- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2007

President Bush has chosen Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the Pentagon’s director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a newly created post several other top military men rejected.

“Gen. Lute is a tremendously accomplished military leader who understands war and government and knows how to get things done,” Mr. Bush said. “In his new position, Gen. Lute will be the full-time manager for the implementation and execution of our strategies for Iraq and Afghan-istan.”

Gen. Lute, a three-star general who fought in the 1991 Gulf War, has extensive experience in the military. He became director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September, and before that, served for more than two years as director of operations at U.S. Central Command. In that position, he oversaw combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other regions.

The 54-year-old West Point graduate, however, must first be confirmed by a Democrat-controlled Senate, as Congress continues to battle Mr. Bush over war policy and a $100 billion emergency war-funding bill the president already has vetoed once because of its troop-withdrawal timetables.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday said he struck a deal with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for a war-funding bill guaranteed to pass the chamber this week.

The agreement shifts the troop-withdrawal debate to another bill that will be voted on today and leaves the war-spending negotiations to be settled in a conference committee with the House, which passed its measure last week.

“It will be something we can pass for sure and get to conference,” said Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the “real negotiations” will occur in merging the legislation with the House bill, which has provoked a veto threat for rationing the funds two months at a time and setting up a possible August troop withdrawal.

The selection of Gen. Lute comes just weeks before the U.S. military completes a troop buildup in Baghdad, with the last soldiers in a 20,000-man force arriving next month. A Bush administration official said the idea for the “war czar” originated with National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley as a way to better focus U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jon Soltz, who leads an organization of veterans critical of the administration’s war policy, said there is already a “war czar” — Mr. 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 Mr. Soltz, an Iraq veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org.

Gen. Lute is viewed by military officers as mainly a staff officer with little combat experience.

“I think it’s a shame that they could not have taken a commander fresh from Iraq or Afghanistan, preferable a four-star, who has that type of experience to execute the war on terrorism and who could bring that savvy and experience to the White House,” said Robert L. Maginnis, a retired Army officer and military consultant.

Mr. Maginnis said Gen. Lute’s main challenge will be coordinating policies amid the political battles between Capitol Hill and the White House, as well as dealing with generals and civilians at the Pentagon.

At least three retired four-star generals were approached by the White House, but all declined to be considered for the position, according to press reports last month. Each was said to have expressed concerns about the administration’s continuing woes in the two war zones, including bureaucratic red tape and meddling from civilians at the Pentagon.

Conservatives in the administration criticized an earlier choice for the post, retired Marine Corps Gen. John Sheehan. Gen. Sheehan is a liberal officer who wrote an opinion article after he rejected the post criticizing the Bush administration for its handling of the Iraq war.

Another option was Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, a former European command chief.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are rushing to get the emergency spending bill to Mr. Bush’s desk before the weeklong Memorial Day recess at the end of this month.

The final bill is expected to include policy benchmarks to measure the Iraqi government’s progress toward national reconciliation. But it likely will stop short of veto-provoking restrictions on spending or forced troop withdrawals, measures advocated by a growing Democratic chorus.

“As everyone knows, my goal is to bring the troops home,” Mr. Reid said.

Under the Senate deal to advance the emergency spending bill, which Mr. Bush requested 100 days ago, both parties will introduce two war amendments to a $14 billion water-projects bill currently being debated.

Mr. Reid co-sponsored both Democratic amendments; one with Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin that would restrict war funds to noncombat operations, and the other with Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan that would pull out troops if the Iraqi government does not meet policy benchmarks.

The Reid-Levin amendment is the less severe of the two, allowing Mr. Bush to waive the troop-withdrawal requirement provided he explain the continued deployment to Congress every 90 days.

The Democrats’ razor-thin majority gives Republicans the power to kill the amendments with a filibuster today or to let it go to a vote in which the measure will probably die.

Mr. Reid said the anti-war votes will allow Democrats to “go into conference speaking from a position of strength.”

Mr. McConnell had not announced the two Republican amendments yesterday evening.

Bill Gertz contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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