White House

Bush selects war czar

WASHINGTON—President Bush has selected an Army lieutenant general to be his war czar in charge of overseeing the battles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

White House officials said Tuesday that Bush has tapped Army Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute for the new position. The job was created to consolidate authority for coordinating the war efforts and easing conflicts among the Pentagon, State Department and other agencies.

Lute, a three-star general, will have the titles of assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan. It was unclear Tuesday whether he'd report directly to Bush or to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

"General Lute is a tremendously accomplished military leader who understands war and government and knows how to get things done," Bush said in a statement issued by the White House.

Lute's selection will take some pressure off Hadley, who had the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts on his plate along with other pressing foreign issues, such as the nuclear standoffs with North Korea and Iran.

If he keeps his current rank, Lute will be in the difficult, perhaps impossible, position of overseeing people who outrank him, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace, a Marine four-star general, and Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq. Lute's relationship to Vice President Dick Cheney, who's played a major role in shaping U.S. policy in Iraq, also is unclear.

Lute, 54, of Michigan City, Ind., has been director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff since September. Before that, he was stationed at the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., overseeing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan

He's earned degrees from West Point and Harvard University and is widely respected in the Pentagon for his intellect and his understanding of the intricacies of the Middle East. He's unapologetically frank about the situation in Iraq, often willing to point out that operations could fail or that Iraqis may fail to meet U.S. expectations.

In an interview with McClatchy Newspapers last month, Lute said that U.S. officials must make sure that Iraqi forces step up during the surge of some 30,000 additional U.S. troops into Baghdad.

"We are looking for indicators where we can assess the extent to which we are fighting alongside Iraqi security forces, not as a replacement to them," he said.

Lute's selection ends a long White House search for a war czar. Some senior military officers who were approached said they weren't interested.

Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Lute's selection an "excellent choice."

At least one veterans' group expressed skepticism about the new position. Jon Soltz, the chairman and co-founder of VoteVets.org, a group of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who oppose the war in Iraq, accused Bush of abdicating his role as commander in chief by appointing Lute.

"Those of us who have a rudimentary understanding of the military and Constitution know that there is already a war czar," Soltz said in a written statement. "The position has a different name, though—Commander in Chief, or as the president says, `the commander guy.' Whatever the name of the position is, this proves the president is throwing in the towel when it comes to directing the military, and is giving up his constitutional role."

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(McClatchy Newspapers correspondent Renee Schoof contributed.)

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