Three retired four-star generals don’t want the job of “war czar.” That can only mean our odds of pulling out a non-defeat in Iraq aren’t even as good as the one in four Gen. Petraeus is said to have given.

Three retired four-star generals (Sheehan, Ralston, and Keane) have turned down Bush’s offers of the job of “war czar,” to be tasked with overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with power to give orders both to the Pentagon and to the State Department.

It’s reassuring, I suppose, that the Administration has figured out the current management structure isn’t working. But the notion of giving a single military man supervisory authority over two cabinet officials is more than a little strange, and not obviously sound.

But what’s scary is the three turn-downs. This is the assignment of a lifetime, offered to three people who understand military affairs, love glory, and are constitutionally optimistic. That’s how you get to be a four-star in the first place.

They are also, I can only assume, not at all pleased with the prospect of what will look to the world like an American defeat in Iraq. I’d have to guess that if any one of the three thought that the odds of pulling out a non-defeat in Iraq were as good as the one in four that Gen. Petraeus is said to have quoted, that man would have grabbed at the chance to be a national hero, with next to no risk of becoming the goat (since most people think the thing is already lost).

And yet none of them will take the job? Including Keane, one of the authors of the “surge” strategy? Oh, my!

Update Kevin Drum thinks that whoever takes the proposed position won’t have enough actual clout to make things happen. That, rather than absolute despair about things to come in Iraq, might help explain turning the job down. Apparently Sheehan’s problem is that he thinks Cheney is still in charge, and that Cheney’s goals simply aren’t reachable.

Kevin’s bottom line is the same as mine: “We are so screwed.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: