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Managerial Incompetence and the 'War Czar'

By Jack Kelly

The managerial incompetence of the Bush administration bit it in the tuchus again last week.

"The White House wants to appoint a high-powered czar to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies, but it has trouble finding anyone able and willing to take the job," wrote Washington Post reporters Peter Baker and Thomas Ricks.

Last week's embarrassment began on Oct. 28, 2005, when Meghan O'Sullivan was made Deputy National Security Adviser. Her job was to foster coordination among all the federal agencies involved in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She was as well qualified to perform it as Michael Brown was to be head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and as Alberto Gonzales is to be attorney general.

Coordination between military and civilian agencies has been really lousy. "The Pentagon is not happy about what it perceives to be a slow response on the part of some other parts of the U.S. government," the Christian Science Monitor said in a story Feb. 9 on the new strategy in Iraq. "In particular, (Defense Secretary Robert) Gates complained the State Department is not stepping up to fill all of the 350 extra diplomatic jobs in Iraq created under the new plan."

It would be wrong to lay the lack of interagency cooperation primarily on Ms. O'Sullivan's doorstep. It's been a problem of long standing.

But Ms. O'Sullivan was a curious choice, in part because her military experience was zero, and her diplomatic experience undistinguished.

"Before the Iraq war, Miss O'Sullivan was the co-creator of the so-called 'smart sanctions' that Saddam easily manipulated time again," wrote columnist Joel Mowbray at the time of her appointment. "At other points in recent years, she has tacitly supported Islamists' attempted takeover of the post-Saddam education system."

Worse, she'd been a critic of Bush administration policy toward "rogue" regimes before entering government from the left-leaning think tank, the Brookings Institution, Mr. Mowbray said.

"Just ten days after the (9/11) attacks -- and less than 24 hours after Mr. Bush's famous address -- Miss O'Sullivan argued against the president's moral clarity," Mr. Mowbray wrote. "She claimed that the 'state sponsors of terrorism' label is counterproductive for fighting terrorism."

No reason has been given for Ms. O'Sullivan's resignation, which was made public April 2. But the administration evidently is seeking someone who knows something about war, and to whom Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Gates will talk.

"War czar" is journalistic hyperbole. But unlike Ms. O'Sullivan, her successor will report directly to President Bush, the Post said, and will be empowered to give orders (in the president's name) on some matters to the State and Defense departments.

Douglas Hanson, military correspondent for American Thinker, thinks the expanded authority is a mistake. "We're running a war from the banks of the Potomac much as we did in Vietnam," he said.

"We already have a war czar, and his name is Robert Gates," said another skeptic, retired Army Col. (and Medal of Honor winner) Jack Jacobs, MSNBC's military analyst.

I'm inclined to agree. But it's important that someone more capable than Ms. O'Sullivan be put in the NSC slot.

Three retired generals -- Jack Sheehan of the Marines, John Ralston of the Air Force, and Jack Keane of the Army -- have been approached for the job, but all have declined, the Post said.

Gen. Sheehan behaved unprofessionally, which gave the Post the opportunity to take a cheap shot at the Bush administration.

"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," Gen. Sheehan told the Post reporters. Generals Ralston and Keane had the good sense and good manners to keep private conversations private.

Inappropriate as his remarks were, the mere fact that he was among those approached suggests Gen. Sheehan is right. Gen. Sheehan has qualifications Ms. O'Sullivan plainly lacks, but, as he told the Post reporters, "I've never agreed on the basis of the war, and I'm still skeptical."

A lesson President Bush never seems to learn is that policy is personnel. No president can succeed unless he selects as subordinates people capable of performing their jobs, and who support the policies they are supposed to implement.

By accepting insubordination, President Bush has lost control of his government. No wonder so few competent people want to serve in it now.


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