In this photo released by the Department of Defense, US Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, director for operations, the Joint Staff, conducts a Pentagon operational update briefing Feb. 9, 2007, in Washington. [AP]
Washington - US President Bush on Tuesday chose Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the Pentagon's director of operations and a former leader of US military forces in the Middle East, to oversee the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as a war czar.
"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.
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 US 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.
In the newly created position, Lute would serve as an assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser, and would also maintain his military status and rank as a three-star general.
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 US Central Command, during which he oversaw combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"He has already earned the respect and trust of the officials with whom he will be working in his new role," Bush said.
The new job comes as administration tries to use a combat troop buildup in Iraq to allow security and political reconciliation to take hold.
The White House has sought a war coordinator to eliminate conflicts among the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies. Lute will seek to cut through bureaucracy and deliver fast responses when requests come in from US military commanders and ambassadors.
His addition will help Stephen Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, who monitors hot spots around the world.
Bush's move is part of a lengthy reshuffling of war leaders. Yet critics have questioned whether a new coordinator will help so late in the Bush presidency or will instead add confusion in the chain of command.
Lute's appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
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 civil 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, has had an extensive military career. He fought in the 1991 Gulf War.
From 1998 to 2000 he commanded the Second 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 US European Command in January 2003.
Jon Soltz, who leads an organization of veterans critical of administration's war policy, said there is already a war czar -- Bush.
"The troops are now depending on Lt. Gen. Lute to do something the President wouldn't -- listen to commanders who are telling him we need more diplomacy, not escalation," said Soltz, an Iraq veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org.
Retired Marine Corps Gen. John J. Sheehan was approached about the job, but declined because he thinks that decision-making in Washington lacks connection to a broader understanding of the region.
"These huge shortcomings are not going to be resolved by the assignment of an additional individual to the White House staff," Sheehan wrote in The Washington Post, explaining his reasons for not wanting to be considered.