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The General's Reluctant Farewell

Gen. Peter Pace:
Gen. Peter Pace: "I regret to give up the reins of responsibility." (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)

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VIDEO | The Washington Post's Dana Milbank sketches the armed services tribute for General Peter Pace as he steps down from his position as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, October 2, 2007

They brought the full array of military hardware to Fort Myer for Gen. Peter Pace's sendoff yesterday as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: four fighter jets, four ceremonial howitzers, five honor guards, two brass bands, three metal detectors and eight Porta Potties.

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But none of this pomp -- not even the ruffles and flourishes the drummers played -- could conceal the circumstances: Pace was a reluctant guest at his own retirement party. President Bush and his new defense secretary, Bob Gates, cut Pace loose rather than fight the difficult confirmation battle in the Senate needed to give him another two-year term.

The general was not happy about this -- and he used his farewell yesterday to take a parting shot at antiwar Democrats, the press and the whole uncivil bunch in Washington who "are more interested in making somebody else look bad than they are in finding the right solution."

"I can hear voices right now," the general declared, his finger in the air. He was referring not to demons in his head but to demonstrators at the base gate using a bullhorn to mar the ceremony.

"I want them to understand -- I just want everyone to understand -- that this dialogue is not about, 'Can we vote our way out of a war?' " said the man whose surname means "peace" in his father's native Italy. "We have an enemy who has declared war on us."

Pace had made no secret of the terms of his ouster, freely admitting that he had refused a request to quit voluntarily. But yesterday he found himself illustrating a Washington twist on an ancient adage: Whom the gods would destroy, they first give a parade.

After Gen. Tommy Franks, CIA chief George Tenet and Iraq viceroy Jerry Bremer botched the early part of the Iraq war, Bush honored them with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Likewise, Pace, on his way out the door, got a "Full Honor Review," with Sousa marches, medals, flowers and flyovers.

Pace could have chosen a simpler ceremony, but he declined neither bell nor whistle. The centerfold of the program was a yearbook-style photo collage: Pace at the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Pace on his wedding day, Pace hiking in the mountains with family, Pace on the cover of Parade magazine, Pace on the set of "Meet the Press."

Gates, the man who dropped Pace in favor of Adm. Michael Mullen to avoid a "very contentious process" before the Senate, yesterday celebrated the general's valor in Vietnam and called him "one of the finest" leaders. "You leave today as you should," Gates said, "with flags flying, words of tribute ringing in your ears, and the heartfelt thanks of a grateful nation."

The flags were indeed unfurled as Pace, in white gloves, reviewed the troops and snapped salutes. He sat in a stuffed leather chair on the reviewing stand, enjoying some private chuckles with Bush. He heard the thunderous volleys fired in his honor by the same unit that gives the final salutes for soldiers buried at nearby Arlington National Cemetery.

Bush, in his tribute, spoke vaguely of the reasons for Pace's departure, mentioning the "strength that gave General Pace solace in the tough and sometimes bitter world of Washington." Bush said that Pace brought "selflessness to a city filled with egos," and didn't worry about being in "the good graces of official Washington."

Bush may have had in mind Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, who said Pace "was never as candid as he should have been" about Iraq. He may also have been thinking of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who at a hearing last week condemned Pace's opposition to gays serving openly in the military. The general answered that homosexuality is "contrary to God's law" -- leading hecklers to shout him down and forcing a suspension of the hearing.


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