President Bush intends to name Marine Gen. Peter Pace the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, officials said yesterday, replacing Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, whose term ends this autumn.
Announcement of the decision is due soon and probably will include the nomination of Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani Jr. as the new vice chairman, officials said.
The selection of the two officers for the Pentagon's top military posts would team Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld with a pair of senior officers with whom he is very familiar.
Pace, 59, has served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for 3 1/2 years, helping to manage the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and furthering a reputation as a smooth political operator.
Giambastiani, 56, was Rumsfeld's senior military assistant for a year before becoming head of Joint Forces Command in 2002. There, the admiral has overseen work on a number of the "transformational" military strategies strongly favored by Rumsfeld.
Although the Pace-Giambastiani team would promise continuity with Rumsfeld's agenda, the close identification of the two officers with the defense secretary also risks furthering the recent image of the Joint Staff as having lost some of its voice in Pentagon deliberations.
Myers has struggled with criticism from some quarters that he has failed to stand up sufficiently to the strong-willed Rumsfeld. Myers's supporters dispute this perception, saying that on a number of important policy questions, the general has challenged the secretary but has kept such disputes largely behind the scenes.
As Myers's deputy, Pace also has been subject to grumbling that he has avoided disagreements with Rumsfeld. But his backers say Pace has demonstrated particular skill in dealing not only with civilians at the Pentagon but also at the White House, and in managing difficult issues involving long-term strategy and weapons acquisition policies.
If confirmed by the Senate, Pace would become the first Marine to hold the chairman's job.
A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Pace was sent to Vietnam as a fresh lieutenant in the late 1960s and served as a platoon leader, winning a Bronze Star. In the early 1990s, he commanded Marines in Somalia, returning in 1993 after the failed raid that killed 18 Americans to help preside over an ignominius U.S. withdrawal. He went on to head U.S. Southern Command, which is responsible for operations in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The leadership changes on the Joint Staff come at a time of continued speculation about Rumsfeld's own plans to step down. Now in the fifth year of his second tour as Pentagon leader, Rumsfeld already holds records as the youngest and oldest person to have held the job. He has given no sign of any intention to leave soon.
To beat Robert McNamara's record of longest serving defense secretary, Rumsfeld would need to stay until March 2008.