Bush chooses official to oversee Iraq, Afghanistan wars

Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, 54, is the new "war czar" of the US in the Middle East.

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May 16, 2007 17:57
3 minute read.
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Anxious to show progress to a war-weary US, President George W. Bush is hoping a military leader with proven organizational skills can make the government's vast bureaucracy march in step in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bush's selection of Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute as war czar does not bring the promise of a change in policy, speedier progress or an end to the fighting for US troops. Instead, he is billed as a bureaucracy buster. He also was a skeptic of sending more troops to Iraq as Bush decided to do. Lute made sure that National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley knew he had expressed doubts about the buildup, but that Lute now believes it is the correct strategy, NSC spokesman Gorden Johndroe said. Nothing is more important, Bush said Tuesday in announcing Lute's nomination, than getting the commanders and ambassadors in the war zones what they need. "Douglas Lute can make sure that happens quickly and reliably," Bush said. Lute's appointment is subject to Senate confirmation. Lute, 54, is the latest new face on the Iraq front. He is the Pentagon's director of operations and a former leader of US military forces in the Middle East. Lute's job at the White House will be to work through conflicts among the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies. He will seek to cut through bureaucracy and deliver fast responses when requests come in from US military commanders and ambassadors. "General Lute is a tremendously accomplished military leader who understands war and government and knows how to get things done," Bush said, capping a difficult search for new leadership in the wars that have defined his presidency. In the newly created job, Lute would serve as an assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser, maintaining his military status and rank as a three-star Army general. That, by design, gives the White House a high-level point person on the wars. Meghan O'Sullivan, who handled day-to-day coordination of Iraq as an assistant to national security adviser Stephen Hadley, recently announced she is leaving. So is Hadley's chief deputy, J.D. Crouch, who coordinated the White House review of its options in Iraq. It was a difficult job to fill, given the unpopularity of the war, now in its fifth year, and uncertainty about the clout the war coordinator would have. The search was complicated by demands from Congress to bring US troops home from Iraq and scant public support for the war. The White House tried for weeks to fill the position and approached numerous candidates before settling on Lute. The creation of the new job has also raised questions about whether it will help - or just add more confusion. The White House has avoided the term "war czar." Bush called Lute the "full-time manager" for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lute has been director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff since September. Before that, he served for more than two years as director of operations at US Central Command, during which he oversaw combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. His addition will help Hadley, whose broad portfolio includes such hot spots as Iran and North Korea. Lute, in a 2005 interview with The Financial Times, talked about withdrawing large numbers of US troops from Iraq. "We believe at some point, in order to break this dependence on the ... coalition, you simply have to back off and let the Iraqis step forward," he said. "You have to undercut the perception of occupation in Iraq. It's very difficult to do that when you have 150,000-plus, largely western, foreign troops occupying the country." Until now, Hadley and other West Wing officials have tried to keep turf-conscious agencies marching in the same direction on military, political and reconstruction fronts in Iraq.

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