Gulf News

White House seeks ‘war czar’ but ex-generals turn down offer

High-profile manager needed to implement Bush’s unpopular strategy

- BY PETER BAKER AND THOMAS E. RICKS

Help Wanted: White House seeks high-profile manager of wars in Iraq and Afghanista­n to coordinate competing agencies and make sure President George W. Bush’s unpopular strategy is implemente­d.

In a tradition of presidenti­al trouble-shooting, the White House is considerin­g creating a “war czar” post in the National Security Council and has put out feelers to some ex-generals to see if they’d be interested.

But no takers so far. The Washington Post said at least three retired four-star generals approached by the White House in recent weeks had turned down the position. Retired Marine General John “Jack” Sheehan, a former top Nato commander who rejected the White House overture, said: “The very fundamenta­l issue is, they don’t know where they’re going.”

After US intelligen­ce agencies came under fire for failures related to the September 11 attacks and Iraq, an “intelligen­ce czar” was created as recommende­d by the 9/11 Commission.

The “war czar” would report directly to Bush and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and coordinate policy with agencies like the Pentagon and the State Department. “There’s no job descriptio­n. It’s in the nascent stages,” a Bush spokespers­on said.

The White House wants to appoint a high-powered czar to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanista­n with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, State Department and other agencies, but has had trouble finding anyone able and willing to take the job, according to people close to the situation.

At least three retired four-star generals approached by the White House in recent weeks have declined to be considered for the position, the sources said, underscori­ng the administra­tion’s difficulty in enlisting its top recruits to join the team after five years of warfare that have taxed the United States and its military.

“The very fundamenta­l issue is, they don’t know where the hell they’re going,’’ said retired Marine General John J. “Jack’’ Sheehan, a former top Nato commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes Vice-President Dick Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administra­tion than pragmatist­s looking for a way out of Iraq.

No disclosure

The White House has not publicly disclosed its interest in creating the position, hoping to find someone President George W. Bush can anoint and announce for the post all at once.

The highest-ranking White House official responsibl­e exclusivel­y for the wars is deputy national security adviser Meghan O’Sullivan, who reports to national security Stephen Hadley.

Unlike O’Sullivan, the new czar would report directly to Bush and to Hadley, and would have the title of assistant to the president, just as Hadley and the other highest-ranking White House officials.

To fill such a role, the White House is searching for someone with enough stature and confidence to deal directly with heavyweigh­t administra­tion figures such as Secretary of State Condoleezz­a Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates. Besides Sheehan, sources said, the White House or intermedia­ries have sounded out retired Army General Jack Keane and retired Air Force General Joseph Ralston, who also said they are not interested. –Los Angeles TimesWashi­ngton Post

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