Politics & Policy

The War Cabinet

President Bush needs to reshape his top structure.

Of all the data emerging from the election, perhaps the most interesting is that most Americans are unhappy about the way the war in Iraq has been waged. Some of these are Deaniacs and Mooreons who are unalterably opposed to the war itself, but many are disgruntled supporters who see the frightening specter of political micromanagement in the ascendancy over military requirements.

They are right, and I hope the president agrees with them. I also hope that he knows it is a mistake–a potentially enormous mistake–to look at Iraq as a thing in itself instead of one battle in a far larger war. We will never have security in Iraq so long as fanatics rule in Tehran, Riyadh, and Damascus. This unpleasant fact does not play well among the doyens of the State Department and the misnamed intelligence community, yet it is inescapable. Delay in dealing with it will produce the same awful results as previous delays, and for the same reasons.

Just as political considerations (mostly Tony Blair’s, not ours) delayed the liberation of Iraq beyond all rational measure–thereby enabling the terror masters to plan the Iraq strategy we have seen–so politics (driven by the Jerry Bremer and endorsed by the State Department and the National Security Council brain trust headed by the soon-to-depart Robert Blackwill) imposed the catastrophic withdrawal of the Marines from Fallujah last spring. I trust that nothing of the sort will happen this time, for each retreat only ensures more deaths and a more difficult and costly battle next time.

But asking for politics to be removed from strategy is like asking for pheromones to be removed from sexual attraction. It can’t be done. The political remedy is the selection of a suitable War Cabinet. The president must have the advice of people who will not shirk from the unpleasant tasks before us, and who are capable of leading their agencies to maximum performance.

Unfortunately this probably means a wholesale housecleaning. If it were up to me, I would urge the president to replace the secretaries of state and defense, the national-security adviser, and the heads of the FBI and the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency). All are exceptionally gifted and patriotic people. All have worked very hard. But all have failed, for different reasons and to different degrees. There is a very narrow window of time to make wholesale changes, and I hope the president will seize his moment.

Let’s take the top three positions.

State: I have just returned from a couple of weeks in Europe, and was very surprised to hear diplomats complaining bitterly that they felt abandoned by Powell. “Where is he?” they lamented, “we supported him and he left us to fend entirely for ourselves.”

The proper care of allies is right up near the top of a secretary of State’s mission, and the allies don’t give Colin Powell a passing grade. For that alone, he needs to go. There are other reasons, too, above all his weasely performance on Iran (every strong presidential statement was instantly followed by leaks from State undercutting the president’s words; the secretary’s deputy–and best friend–Richard Armitage called Iran “a democracy,” which may be the great mal mot of this administration).

Finally, there’s Powell supine acceptance of Foggy Bottom’s conventional wisdom on every subject, forgetting that the foreign service isn’t supposed to make our foreign policy; it’s supposed to carry out the president’s policies.

Who should replace him? Zell Miller.

Defense: I love Rumsfeld, but he presides over a dysfunctional building. Top aides spend inordinate amounts of time editing memos instead of leading, and that’s his fault. Every day is crisis time as new “snowflakes” cascade out of the secretary’s office and everyone is supposed to snap to attention, drop whatever they’re doing, and tend to the latest urgent matter. All the top people are grotesquely overworked, overloaded, and overwhelmed. The military men and women feel slighted, which is normal in DoD. But we’re at war now, and the civilian/military relationship has to be much better. It doesn’t seem that Rumsfeld can do it.

Moreover, Rumsfeld–and this is a real shock–has proven oddly ineffective at bureaucratic infighting. Early on, he refused to permit anyone from DoD to work on the national-security staff. “I pay ‘em, they work for me here,” he thought. But that meant that the NSC was staffed mostly by detailees from State and CIA, whose policy views were very different from his own.

Finally, he has stood by and watched his people paralyzed by pseudo-scandals and investigations, and generally failed to communicate to Congress and the public. I know this sounds an odd thing to say about a media star, and I am invariably awed by his press conferences. But how could he have permitted his Iran experts to be forbidden to talk to Iranians? And he should be held accountable for shortsightedness on Iraq; he didn’t see the terror war coming.

Who should replace him? Jim Woolsey.

NSC: The National Security Council has two main tasks. The first is to ensure that the president makes timely decisions on the crucial policy questions. The second is to enforce the president’s decisions on the other agencies. This NSC has failed on both counts. Leave aside what Condoleezza Rice thinks about policy; when the NSC works well, the national-security adviser constantly tells the president about key issues and about the opinions of State, Defense, and others. He is supposed to sort them out and make up his mind. Then the security adviser makes it happen.

Instead, this NSC has repeatedly tried to find compromises that would satisfy the Cabinet secretaries, and that has slowed things down, and sometimes–as in the case of Iran policy–led to outright stalemate.

Virtually the whole staff needs to be replaced. Blackwill is leaving, which is a good thing. The whole team working on Iraq and Iran should be sent back to their home bases, along with the (surprisingly numerous) Clinton appointees who still occupy space in the Old Executive Office Building.

Who should be the new security adviser? John Bolton or Paul Wolfowitz.

The president needs people he trusts, but they have to be strong people, ready to fight and win a tough war. Obviously, Dr. Rice is “family” for Dubya, and she’s been smart, eloquent, and loyal, all rare qualities. But she has mismanaged the NSC and made many personnel errors. If the president wants her to stay close to him, State is probably the best place. But she’ll need a strong group of assistant secretaries around her.

All this is based on the hopeful assumption that the president knows what he wants to do on the key questions, and that he wants to be more vigorous than he was in the second half of his first term. If that is wrong, if he’s happy with the way things went, then these changes are not necessary.

But I hope he wants a real War Cabinet. He doesn’t have one now.

Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen is Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.

Michael LedeenMichael Ledeen is an American historian, philosopher, foreign-policy analyst, and writer. He is a former consultant to the National Security Council, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense. ...


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