Schwartz, Stavridis Tops For Chairman

Marine Gen. Hoss Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is still on most lists, but he may have been tainted -- rightly or wrongly --by the recent IG report which cleared Cartwright but also questioned his judgment. That is the latest from the ever-active Pentagon rumor mill.

Marine Gen. Hoss Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is still on most lists, but he may have been tainted — rightly or wrongly –by the recent IG report which cleared Cartwright but also questioned his judgment.

That is the latest from the ever-active Pentagon rumor mill.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz’s name will not come as a surprise to Buzz readers since we broke the story of his being considered to replace Cartwright as vice chairman. We hear from one experienced Hill and Pentagon observer that Schwartz — or his surrogates — are pushing hard to secure the job for the Air Force. With Army Gen. Ray Odierno a likely pick for vice chairman, that would seem to argue for an Air Force leader as chairman. After all, the Air Force has not led the military since Gen. Richard Meyers in 2005, and he was the first since 1982.

Adm. James Stavridis, the top NATO commander and Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, may be the best fit for the Obama administration. A true polymath, Stavridis offers fine rhetorical skills, an impressive grasp of history and the important ability to discuss and dissect ideas and concepts. These qualities, consultant and analyst Loren Thompson points out, are  greatly valued by the administration’s leaders

Certainly no one who watches the Pentagon’s upcoming game of musical chairs will be surprised by Vice Chairman Hoss Cartwright’s name appearing on the list. He is. after all, the famously favorite general of the Obama White House. However, the idea of a general without recent combat experience might seem to raise questions about Cartwright’s chances. Of course, that assumes you don’t think that leading Strategic Command counts as a combat command.

But remember that the current chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, was picked largely for his leadership skills and strategic thinking. Of course, he was CNO before being named chairman, thus having a seat at the table in the Tank, where the Joint Chiefs of Staff meet to discuss classified issues. Mullen’s last operational command came in the first half of 2005, when he led NATO’s peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and its training mission in Iraq. Mullen and Cartwright share several traits, perhaps the most obvious being their strengths as strategic planners and thinkers. They can both answer a question in public without making a major mistake, although Cartwright boasts a clear lead in his skills as an orator.

On the other hand, Thompson notes that “the recent Inspector General investigation of Gen. Cartwright’s relationship with a female aide will hurt his prospects.  Although no physical relationship with the aide is alleged, there is an appearance issue.  General Joseph Ralston was sidelined in the competition for the top military job during the Clinton years due to a similar situation.”

Navy sources believe Stavridis looms large as the most accomplished and versatile of the candidates for chairman. Schwartz, who spent much of his career in special operations, does not boast the same fluency and political deftness that is very evident in dealing with Stavridis. How much the appearance of handing the top military job to another admiral will weigh against Stavridis is hard to to judge.

The Wall Street Journal issued a plaintive plea yesterday for Gen. David Patraeus to be named chairman but his name does not appear to be in play, which may explain the Journal’s piece. Petraeus, we hear, would love to retire after moving into Stavridis’ job.

One other element must be weighed here, and that is when will Defense Secretary Robert Gates depart and will he be the man or woman who recommends the next chairman. The best intel we’ve got (and it isn’t very good) on a Gates departure is summer. Mullen’s term of office expires in October.