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Posted by on May 16, 2007 in War | 7 comments

All Hail Douglas Lute

No one seemed to want the job, but, at long last, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the Pentagon’s director of operations, has been named the new “war czar”:

In the newly created position of assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan policy and implementation, Lute would have the power to direct the Pentagon, State Department and other agencies involved in the two conflicts.

Lute would report directly to the president and to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley…

Lute is a widely respected officer, but is by no means a high-profile player in Washington. Before assuming his position at the Pentagon, he was the director of operations for Central Command while Gen. John Abizaid was the commander.

The whole thing seems crazy, a last-ditch “Hail Mary” by a White House that has run out of ideas (and where is Bush in all this? isn’t he the commander-in-chief?), but there could very well be meaning behind the madness. Just ask this question — why Lute?

As Think Progress points out, “[t]he choice of Lute is notable because of his previous advocacy for troop withdrawal in Iraq”. Indeed, he advocated withdrawal last year, to Charlie Rose:

Whatever the political arguments, Charlie, there are at least two good operational reasons that we would like to see a smaller, lighter, less prominent U.S. force structure in Iraq. One is this perception of occupation that a large American force brings with it. Today, there are about 140,000 American troops on the ground in Iraq. We would like to bring that down and undercut the enemy propaganda that in fact we have designs on Iraqi resources or Iraqi bases and so forth, and that in fact we`re really just masquerading as an occupation force. So we want to undercut that perception.

Steve Soto makes a similar case at The Left Coaster. Perhaps the White House picked an advocate of withdrawal because withdrawal is on the way: “Could there be some truth to the rumors out of the Middle East that Cheney’s trip to the region was a warning flare to our allies that we are reducing our troop levels after Petraeus’s report in September? Has the White House suddenly realized that GOP support will crumble after September?”

That would be an astonishing appreciation of reality from a White House that has closed itself off from reality, that basically denies reality, and for that reason alone I remain highly skeptical. Still, even the White House can’t ignore reality altogether, and some Republicans, eyeing ’08 and rightly judging Iraq a losing issue, have already begun to turn on the war. As well, as I’ve argued before (see here and here, for example), a possible alternative to ongoing war (i.e., carrying on with the surge and otherwise continuing to fight the war as is), which has been Bush’s standard “strategy” (we’ll stay until the job is done, he keeps insisting) is withdrawal while blaming the Iraqis for not meeting certain (unreachable) benchmarks and the Democrats for being cowards, traitors, “Defeatocrats,” etc.

This could explain Lute’s appointment. Of course, another explanation is that everyone else turned down the job and he was the only one left.

We should certainly know more by September.

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