In search of the war czar

Hadley says the White House needs someone to pay attention to Iraq "24/7."

Published April 30, 2007 1:37PM (EDT)

Almost four years after George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, the New York Times reports today that the White House is still looking for an Iraq czar -- or, as National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley puts it, an "implementation and execution manager" who would brief the president each morning and then work with Cabinet secretaries to ensure that they're carrying out White House orders.

It sounds like such a reasonable idea -- or at least it would if a) the president didn't already have a national security advisor, or b) we were having this discussion, oh, say, four years ago.

On the first point, Hadley seems to have concluded that he's either too busy or otherwise inadequate for the job. He tells the Times that the White House needs someone to work Iraq "full-time, 24/7." "What we need," he says, "is someone with a lot of stature within the government who can make things happen."

Now, more than four years and 3,351 dead Americans into this war, we'd think that there would be any number of people with "a lot of stature within the government" paying attention to the issue "24/7" -- the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the national security advisor -- and that any one of them ought to be able to "make things happen."

But that's precisely the problem, of course. The people with the power to "make things happen" have already done so: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice made the war happen; Robert Gates and Hadley have helped make the "surge" happen. What the White House needs -- what the United States and Iraq need -- is someone to make something else happen, but the president and his people aren't interested in that quite yet. As one retired general who has turned down the war czar job explained the other day, "There's the residue of the Cheney view -- 'We're going to win, al-Qaida's there' -- that justifies anything we did. And then there's the pragmatist view -- how the hell do we get out of Dodge and survive? Unfortunately, the people with the former view are still in the positions of most influence."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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