Is Lute the right kind of 'war czar'?

Bush's pick to organize US efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan is a respected general, but some analysts prefer a civilian mind-set.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

In some ways, President Bush's pick for a "war czar" could be taking on a role as an infielder – a catcher of any bureaucratic ball that comes rolling his way from the government agencies working on Iraq and Afghanistan.

But for some analysts, the fact that Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute is a military officer means he would bring a more military mind-set to a job that many believe needs a political solution.

Lieutenant General Lute was tapped by Bush Tuesday to be the new deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan. The position, whose creation has elicited mixed reaction from other experts, is envisioned as coordinating efforts among both military and civilian agencies – and doing this with deft navigation in Washington.

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Many think highly of Lute, an Army three-star general. And early indications point to his nomination easily winning Senate confirmation.

But in choosing Lute, Bush has turned to a military officer, when in fact a civilian may bring a better set of skills, analysts say.

While creating a manager for the war could be a good idea, the choice of Lute reinforces the notion that the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan need military solutions, says Kathleen Hicks, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

"It's exactly the wrong message," she says. "What you needed at the White House was someone who understands the civilian side of the equation."

The job requires a political mind-set, Ms. Hicks says: "Even if he is incredibly enlightened, he will come from the approach as being trained from the military culture, and that is distinctly different from the civilian culture."

Agencies don't get along

One of the chief reasons Bush needed a "war czar" is because the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have pointed up how many agencies in Washington simply don't get along.

The Defense Department, especially under then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was seen as too heavy-handed. But to the Pentagon, other agencies such as the State Department, USAID, and even the Departments of Justice and Commerce haven't provided enough support or resources.

While some of those cultural and bureaucratic rifts have eased, challenges remain. Defense Secretary Robert Gates showed public exasperation earlier this year during testimony on Capitol Hill when he acknowledged that the State Department was unable to immediately provide more than 100 personnel to assist in Iraq with provincial reconstruction teams, for example.

Lute's appointment would inject new policy direction when it comes to managing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Brian Whitman, chief spokesman for the Pentagon. But the chain of command will remain the same, he said.

"Orders will come through the normal chain of command as they always have with respect to issuing orders," he told Pentagon reporters Wednesday.

Others turned down job

Before the selection of Lute, the White House had solicited other individuals, many of whom were retired military officers. But all reportedly refused to take the job. One was retired Marine Gen. John "Jack" Sheehan, a former commander of NATO forces. Mr. Sheehan took a pass because he doesn't think the administration has a coherent strategy, according to The Washington Post, which first reported on the job last month.

Lute, if confirmed, will be dealing with issues at the highest levels of government that are, in military jargon, "beyond his pay grade": He would be outranked by most of the individuals with whom he would be dealing. That means Lute will have to get things done by gentle persuasion, acting on behalf of the president, says Michele Flournoy, a former analyst in Washington who is launching a new group called the Center for a New American Security.

Such a role has worked in previous administrations, she says, but in this case, it's "too little, too late."

"No improved US coordination can compensate for a strategy that is not working," she says. "It is very difficult this late in the game to change the dynamics of policymaking."

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