This just in: Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright is making his move to succeed Adm. Mike Mullen as Chairman. Or he’s already decided to retire, and the competition to become the nation’s next top military officer is wide open. Take your pick — reporter John T. Bennett considers both possibilities in today’s edition of The Hill, the most widely read weekly newspaper in Congress.
One of the hallmarks of a stable republic is the smooth transition from one set of leaders to the next. That doesn’t just apply to the civilian leaders. Ever since a military officer overthrew the Roman republic, proponents of popular rule have cast a wary eye at how the military goes about picking its leaders. But the transparency that attends selection of presidential candidates isn’t so apparent in the way we go about picking top military leaders, so when the retirement of a senior uniformed figure like Mullen approaches, there’s a frenzy of speculation about who will replace him.
For months now, the smart money has been on Gen. Cartwright, the smooth Mr. Fixit who has risen above his parochial roots in the Marine Corps to become an avatar of jointness. This exalted status is typically achieved by badmouthing some cherished program your home service is buying, and Cartwright’s chosen target was the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle — a system he damned with faint praise by calling it “exquisite,” a euphemism for excessively complicated.
Reporter Bennett of The Hill hasn’t totally derailed the speculation about a Cartwright rise, because he concedes the rumors of Cartwright’s retirement might be a ruse. The Vice Chairman is known for maintaining air-tight opsec among his small circle of trusted subordinates. But if Cartwright really is departing public service, then my money would be on Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz to succeed Mullen when the Chairman ends his tenure in October.
Schwartz was Gates’ hand-picked selection to succeed former Air Force chief Gen. Buzz Moseley when the defense secretary decided he’d taken enough guff from Air Force leaders. Schwartz has exemplary joint credentials even though he hails from a service where teamwork with other services wasn’t always considered the manly option, and Gates arguably owes him consideration given all the grief that Schwartz has had to put up with from people like me over the past three years.
And besides, isn’t it the Air Force’s turn to get the top military job? There’s only been one Air Force officer in the chairman’s job in the last quarter century — Gen. Richard B. Myers — and he had the thankless task of dealing with Rumsfeld.
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