Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bush Selects 'War Czar'

The NY Times reports:
The White House said this afternoon that President Bush ended his lengthy search for a “war czar” to carry out Iraq and Afghanistan policy by offering the job to an active duty three-star Army general who said in his interview that he had been skeptical of the troop buildup in Iraq.

Mr. Bush selected Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, currently the top operations officer for the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, for the position. It would carry the rank of assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser; General Lute will retain his active military status and, therefore, must be confirmed by the Senate, which approves new assignments for three- and four-star generals.

“We needed to get the right concept, the right man — or woman — and we have,” said Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, who led the search, in an interview this evening.

If he is confirmed, General Lute would report directly to the president. His job, which is part of a broader reorganization of the National Security Council staff responsible for Iraq and Afghanistan, would be to brief Mr. Bush every day on the two conflicts, and work with other government agencies — the Pentagon, State Department and others – to carry out the policy.

In a statement, Mr. Bush called General Lute “a tremendously accomplished military leader who understands war and government and knows how to get things done,” adding that the general had “played an integral role in implementing combat operation plans in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

But even before the White House had made the news public, war opponents were using the impending announcement to take shots at the administration’s Iraq policy. Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, an advocacy group, quickly issued a statement citing a remark General Lute made in an interview with The Financial Times in August 2005, in which he argued for significant troop reductions. “You simply have to back off and let the Iraqis step forward,” General Lute said at the time, , adding, “You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq.”

A spokesman said General Lute was not available for comment this evening. But Mr. Hadley said the general had expressed his doubts, but now supports the strategy.

“He said to me when he interviewed for this position, ‘Now, you need to understand that I was skeptical of the surge,’ ” Mr. Hadley recalled. He said that General Lute, who helped to develop the so-called surge strategy of adding about 30,000 troops to Iraq, had raised questions about whether “Iraqi security forces would step up and contribute what they were supposed to do,” and whether the Iraqi government was committed to political reconciliation and providing economic resources.

“We developed a strategy that we thought answered those questions,” Mr. Hadley said, adding, “He’s saying that he supports the strategy, very clearly supports the strategy.”

The White House has spent more than a month searching for a high-profile general to fill what Mr. Hadley has described as an “implementation and execution manager” for the conflicts.

The idea for the position has proven controversial. Some critics have said Mr. Hadley was abandoning responsibility for Iraq and Afghanistan, while others cautioned against putting a military person in what had traditionally been a civilian role.

And the job proved difficult to fill. Several retired generals said they were not interested; one, Jack Sheehan, wrote about his discussions with the White House in an opinion piece in The Washington Post, saying: “We got it right during the early days of Afghanistan — and then lost focus. We have never gotten it right in Iraq.” .

Mr. Hadley said this evening that while he had spoken to a number of people about their interest and availability for the new position, no one had received a formal offer until General Lute met with the president on Monday. Mr. Hadley said the White House is also in the process of hiring two deputies to work for the general, one to cover Iraq and the other to cover Afghanistan.

Anthony H. Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said it was no surprise that people were reluctant to take the job. “It certainly isn’t a big catch for the appointee,” Mr. Cordesman said of General Lute. “You have a very competent person perhaps placed in an impossible job who almost certainly sees this as standing up to a duty which is anything but likely to be career enhancing.”