While the nation has been fixated on the fiasco of Don Imus, a virulently self-obsessed radio/TV shock jock who should have been fired long ago for trying to pose as an adult, a much more serious breach of intelligence has occurred:
The Bush White House has been in desperate search of a “war czar.”
Four years — and counting — into a war that was begun for reasons that have never been explained, with thousands killed, tens of thousands maimed for life and U.S. credibility in shreds, the Bush White House admits that it needs a high-profile overseer to plot the future course of the war in Iraq — what The Washington Post has dubbed a “war czar.”
Never mind that the course of “czars” has never run smoothly in this country, or any other. (Drug czar? Anti-terrorism czar? Education czar? Russian czar?)
What is stunning is that the White House is actually, unbelievably, incredibly announcing to the world that it doesn’t know what it is doing in Iraq and hasn’t a clue what to do next, let alone how to get out of the quagmire it created.
Although anyone would have to be certifiable to take the job of overseeing this war as long as President Bush insists nothing will change, we’re assured by the White House staff that this is all under serious consideration.
Witness Dana Perino, the current White House spokesman, speaking about a “possible reorganization” within the National Security Council and confirming that the position of a war overseer is an option: “We are talking to people; there have been no decisions made.”
But apparently at least three retired four-star generals were unofficially felt out about taking such a job. None accepted.
The Decider, as Bush confidently called himself, to the delight of comedians everywhere, is supposed to be the commander in chief, especially since he fired the generals on the ground who disagreed with him about how the war was going. In truth, it has been Vice President Dick Cheney who has been — and still is — calling the shots in this appallingly misguided war, especially with the departure of his soul buddy, former defense chief Don Rumsfeld. Now even Cheney is flummoxed about how to get out of one of the most stupendous messes in U.S. history.
With stunning chutzpah, the White House is suggesting that the war has been guided by a mid-level bureaucrat named Meghan O’Sullivan, who has toiled for Bush in near obscurity in the National Security Council, first under Condoleezza Rice and now under Stephen Hadley, who also wants out.
O’Sullivan is leaving her job, and, the White House says, that opens the door to replacing her with someone who would “oversee” the war on a much broader scale. Such a person would have the power to dictate to all kinds of government agencies. (Is there some kind of new constitutional crisis arising here?)
This is amazingly surreal (yes, I know I’m blowing a year’s worth of adjectives) for a democracy where we’re not supposed to have “war czars” who have unspecified powers over life and death.
While Bush gives speech after speech insisting the war is going OK, if not well, and paving the way toward democracy in the Middle East and giving terrorists everywhere nightmares (all evidence to the contrary), the pursuit of a war overseer is proof enough the White House policy is in total chaos.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ new order that current deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan will extend to 15 months shows that this nation is in a bizarrely Romanesque state of over-extension.
The Army, admits Gates, is stretched. The tour extension affects more than 100,000 men and women and means they will have the longest combat tours since World War II. Meanwhile, every day, every single day, more U.S. men and women are being blown apart by explosive devices carefully placed to wreak as much carnage as possible on the human torso.
We are in one of those periods of history that, in retrospect, will seem totally perplexing to our descendants trying to make sense of how we went to war to save the world from terrorism, ended up in Iraq and couldn’t figure out how to get out. There may even be an entire chapter in the history books on the concept of a “war czar” if anyone is foolish enough to accept Bush’s offer.
Imus’ inexplicable racist, sexist rant against Rutgers University’s women’s basketball team has shown how far we have to go toward being competent adults in how we treat each other. The “war czar” disaster has shown how far we have strayed from our ideal of being a global moral leader.
What a week.
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)hotmail.com.)