"I don't have an answer for you"

If America needs a war czar, why has it taken so long to get one?

Published May 16, 2007 5:23PM (EDT)

The White House announced Tuesday that Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute has agreed to serve as the president's new "war czar." A reporter asked White House press secretary Tony Snow today why it has "taken so long to come up with someone" of Lute's "seniority and stature."

The truthful answer, of course, is that at least five other generals with more seniority and more stature turned down the job before the White House offered it to Lute.

But that's not the answer Snow gave today.

What Snow said is this:

"I don't know. I mean, I think what happened is -- again, as you're taking a review, it became clear to us that this -- as you develop -- as you move into a new phase of the war, keep in mind we are still in the process of deploying people in this 'new way forward,' as the president called it. And therefore it seems proper at a time like this also to task somebody with the job of keeping an eye on all the different players who are involved in it.

"What we do have is a different set of policies governing what's going on in Iraq. It is something that is government-wide in its scope. And therefore it is appropriate to have somebody coming in in a new position in support of a new philosophy and a new way forward in Iraq -- not only to monitor progress, but to do everything possible to assist those on the ground to help them succeed."

A reporter asked if this is really a new need or one that the administration should have addressed years ago. "Well, again," Snow said, "I'm not going to try to -- I don't know. It's -- I don't have an answer for you. I'm telling you that's what he's here to do now. "

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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