The President’s Generals

Posted: March 9, 2011 in Songs of Space and Nuclear War
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The Wall Street Journal article, The President’s Generals, gives its assessment on why Marine General James Cartwright is likely to get the nod as the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  But the Journal’s choice is clear: it favors Army General David Petraeus.

As the WSJ explain things, a major reason Cartwright is thought to be the leading candidate is because those who will be doing the picking favor him.  That is an advantage that is often impossible to overcome.

Bob Woodward called him “a Marine known around the White House as Obama’s favorite general.”

…in the fall of 2009, General Cartwright worked with Vice President Joe Biden’s office on alternatives to the surge of 40,000 troops backed by his superiors at the Pentagon. He did so without the full knowledge of Admiral Mullen or Secretary Gates.

It’s all very interesting because at one point on funding issues, Secretary Gates demanded the JCS, service secretaries, and staff sign non-disclosure statement vowing to not talk about pre-decisional options. They aren’t exact apples-to-apples comparisons, but they’re ethically similar.

Some people admire this willingness to go around his military and civilian chain of command.

Yes, when the go-arounder supports the favored position, the go-arounder will often reap such admiration.  When the go-arounder doesn’t agree, expect a different assessment.

He also earned good will with the Obama Administration by working hard for its New Start treaty with Russia.

Cartwright, who committed in 2009 testimony to a minimum of 860 launchers prior to New START, dumped that position as New START came out with something less than his previously established minimum.  What changed?

Also, since Cartwright’s ethics investigation has been closed out, he’s cleared hot to…assume the position.

The Pentagon’s inspector general found that the general showed poor judgment and had an “unduly familiar relationship” with his aide, but Navy Secretary Ray Mabus found no grounds for disciplinary action.

Interestingly, Cartwright’s unified command experience was at US STRATCOM, the command with the nuclear and missile defense missions that are probably most out of favor with the administration.

…unusually among current senior brass, hasn’t served in Iraq or Afghanistan, and in his career never deployed in combat. That fact alone would make him a startling choice given the last decade’s sacrifices by U.S. soldiers.

And how about Petraeus?  PhD.; multi-national force commander and credited with the success of the surge; former US CENTCOM Commander; current U.S. military and ISAF lead in Afghanistan; top grad at Command and General Staff College; humanitarian-experienced in Haiti; Georgetown fellowship; counterinsurgency guru…and there’s more.

But being well qualified (let alone having military rock-star status) won’t always carry the day.  In fact, they might even work against someone whose star shines too brightly.

While the Secretary has famously focused on winning the wars we’re in, he won’t be the decision maker.


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