Recent reports that an early act of the Reagan administation may be to relieve Gen. David Jones of his position as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have brought forth sharp criticism from former secretaries of defense Brown and Schlesinger along with adverse press comments. It may be of some interest to hear the views of a former chairman, one, incidentally, who was in 1963 himself charged by a senator with being a "political general." My offense, along with that of my colleagues, was to have supported the Limited Test Ban Treaty.
Before taking such action, if indeed it is intended, the Reagan leadership would do well to agree upon the qualifications they should look for in an ideal chairman -- then see how Jones or any other candidate meets the criteria. If asked about the attributes of such a person, although never having seen one in the flesh, I would list the following qualifications as necessary or highly desirable.
In the first place, he should be a senior general or admiral with a well-established record for outstanding performance in important and difficult assignments where he has had an opportunity to acquire not only broad professional experience but also a considerable insight into governmental operations and international afairs. In its entirety, it should be a record that would assure him the respect of his Joint Chiefs colleagues and obtain for him an attentive hearing from his civilian superiors.
Next, he should be generally sympathetic to the goals, ways and means of the military policy that the administration expects to follow. For maximum results, it is essential that a close and friendly relationship unite the key personalities in the chain of military responsibility -- the president as commander in chief, the secretary of defense as his deputy and the chairman representing the armed forces. To do his best work, the latter should be a true believer in the soundness of administration military policy -- something quite different from being a supporter of administration politics.
Second only in importance to this relationship to his superiors is that of the chairman to the other chiefs of staff. To facilitate mutual understanding of the problems of each other, it is most desirable for him to have served as the chief of staff of a service before becoming chairman. With one exception, this has always been the case in the past.
In the military service, loyalty to superior, colleague and subordinate has always been viewed as a cardinal virtue. It is no less so in the case of the senior military officer of the United States. The chairman must be loyal not only to his civilian superiors but to his colleagues, for whom, in their absence, he must often act as spokesman before the president, the National Security Council and Congress. They must be able to trust him to transmit their views without coloration even if at variance with his own.
In meetings of the Joint Chiefs, the chairman must act as an impartial presiding officer, striving to reconcile differences of opinion but never attempting to suppress minority views. He should never give an impression of being an administration whip trying to impose a consensus to avoid submitting a split or unwelcome opinion to higher authority.
Such, I would say, are the basic requirements of a chairman worthy of the job. It would be well if he also had certain other attributes. It will help if he looks like a leader capable of carrying out his heavy responsibilities. It is even more important that he be able to speak and write clearly and persuasively since he will spend much of his time explaining and justifying the needs of the military establishment, often before an unsympathetic or ill-informed audience.
It requres a delicate touch to speak for the armed forces without appearing to defend or cirticize the administration he serves. The first exposes him to the charge of being a political general, the charge currently leveled at Jones; the second, of being disloyal to his civil superiors, a breach of professional ethics. However, in testifying before Congress, regardless of appearances, he can and should tell the whole truth, shame the Devil and take the consequences.
With this sketch in mind of what an ideal chairman might be, Jones' critics would be better prepared to decide whether he should be releived and, if so, why and when. They would be unjustified, I would say, in taking action against him unless they have strong reason to believe that a) the general has indeed participated actively in party politics, b) he harbors views on important matters antithetical to the Reagan military policy or c) as chairman, he has failed to display some of the qualities viewed as essential for the office.
But regardless of their stated reasons for replacing the chairman, they would do so at a price. They could never escape the charge of having fired a joint chief for having supported views on professional matters offensive to them while loyally serving another administration. It would not pass unnoticed that their action was reminiscent of the unhappy episode at the start of the Eisenhower administration when, in apparent placation of Republican critics of the military conduct of the Korean War, a whole new slate of chiefs was brought in to replace those who had served President Truman and had supported his recall of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
Everything considered, rather than to raise old ghosts and to create new ones to walk in the future, it would seem to me far more prudent to leave Jones in his job while looking around for their ideal chairman, or the next best thing in an imperfect world.