Thursday, June 07, 2007

Nominee For 'War Czar' To Face Senate Today

Having a relatively clear-eyed officer take the job is arguably better than putting in a mindless "yes man." Although once ensconced in the West Wing, more than one person of integrity has gone native.

Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, picked by President Bush as his White House war adviser, said Wednesday he had been skeptical of Bush's decision to send thousands more U.S. troops into Iraq.

In a written response to questions by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Lute confirmed news reports that he had voiced doubts during a White House-led policy review that led to Bush's Jan. 10 announcement that 21,500 more combat troops would go to Baghdad and Anbar province.

The buildup was hotly contested in Congress, including among several Republicans who favored greater pressure on Iraqi security forces to take over combat.

"During the review, I registered concerns that a military 'surge' would likely have only temporary and localized effects unless it were accompanied by counterpart 'surges' by the Iraqi government and the other, nonmilitary agencies of the U.S. government," Lute wrote in a document obtained by The Associated Press.

His next quote doesn't inspire much confidence, though:

"I also noted that our enemies in Iraq have, in effect, 'a vote' and should be expected to take specific steps to counter from our efforts," he added. "The new policy took such concerns into account. It is too soon to tell the outcome."

Lute was scheduled to testify in public for the first time Thursday since being picked for the position.

If confirmed by the Senate, Lute would hold the title of deputy national security adviser. He would report directly to the president - briefing Bush daily - and work with other government agencies, including the Pentagon and the State Department.

White House officials said Lute's challenge would be to cut through bureaucracy and deliver fast responses when requests come in from military commanders and ambassadors.

"In practical terms, this will mean taking a sober view of where we are now and focusing fully on the needs of Iraq and Afghanistan, even though there is a full range of competing global commitments," Lute wrote committee members.

Several senators were expected to question whether putting a three-star general at the White House now amounts to too little, too late to salvage a deeply unpopular war.

Also, Lute's confirmation hearing looks like it will become a forum on the war:

Democratic senators plan to use a hearing to consider the nomination of Army Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute to become the White House's manager of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as a venue to challenge the usefulness of the new position.

Although most senators praised Lute's record and qualifications, several Democratic lawmakers wondered about the role, authority, responsibilities and place in the chain of command of the new post, to be designated assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lute's most recent post was director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. ...

Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he intends to ask Lute exactly how he will work with the White House, the Pentagon, the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other federal departments.

Levin expressed hope that Lute would be forthright about his previous positions on the war, including past statements expressing disapproval of President Bush’s surge strategy.

Lute’s past comments on the war have been "superficial," Levin said. "I want to see whether or not he will candidly share with us what he has felt about the war."

Either way, however, Bush likely wouldn't change his war strategy because Lute took over as manager, according to Levin.

"When it comes right down to it, it's going to continue to be the president's policy," he said.

Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn., said he believes that Lute is on board with the current strategy.

"I would say he's totally supportive of what we're doing now," Lieberman said.


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