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Joint Chiefs Chair Will Bow Out
Richard Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, predicted that the moves probably will not change the course of U.S. military affairs. "It's largely symbolic," Kohn said. Yet as a symbol, the ousting of the two top officers in the U.S. military establishment is striking, he said, "particularly as another reminder that Mr. Rumsfeld and his methods and style are now gone."
Gates contacted senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee in recent weeks and heard bipartisan warnings that hearings for Pace could go badly. Yesterday, senators soundly praised Pace for his 40 years of service, but many Democrats expressed a desire to move toward new leadership. Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he had solicited the opinions of a broad range of his colleagues in response to a request from Gates about a possible hearing this summer.
"I found that the views of many senators reflected my own, namely that a confirmation hearing on General Pace's reappointment would have been a backward-looking debate about the last four years," Levin said in a statement.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), also a member of the committee, on Thursday called for Pace's firing in order to find a new direction. Yesterday, Reed said that Gates made the right decision and that he hopes it "will encourage a continuing reevaluation of our strategy around the globe and particularly in Iraq."
Spokespeople for Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, and John W. Warner (R-Va.), declined to discuss any private conversations the lawmakers may have had with Gates.
But congressional staffers said there was concern from both parties that Pace's confirmation hearing could evoke bitter debate about Iraq war policy. Some said Pace's recent comments to reporters at the Chicago Tribune about the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, in which he said homosexuality was immoral, would also be a distracting issue.
"It was apparent to people on both sides that this was going to get ugly, and not just over Iraq," said one staffer.
National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said yesterday that Gates informed the president a little over two weeks ago that consultations with lawmakers on the Hill regarding Pace's renomination had not gone well and that it was Gates's recommendation to not go forward. Gates called national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley on Thursday night to discuss yesterday's announcement.
In a statement released yesterday from Rome, Bush said he will accept Gates's recommendations and praised the outgoing officers, saying Pace did a "superb" job in a time of war. "I have relied on his unvarnished military judgment, and I value his candor, his integrity, and his friendship," he said.
Pace, the military's 16th chairman, was the first Marine general to serve in the position; he also has the distinction of serving one of the shortest terms in history. Pace replaced Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers in 2005 after Myers served for four years, but Pace will leave after two years, the first chairman to do so since 1964.
Kori Schake, a West Point expert on defense strategy and budgets who worked on the staff of Bush's National Security Council, said Pace's legacy is likely to be downbeat. "There will continue to be some pretty serious questioning about whether General Pace andAdmiral Giambastiani made too many compromises of their military judgment," Schake said.
Pace's departure "in many ways is one of the final parts of the closing chapter to the decisions made in 2002 to 2006," said retired Army Col. Douglas Morrison, a former planner for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "We have turned the page. Chapter closed."
Staff writer Michael Fletcher contributed to this report.