Lute Named to War Post; Duties Remain Unclear

The White House has named Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute to serve on President Bush's National Security Council and to oversee the current fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some are calling him the "war czar," but it's not clear just how much power Lute will actually have, or how he will fit into the military-civilian mix.

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One complaint about the handling of the war in Washington has been a lack of coordination among policy makers. That's led some to call for the naming of a war czar - a linchpin at the center of the process. While the White House doesn't use that informal title, President Bush has named Three-Star General Douglas Lute to the job.

NPR White House correspondent David Greene tells us who he is and what his job will be.

DAVID GREENE: After a bloody battle in the Iraqi town of Fallujah two years ago, NPR turned to Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute for some insight. While admitting that some of the Iraqi forces had deserted their posts, Lute played up the positive. He said the Iraqi soldiers had only six months of training by that point.

Lt. Gen. DOUGLAS LUTE (U.S. Army): And yet these Iraqi troops - I suspect, because they knew what was at stake, and they knew that they were fighting for Iraq - were quite brave and able soldiers alongside their American partners.

GREENE: Lute became known as an advocate for letting Iraqis take over more of the war, allowing the U.S. to bring troops home. Of course, President Bush recently decided to send more U.S. troops to Iraq, and today, White House spokesman Tony Snow had to explain that Mr. Bush's new point man has indeed come full circle to support the president's troop surge.

Mr. TONY SNOW (Press Secretary, White House): And Gen. Lute not only supports the way forward, but he also thinks that there is - that we're making progress and now it is his job to work in a coordinating role - to try to look at everything that's going on under the auspices of the executive branch.

GREENE: And that will be Lute's new job, as Snow described it. He will be a three-star general working from an office at the White House as a deputy national security adviser. He will not be in a military chain of command; rather, Snow said, Lute will generally be making sure federal departments and agencies are on the same page when it comes to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. SNOW: How many times have people been in the field where somebody says, here's a problem we have, I write notes and it never gets up to the top. Well, part of his job is to cut through that.

GREENE: In a recent radio interview, Vice President Dick Cheney described the job's new duties this way:

Vice President DICK CHENEY: In effect, sort of ride roughshod, if necessary, over the bureaucracy to make sure we get the job done.

GREENE: Officials say if the president thinks the State Department or other agencies are slow sending people to Iraq or agencies are too slow writing checks, Gen. Lute can get on the phone. So why can't the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, make those calls? At a recent Pentagon briefing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave this answer:

Secretary ROBERT GATES (U.S. Department of Defense): This is what Steve Hadley would do if Steve Hadley had the time, but he doesn't have the time to do it full time.

GREENE: AS the White House was doing its job search, many in Washington assumed the president wanted a high-profile war czar to help reassure Americans about his unpopular war policy. And in fact, the White House reached out to at least a few retired four-star generals, but they were reportedly not interested in taking the job.

Today at the White House, the question was not so much why Lute as why now. Here's how spokesman Snow handled it.

Unidentified Reporter: Sir, you think this is a new need and that you did not need someone to do this for the previous four years?

Mr. SNOW: Well again, I'm not going to try that. I don't know. It's - I have an answer for you. I'm telling you, that's what he's here to do now.

GREENE: Because Lute is keeping his military rank, his move into the White House requires Senate approval, and that means another opportunity for Democrats to express their views on the president's war policy before signing off on a new person to manage it.

David Greene, NPR News, the White House.

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