Anxious to show progress to a nation weary of war, President 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
Meanwhile, the public's patience for the war has long eroded, and lawmakers &
including members of Bush's own party &
are pushing a harder line in ensuring that the Iraqi government is making progress toward self-governance.
Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Lute comes into the job with a stellar background in combat operation and agency coordination.
Yet the nature of the job poses an enormous challenge. Lute won't be able to deal with civilian agencies the way he did with military officers, and his lack of budget authority or ability to reshape regulations could limit his clout, Cordesman said.
"You really need strong leadership and planning from the ambassador and from the commander in Iraq. They're the ones who have to interact with the Iraqis," he said. "In effect, you're a czar in a support role to field commanders and an ambassador 7,000 miles away."
A West Point graduate, Lute, 54, fought in the 1991 Gulf War.
From 1998 to 2000 he commanded the 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Polk, La. He served next as the executive assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs for 14 months before joining the 1st Infantry Division in Schweinfurt, Germany, as the assistant division commander. He also served in Kosovo for six months in 2002 before being assigned to U.S. European Command in January 2003.
He is married to Jane Holl Lute, a former U.S. Army officer, who is now the assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations at the United Nations.
Associated Press Writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.
Bush chooses 'war czar'