Wednesday, April 11, 2007

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News stories to make Karl Rove weep

For six years, the essence of Karl Rove's political strategy has been to have a Republican base so unified, motivated, and organized that it gives the GOP a clear leg up on Election Day.

This is why I'm thinking that Rove can't be happy with stories like Martin Stolz in the New York Times:

The invitation extended to Vice President Dick Cheney to be the commencement speaker at Brigham Young University has set off a rare, continuing protest at the Mormon university, one of the nation’s most conservative.

Some of the faculty and the 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students, who are overwhelmingly Republican, have expressed concern about the Bush administration’s support for the war in Iraq and other policies, but most of the current protest has focused on Mr. Cheney’s integrity, character and behavior. Several students said, for example, that they were appalled at Mr. Cheney’s use of an expletive on the Senate floor in a June 2004 exchange with Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont.

“The problem is this is a morally dubious man,” said Andrew Christensen, a 22-year-old Republican from Salt Lake City. “It’s challenging the morality and integrity of this institution.”

[Well, it could be worse, right? I mean, Rove can still count on veterans?--ed.] Yeah, not so much now. Peter Baker and Thomas Ricks explain the problem at the elite level in the Washington Post:
The White House wants to appoint 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, but it has had trouble finding anyone able and willing to take the job, according to people close to the situation.

At least three retired four-star generals approached by the White House in recent weeks have declined to be considered for the position, the sources said, underscoring the administration's difficulty in enlisting its top recruits to join the team after five years of warfare that have taxed the United States and its military.

"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," said retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks,' " he said.

The White House has not publicly disclosed its interest in creating the position, hoping to find someone President Bush can anoint and announce for the post all at once. Officials said they are still considering options for how to reorganize the White House's management of the two conflicts. If they cannot find a person suited for the sort of specially empowered office they envision, they said, they may have to retain the current structure. (emphasis added)

[C'mon, that's just a couple of generals!!--ed.] As Bryan Bener explains in the Boston Globe, it's more than just generals:
Recent graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point are choosing to leave active duty at the highest rate in more than three decades, a sign to many military specialists that repeated tours in Iraq are prematurely driving out some of the Army's top young officers.

According to statistics compiled by West Point, of the 903 Army officers commissioned upon graduation in 2001, nearly 46 percent left the service last year -- 35 percent at the conclusion of their five years of required service, and another 11 percent over the next six months. And more than 54 percent of the 935 graduates in the class of 2000 had left active duty by this January, the statistics show.

The figures mark the lowest retention rate of graduates after the completion of their mandatory duty since at least 1977, with the exception of members of three classes in the late 1980s who were encouraged to leave as the military downsized following the end of the Cold War.

[Well, I'm sure things will improve for the GOP in 2008!--ed.] Sure they will.

posted by Dan on 04.11.07 at 08:53 AM


Dan, while most of these points are obviously valid, the West Point graduate issue seems trivial to me. Young officers are leaving the service at the highest rate since...the last time the U.S. was fighting a war for more than three minutes. It would defy everything we know about how human beings react to incentives if young officers didn't leave the service at higher rates when the alternative was another combat tour rather than a peace-time posting.

posted by: Alex on 04.11.07 at 08:53 AM [permalink]

The West Point data are troubling, speaking as a two-decade veteran of the Army. Those losses come at the critical career point of Captain/Major -- just the point where you start knowing things. And it is a higher loss rate than at any time a war lasted more than 3 minutes -- retention rates during the Korean War, for example, were much higher.

And retention can't be helped by today's announcement that the Army is now going to require 15 months Boots on Ground for Iraq tours as the deployed minimum.

Imagine the turbulence in PS departments is (a) the tenure ladder were extended (and could be randomly extended at the chair's whim whenever it suited her/him) and (b) half of all Associate profs left the department after tenuring.

Oh, and the position of War Czar is taken. It's called "Commander-in-Chief."

posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on 04.11.07 at 08:53 AM [permalink]

"Oh, and the position of War Czar is taken. It's called 'Commander-in-Chief.'"

