I Thought the President Was the “War Czar”

The lead story in today’s Washington Post reported that the White House is trying to find 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.”

Much of the story focuses on the fact that three retired four-star generals have declined the job, and many of the people quoted in the story opine on why it has been so hard to find someone willing to take it.

But the whole premise strikes me as odd. Why is such a new position even necessary?

Veteran reporters Peter Baker and Tom Ricks explain:

The administration’s interest in the idea stems from long-standing concern over the coordination of civilian and military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan by different parts of the U.S. government. The Defense and State departments have long struggled over their roles and responsibilities in Iraq, with the White House often forced to referee.

Isn’t that what the president is supposed to do?

Drilling down further in the story, the responsibilities of the “war czar” are discussed. According to Baker and Ricks:

The highest-ranking White House official responsible exclusively for the wars is deputy national security adviser Meghan O’Sullivan, who … does not have power to issue orders to agencies.

But the president does.

The new czar would also have “tasking authority,” or the power to issue directions, over other agencies.

The president can do that.

Last, Baker and Ricks report, the new Czar should have

enough stature and confidence to deal directly with heavyweight administration figures such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

Presumably, the president fits the bill there, too. So what am I missing here?

Carlos Pascual, former Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization at State, and now a vice president at the Brookings Institution, a man with whom I have numerous disagreements, seems to have hit the nail on the head: “An individual can’t fix a failed policy…So the key thing is to figure out where the policy is wrong.”