President Bush's top national security adviser said Thursday that there is an urgent need to name a high-powered White House official to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's something I would like to have done yesterday and if yesterday wasn't available, the day before," National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters during a briefing at the White House. A day earlier, the White House had said the idea for a so-called war czar was still in its infancy.
Hadley said he is looking primarily at retired military leaders and active-duty military personnel, but is open to civilian candidates to become assistant to the president for Iraq and Afghanistan policy implementation.
He said he's talked to a handful of people about their "interest and availability," including some he knew would not be available for the position.
He said he wants to invite two or three candidates to the White House to talk about the job with Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Gen. Peter Pace, the Joint Chiefs chairman, and White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten.
Position not yet formally offered
The White House has approached at least three retired four-star generals in recent weeks and is seeking advice from a number of people about the job, but has not formally offered the post to anyone. Currently, the most senior White House official responsible exclusively for the wars is Meghan O'Sullivan, a deputy national security adviser who reports to Hadley.
Hadley, whose portfolio spans foreign policy issues worldwide and cannot focus solely on the wars, said O'Sullivan is leaving, and it was clear that the White House needed someone who could focus on the wars full-time. Hadley noted that Gen. David Petraeus recently took command of U.S. forces in Iraq, Ryan Crocker is the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Adm. William J. Fallon recently became commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, presenting an opportunity for the administration to rethink how it manages the wars.
Hadley said the position would report directly to the president. It is not expected to be a Cabinet-level post, but whomever fills it would have direct access to members of the Cabinet to speed up the implementation of strategies on both battlefronts.
Michele Flournoy, a former Pentagon defense strategist, expressed skepticism about the new post, saying it sounded like a "bureaucratic fix" to a larger problem. "I think a war czar is a desperate attempt to inject new energy into what is a vacuum of leadership," she said in a conference call with reporters.