The next half year in Iraq will determine whether we have gained a strategic advantage or failure in the war on terror. While no one can know the outcome, it is certainly plausible, and may be likely, that civil war will break out after the transfer of authority on June 30. Our government should act promptly and boldly to minimize the chance of that catastrophic outcome.
Bringing order and benign self-government out of the murderous chaos of post-Saddamite Iraq was always going to be a difficult job. But, unambiguously, mismanagement of the post-war occupation has made matters even worse -- and must be instantly rectified.
Putting to one side the failed performances of various individual U.S. government officials in Iraq, the central failure (which is within our government's power to control) derives from the lack of unified command of our military and civilian activities in Iraq. Military, diplomatic, intelligence and other functions all go up separate chains of command to separate Washington HQ's. The stories are legion floating through Washington corridors of damage done to our effort due to bureaucratic infighting and incompetence. The word procurement comes to mind, among other things. Our best chance of avoiding a strategic reversal in Iraq is to put one man in Iraq with complete line operational command of all our policies, activities and assets.
The Romans called it proconsul. The British called it viceroy. We called General Eisenhower Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force. Call it what you may, we desperately need one man, one mind in charge. That job cannot be done from Washington, and the person with that job can have no other.
He must be both a manager of bureaucracies, a shrewd interpreter and manipulator of men, and a man capable of designing and implementing a strategic policy. He must possess a sheer personal presence that elicits cooperation, if not subordination, from other powerful and unruly men. Moreover, that man must be big enough to withstand all pressures from Washington. Of all the plausible candidates for such a command, Colin Powell pre-eminently leads the list.
Of course, the first problem with such a proposal is that our structure of government does not provide for such a position -- one that commands both military and civilian organizations. But we must not let bureaucratic structures define strategic needs. We need one command, and President Bush can construct such an office for this vital moment. He can re-activate Colin Powell to four-star military status, and establish an interagency protocol that unites all U.S. government assets in Iraq under General Powell's command. In this unique and time-limited circumstance, and given the strategic defeat that stares us in the face, Powell's chain of command should go directly to the president in order to avoid any bureaucratic subtractions from his authority. (I write this as a great admirer of Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and his performance in office. But this crisis moment requires a unique response.)
Mr. Powell would have to resign his office as secretary of state. But, as I suggested above, the holder of this unique command must not be distracted by other responsibilities. It was both the Roman and British genius to understand that foreign locations could not be managed effectively from Rome or London.
The progress in communication technologies, which now permit instantaneous world-wide communication, oddly, has only increased the need for unity of command in country. The constant meddling from afar by people who can't appreciate the subtle needs of the moment in country only undo the coherence of our efforts. The man in country must stand in the stead of his government, with full discretion to plan and to act -- subordinate only to the final constitutional authority of the president, sparingly exercised.
This is, I confess, something of a desperate proposal. But out of every 10 well-informed people in this town, it is hard to find one who shares the view that the problems we are encountering in Iraq are merely bumps in the road. (Of course, we all may be wrong. It is hard to get a comprehensive view of the Iraqi condition.) In retrospect, it may have been useful if such a proposal as this had been implemented at the beginning of the occupation period, rather than during the next six months of Iraqi interregnum sovereignty. But there is still time to save the day.
We would not have gotten even this close to success without President Bush's courageous and inspired leadership. This war was, and is, necessary. It is almost inconceivable that a President Gore or Kerry would have moved with such alacrity to confront our only too real enemies in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor do I doubt that if President Bush sees the need for new decisive action now, uniquely amongst our nation's current leaders he possesses the boldness of spirit to act to secure our strategic success in Iraq.