I wondered if that idea seemed strange to anyone else.

posted by: yagij on 04.11.07 at 08:53 AM [permalink]


If "retention rates during the Korean War, for example, were much higher," then obviously that suggests the West Point story is quite troubling. But that fact isn't in the article, which says the data only goes back three decades. If you have a link a link to retention rate info on prior years that would be great. That said, the point of the Boston Globe article, that retention rates are much lower now than they were in the preceding thirty years, should be totally unsurprising given the absence of extended combat deployment during that period.

posted by: Alex on 04.11.07 at 08:53 AM [permalink]

I have often likened Rove to Rasputin, but now we are looking for a czar? A Czar?

The West Point issue is more troubling because I understand in the 90s the army dumped many officers, and there is a gap in the mid ranks today. If the Captains bail now, there may be a gap in the mid ranks for at least another decade. (Hemlock can speak to this better than I) More damage by President Cheney.

I'm a Republican and I voted straight ticket Democrat in Ohio last year, and hope the GOP gets beat to a pulp in 2008. It will take that to get sanity in the party after the Bush/Cheney/Rove era.

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 04.11.07 at 08:53 AM [permalink]

"Czar" is the name the media have given to the position the administration has evidently be trying to fill. It is also a customary, though unofficial, title given to people appointed to deal with specific policy problems that do not fall entirely within the jurisdiction of one government department.

In the American government, a "czar" is really more of a coordinator. For purposes of public relations, he is supposed to have a monopoly on statements about the problem he has been assigned to address (thus, in the 1970s, successive "energy czars" dominated media coverage of the energy crisis, and later "drug czars" got a platform to talk publicly about illegal trade in drugs), but he rarely has authority, statutory or otherwise, to order people or agencies in the government to do things.

The Iraq/Afghan war "czar" would be a little different, but maybe only a little. One immediate problem he would have to address is the reluctance of State and some other government departments to order employees to assist the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan. The administration has made numerous public statements declaring the importance of economic and political development as a supplement to military operations in both countries, but the military has limited resources with which to facilitate such development and in the absence of direct Presidential intervention cannot order other departments' employees to help.

The "czar" might be thought of as the instrument of that Presidential intervention -- except that the reason a "czar" is thought necessary is that neither the President nor any of his current associates want to have anything to do with that level of detail in the war effort. They also don't want to be in the position of trying to order civilian government employees (who, unlike military personnel, can quit) to enter a combat zone on behalf of a mission that has been defined with more urgency than clarity. They absolutely do not want another voice within the administration on the big policy questions -- how long do we stay in Iraq, how close do we operate to the Afghan/Pakistani border, how, when we leave, do we leave, and so forth.

What President Bush and his associates appear to want, in short, is something close to a traditional "czar" -- without the public relations responsibilities. He would be responsible for coordinating the efforts of agencies who will not be required to cooperate with him, to get into Iraq and Afghanistan civilians who do not wish to go, on behalf of objectives ill-defined now that he will have no role in defining later.

No wonder Bush is having trouble filling this position. I wouldn't want it either.

posted by: Zathras on 04.11.07 at 08:53 AM [permalink]

I have often likened Rove to Rasputin, but now we are looking for a czar?

Yeah, maybe, but no one ever called Rove "Texas' famous love machine."

posted by: Mitchell Young on 04.11.07 at 08:53 AM [permalink]

I have often likened Rove to Rasputin, but now we are looking for a czar?

Yeah, maybe, but no one ever called Rove Texas' famous love machine.

posted by: Mitchell Young on 04.11.07 at 08:53 AM [permalink]

I simply cannot believe that the government gets the return on its investment on service academy graduates in five years. What this may mean for the future of the service academies is anyone's guess.

posted by: Randy Paul on 04.11.07 at 08:53 AM [permalink]

McCain's VMI speech.

posted by: CPT Mike Foley, USAR on 04.11.07 at 08:53 AM [permalink]

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