Joint Chiefs Chair Will Bow Out

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By Josh White and Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 9, 2007

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced yesterday that Marine Gen. Peter Pace will step down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September, a move that Gates said will avert the contentious congressional hearings that would be needed to reconfirm the nation's top military officer. Pace will leave after just two years in the post, the shortest stint as chairman in more than four decades.

The surprise announcement yesterday at the Pentagon amounts to Pace being fired before a customary second two-year term. He has served as the top military adviser to President Bush and the defense secretary since 2005, leading a war effort that has frustrated the American public and appears no closer to a conclusion.

Gates said that his decision was rooted in political considerations and that he took guidance from members of Congress who warned that Pace could face a maelstrom on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers would dissect the military's failures in Iraq. Pace has been at the center of war planning and policy since the days immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when he started as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Pace's departure -- along with the simultaneous retirement of Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, his vice chairman -- completes a nearly clean sweep of top military advisers linked to the tenure of Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary. Both military officers were close to Rumsfeld and have been criticized for not challenging him.

In office since Rumsfeld was ousted after the November elections, Gates has shown a desire to distance himself from Rumsfeld's Pentagon. Since he arrived, new commanders have moved into Iraq and the U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Middle East, and the White House has added Army Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute to a unique position coordinating war policy. As he noted yesterday, Gates had planned to retain both Pace and Giambastiani but decided against that when it became clear that Pace would face a difficult reconfirmation hearing.

Gates said his decision had "absolutely nothing to do with" his view of either officer's performance.

"I think that the events of the last several months have simply created an environment in which I think there would be a confirmation process that would not be in the best interests of the country," Gates told reporters at the Pentagon during an afternoon news conference. "I am disappointed that circumstances make this kind of a decision necessary."

Gates said he has recommended that Bush nominate Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chief of naval operations, as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs for a term beginning Oct. 1. Mullen is the longest serving of the service-branch chiefs of staff, taking the top Navy position in July 2005. Gates also recommended that Marine Gen. James Cartwright, now head of the Strategic Command, be nominated to replace Giambastiani.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Mullen commanded three ships, a cruiser-destroyer group, the George Washington Battle Group and the U.S. 2nd Fleet/NATO Striking Fleet Atlantic. He also served in leadership positions at the Naval Academy, on the Navy staff and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He was vice chief of naval operations from August 2003 to October 2004.

"Mullen has a reputation for being a rigorous, careful manager. People in the Navy describe him as a programmer rather than a visionary," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute. "He represents a general trend in the administration away from crusaders and toward problem-solvers."

At his news conference, Gates quipped that when his senior military adviser contacted Mullen shortly after Gates's arrival and asked him what his biggest concern was, he said: "The Army."

In contrast with Pace, who was seen by some in the armed services as too deferential to Rumsfeld, Cartwright has a strong reputation in the Marine Corps and elsewhere in the military. "He's probably the perfect replacement for Giambastiani," said one Marine general. "He is very smart, tremendously well organized, he understands the Pentagon, and he has good networks in Washington."


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