In White House Plan, War 'Czar' Would Cut Through Bureaucracy

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By Peter Baker and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 13, 2007

When the commanding general in Iraq needed people for a rule-of-law initiative, he had to send a memo to the U.S. Central Command. That command forwarded it to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs forwarded it to the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Only then was it passed along to the White House to find the people.

That would change under a plan developed by President Bush's aides to create a high-powered "czar" to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The new "execution manager," as the White House termed the position, would be empowered to cut through the bureaucracy and talk directly with Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, and other key figures to figure out what is needed to make progress on the ground.

A copy of the White House proposal, obtained by The Washington Post, details a strikingly different role for the West Wing in the day-to-day management of the two wars, and represents an attempt to assert a more coherent and efficient leadership that many officials in different parts of the government have complained is lacking. The idea for such a czar has been promoted by various people, including former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who sent a memo to the White House several weeks ago advocating it as part of an 18-point plan.

"The slowness and ineffectiveness of the American bureaucracy is a major hindrance to our winning, and they've got to cut through it," Gingrich said in an interview yesterday.

Under the proposal by national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, the execution manager would talk daily with the military commanders and U.S. ambassadors in Iraq and Afghanistan. The official would then meet with Bush each morning to review developments. The goal to meet requests for support by Petraeus and others would be "same-day service," the proposal said.

So far, the White House has had trouble finding someone to fill the new assignment. At least five retired four-star generals have declined to be considered. Since The Post disclosed the plan this week, many Democrats and former military officers have blasted the idea as a misguided reorganization or as an abrogation of presidential responsibility.

"Standing up a war czar is just throwing in another layer of bureaucracy," retired Maj. Gen. John Batiste, who commanded the Army's 1st Infantry Division in Iraq, told reporters yesterday. "Excuse me -- we have a chain of command already and it's time for our leaders to step up and take charge."

Democrats seized on the generals' lack of interest. "The message from the generals who were offered the war czar position has been crystal clear -- if they really thought the administration had a strategy that could succeed in Iraq, why did they turn down the job?" Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said on the floor.

The idea of a single high-level official coordinating from the White House the military and civilian efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan has been discussed for years, often promoted by senior officials at the Pentagon, who complain that civilian agencies can do more. It did not gain traction inside the White House until the past few weeks, after deputy national security adviser Meghan O'Sullivan announced that she will step down.

O'Sullivan, the highest-ranking White House official working exclusively on Iraq and Afghanistan, reports to Hadley and does not necessarily see Bush daily. The new official would be an assistant to the president, the same rank as Hadley. The person would "coordinate" with Hadley, according to the proposal, but "report directly to the president." At the same time, the new official would hold the second title of deputy national security adviser. The official would work solely on execution, not on policy development, which O'Sullivan mostly focused on.

According to the proposal, the execution manager would develop "clearly assigned responsibility, deadlines, performance metrics (as appropriate) and a system of accountability to ensure progress" in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other key Cabinet officers would assign a "trusted agent" to work with the new White House official.

Hadley said the idea is to "fix problems in Washington that are in the way," not to rewrite the chain of command or take over operational decisions. The official would work through Cabinet secretaries to solve problems, but would have enough clout to ensure follow-through.

"My goal is to make the person really work for and be seen to work for the president, and be able to speak in his name," Hadley said. "I can do it, and I do do it, but I can't do it and North Korea and Iran and all the other things I've got to do." (He said he will jettison the title "execution manager" to avoid unintended double meaning.)

Philip D. Zelikow, Rice's former counselor, called it part of an effort to bring command of the Iraq effort back to Washington after years of ceding it to generals and civilians in the field too busy to focus on overarching issues better handled here. "There would be a hundred kinds of aches and pains," he recalled of his time at State. "But the roots of the problem go back to the issue of where you develop the policy."

Hadley said he is seeking a retired general or diplomat but will also consider active-duty military or foreign service officers before presenting a choice to Bush. Retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, retired Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston and retired Air Force Gen. John P. Jumper have said they are not interested, according to sources or the generals themselves, and CBS News said retired Marine Gen. Charles E. Wilhelm also demurred.

"Why would we do it now?" Hadley said. "We try to learn."


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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