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Ralph Peters is a regular columnist with the New York Post. Register here for access to the Post's Online Edition.



Toothless Tiger

by Ralph Peters [author, novelist] 5/18/07

On paper, the appointment of three-star Gen. Douglas E. Lute as White House "war czar" - after five retired four-stars turned down the job - makes perfect sense. It's about time somebody took charge.

The reality is something else: The whoppingly mislabeled "czar" will have neither the authority to force departments and agencies to do what they were supposed to do all along, nor the vital power of the purse.

He'll have to rely on persuasion. In D.C., that's a joke.
Ralph Peters - Contributor
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications. [go to Peters Index]

Lord knows, the administration needs a grown-up to make its brats do their homework, to ensure that our commanders and troops get the support they need and to look ahead instead of forever scrambling to fix yesterday's goofs.

But the problem with past "czars" has been that they were handed big missions and zero clout. Despite the hoopla surrounding their appointments, they were little more than nags in the government kitchen. At most, they provided the illusion that a problem was taken seriously.

I worked for the most effective "czar" of the past half-century. As director of the Office for National Drug Control Policy, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey did a remarkable job of getting the government's cats and dogs (and not a few monkeys) to work together for the common good.

But the major players could blow off even McCaffrey. The general could beat our nation's deadly enemies, but not the Washington bureaucracy. (To his credit, McCaffrey never used the term "drug czar" himself; an American patriot, he found "czar" repulsive.)

The fundamental issue is this: How much authority will the war czar have? If the usual pattern prevails, the feudal domains on the Potomac will nod politely when he speaks, but ignore him when their parochial interests are threatened.

Will he be able to order the State Department to send its cowering personnel to fill the empty slots they've left in Iraq? I guarantee you that the answer is "no."

Will he be able to command the intelligence agencies to refocus their in-house priorities to better support our troops? Nope.

Will he be able to shift Pentagon resources to support the wars we face instead of the fantasy wars we'd like to fight someday? Not a chance. The services know how to defend their toy boxes, and the Capitol Hill porkmeisters would knock out any teeth his office might have.

Will he at least be able to persuade the Department of Agriculture to send enough experts to Iraq to make a difference? Not if the Aggies ain't in the mood to plant date palms.

And the elephant-with-dysentery on the White House South Lawn is, of course, the spectacularly corrupt and incompetent private-sector involvement in Iraq. Will the American people's war czar be able to force corporate carpetbaggers to fulfill the contracts for which they've received billions?

Will he have the authority to regulate and discipline the private security firms whose thugs have done so much to undermine our relations with the average Iraqi?

Unless the administration just had a revelation on the road between Baghdad and Karbala, Gen. Lute not only won't have any sticks to wield, he won't have any carrots.

In Washington, if you can't fire people, prosecute them or take away their money, you're a joke.

None of this is meant as a slight to the general himself. He's done his duty by answering his president's call to fill what probably will prove a thankless post. But it's tempting to see this good soldier as the new activities director appointed by the shipping line's p.r. department as the Titanic sinks.

The fact that tells the tale: Gen. Lute will have a staff of 11 - not much of a posse in a city full of bandits. And the posse won't pack any bullets.

This too-little-too-late appointment of a war czar is, nonetheless, an attempt to come to grips with a serious problem: The federal government is unmanageable. In war and peace.

This isn't a send-'em-all-home tirade. Most of the growth in government has come because we, the people, expect far more than our grandparents did. We also have a vastly more complex economy, along with daunting strategic responsibilities and a population topping 300 million. You couldn't run our government at Calvin Coolidge staffing levels today.

But as government has grown, an obsolete system of organizing it remained in place. The elaborate superstructure of today's federal government is simply too top-heavy for the 19th-century foundation on which it was built.

In previous wars, leaner departments cooperated with reasonable efficiency in the small town that was Washington. Our "czars" back then had the mission of getting industry organized for war, from Bernard Baruch at the War Industries Board in World War I to James F. Byrnes - nicknamed the "assistant president"- at the Office of War Mobilization in World War II.

Now it's not just industry that needs day-care supervision on the national-security playground, but our huge federal departments and agencies. We're not only not pulling together - many aren't pulling at all. (The State Department should just be disbanded and reconstructed under a drill sergeant.)

Let's hope that Gen. Lute shocks Washington with his effectiveness. At least, his office won't do any harm. The general won't be interfering in battlefield decisions. And he's a good man.

But, given the history of real czars, the question is whether this one will end up looking like Peter the Great - or Nicholas II. CRO

Ralph Peters' latest book is Never Quit The Fight.

This piece first appeared in the New York Post
copyright 2007 - NY Post

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