Cartwright, who previously served as head of U.S. Strategic Command, was a principal architect of the campaign. His role, a former senior official said in an interview last year, “was describing the art of the possible, having a view or vision.”
Cartwright, 63, went on to be named to the Pentagon’s No. 2 military post, moving him to the center of policy issues ranging from Iran to the pursuit of al-Qaeda in Pakistan and Yemen.
As vice chairman, Cartwright was scorned by many fellow senior generals for opposing a plan in 2009 to dispatch tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan, putting him at odds with former peers, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, but earning him favor with senior Obama national security aides.
Although Obama forged a quick rapport with Cartwright — White House officials referred to him as the president’s favorite general — the president chose not to promote him to chairman in 2011, in part because of concern that Cartwright had frayed his relationships with too many senior generals during the surge debate. Within the Pentagon, “he wasn’t seen as a team player,” said a senior military official who worked on the Joint Staff.
After retiring, Cartwright took a position at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and has spoken frequently on national security issues. He has emerged as a growing critic of the Obama administration's expanded use of drones to counter the al-Qaeda threat.
At at event in Chicago in March, Cartwright said that the United States was beginning to see “blowback” from that targeted killing campaign. “If you’re trying to kill your way to a solution, no matter how precise you are, you’re going to upset people even if they’re not targeted.”
Peter Finn, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.