By Anne Flaherty
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, picked by President Bush as his White House war adviser, said yesterday 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, where opponents included 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.
"I also noted that our enemies in Iraq have, in effect, 'a vote' and should be expected to take specific steps to counter . . . our efforts," he added. "The new policy took such concerns into account. It is too soon to tell the outcome."
Lute is scheduled to testify in public today, his first such appearance since being picked for the position.
If approved 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 to 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.
"I think there's a lot of questions that need to be answered as far as what his role is" and his relationship to other administration officials, said the committee chairman, Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.). "Where does he fit in precisely?"
The position was difficult to fill, given the unpopularity of a war in its fifth year and uncertainty surrounding the clout that the war coordinator would have.
The search was complicated, with Democrats demanding that Bush bring U.S. troops home from Iraq and Republicans voicing doubts about the troop buildup. The White House tried for weeks to fill the position and approached numerous candidates -- including retired four-star generals who turned the job down -- before settling on Lute.
At the Senate committee hearing, Lute is expected to tell senators that early results of the troop buildup have been mixed.
"No one is satisfied with the status quo: not the Iraqis, not key regional partners, not the U.S. government, and not the American public," according to his prepared remarks.