Three-star general named `war czar'

Selection of Lute is designed to unify U.S. efforts

May 16, 2007|By Julian E. Barnes and Peter Spiegel | Julian E. Barnes and Peter Spiegel,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- After a lengthy and difficult search, President Bush has tapped a three-star Army general as his new "war czar," with full White House authority to pull together increasingly frayed federal efforts to deal with protracted military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the operations director for the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, will fill the job, which is part of the White House National Security Council, administration officials said. He would be an assistant to the president, empowered by Bush to secure cooperation, support and personnel for the Pentagon's war efforts from across the federal government.

The appointment is the latest attempt by the White House to bolster its Iraq team as the U.S. public turns increasingly against the war. Lute's posting comes as Bush faces a September deadline for demonstrating success in his plan to use extra American forces to bring about political advancement and better security in Iraq.

But the appointment has puzzled some supporters of the current Iraq war strategy. Lute was a key staff officer for Army Gen. John P. Abizaid when Abizaid headed all U.S. forces in the Middle East. Abizaid's war strategy differed in key respects from that of Army Gen. David Petraeus, the current top commander in Iraq and a proponent of a larger U.S. force.

Lute, widely considered a rising star in the military, "owned up to his reservations" about the new strategy in interviews with White House officials, according to someone familiar with the negotiations. But Lute reassured Bush and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley that he supported the new policy.

"He has impressed Hadley and he has impressed the president," said the person familiar with the negotiations.

Lute's appointment comes at a time of considerable turnover in key administration national security positions, including the defense secretary, top commanders in Iraq and the broader Middle East, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and top staff posts inside the White House.

The position is a beefed-up version of the recently vacated White House post of Iraq coordinator. The departure of Meghan O'Sullivan, a top Hadley deputy who focused on Iraq and Afghanistan, provided an opportune moment for recasting the position, said a White House official.

In a statement last night, Bush called Lute "a tremendously accomplished military leader" who can manage interagency policy development for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The White House chose Lute after several high-profile retired four-star generals turned down the job.

People close to the decision-making process said his selection raised concerns about how a three-star general would be able to issue orders to top government officials, including to four-star generals such as Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, who outrank him.

One source involved in the decision said Lute is likely to have less power than the post was originally intended. Senior officials such as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have backed Lute's appointment, in part because the new war czar is now unlikely to challenge their power over Iraq policy.

The White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity while discussing internal deliberations, said Bush met with Lute Monday. The official said that the job previously had been informally offered to "a small number of people."

"It's been blown a bit out of proportion that no one would take it," the official said.

National Security Council posts do not normally require Senate approval. But because Lute is an active-duty general, lawmakers will need to sign off on his appointment.

A graduate of the Military Academy at West Point and Harvard University, Lute, 54, is a native of Michigan City, Ind. He is married to Jane Holl Lute, who is in charge of all peacekeeping operations for the United Nations as an assistant secretary general. They have two daughters.

Lute fought in Iraq with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment during the 1991 Persian Gulf war. He was deployed to Kosovo in 2002 and served in the European Command before joining Central Command, which focuses on the Middle East, in June 2004.

Julian E. Barnes and Peter Spiegel write for the Los Angeles Times.

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