Joint Chiefs of Staff Sweepstakes
The selection process for the Joint Chiefs has been most odd.
Raymond Pritchett has a good backgrounder on the machinations around choosing the next chairman or the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior Pentagon leaders. His first major analytical point is one that I fully endorse:
I have serious questions regarding the purpose of Goldwater-Nichols when the two most impressive military officers of this generation, General Petraeus and Admiral Stavridis, both PhDs, both experienced COCOMs, and both with experience leading large coalitions in wars we are fighting; have somehow been passed up and aren’t even being considered in the massive rotations at the top of the military.
Petraeus seemed like a no-brainer for Chairman, frankly, although I could see where a president would be reluctant to appoint a man of his prominence to the position. Stavridis is on the same level in reputation within the security community but doesn’t have anywhere near the public recognition, so he makes an obvious fallback. Both epitomize the scholar-warrior-diplomat that the military has been touting for a generation as the ideal type.
As a former Army guy, though, I’m bemused by Raymond’s next point:
I also do not understand how at a time when the nation is trying to wind down two land wars in Asia, at a time when the DoD has been developing the AirSea Battle doctrine, and at a time when the Department of Defense is facing very large budget cuts, that one would seriously believe two Army Generals would rise to be the first, best choices for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I have to say, that would be the most impeccable timing possible should the Army, from out of nowhere and with the assistance of a random 3 month early appointment to Chief of Staff of the Army for General Dempsey, suddenly take over CJCS just as the DoD was about to transition away from the large land war in Asia approach to foreign diplomacy.
The United States has been at war for most of the last two decades. That we launched an operation in Libya whilst still bogged down in two major wars and are ratcheting up rhetoric elsewhere in the region gives me little confidence that we’re about to change.
Further, while it’s certainly possible to be an outstanding strategic leader without having been in harm’s way, the fact of the matter is that the Army and Marine Corps have done the lion’s share of the fighting in these wars. It would be odd, indeed, to disqualify our ground force leaders for the chairmanship because they’ve been off fighting the country’s wars rather than thinking about the wars we might one day fight.
Raymond implies that this is some sort of rotational politics, whereby each Service is getting a turn. But those days are gone–demonstrated best by the fact that Stavridis was the first Navy man ever to serve as head of the European and Southern Commands. Yes, a Navy man, Mike Mullen, is currently the Chairman. But he was preceded by Peter Pace, the first Marine to hold the post. The last Army guy was Hugh Shelton, who served from 1997 to 2001. But he succeeded another Army guy, John Shalikashvili, who succeeded another Army guy, Colin Powell. There’ve been on 17 Chairmen and we’ve had back-to-backs from within the same service multiple times.