of Iraq policy say the mix of personalities has been problematic for policy implementation. "Institutionally, this kind of coordinating should be done at the National Security Council, but it was difficult until recently because Rumsfeld was such a strong advocate for his and Pentagon views," says James Phillips, a Mideast policy expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "had the job for a while [when she was national security adviser in Bush's first term], but she didn't really coordinate," says Charles Dunbar, a foreign-policy expert and former ambassador to Yemen. "She was up against [Vice President Dick] Cheney and Rumsfeld and [then-Secretary of State Colin] Powell, and she knew she couldn't play."