Obama picks warrior-scholar for top US military job

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President Barack Obama nominated Army General Martin Dempsey, a warrior-scholar who commanded troops in the Iraq war, as the top US military officer.

Dempsey, whose pick requires US Senate confirmation, would replace Admiral Mike Mullen as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when he steps down on October 1.

At a White House ceremony, Obama hailed Dempsey as “one of our nation’s respected and combat-tested generals.”

Obama announced the choice for the high-profile post just before heading to Arlington Cemetery outside Washington for a wreath-laying and remarks to honour America’s war dead on Memorial Day, Reuters reports.

The nomination was the latest move in an overhaul Obama’s national security team.

In April, Obama announced he had chosen CIA Director Leon Panetta to replace the departing Robert Gates as defence secretary. Army General David Petraeus, commander of the Afghanistan war effort, was chosen to replace Panetta as head of the CIA.

Obama said it was essential to ensure that the transitions are “seamless and that we stay focussed on the urgent national security challenges before us.”

Dempsey is currently Army chief of staff, a job he has served in only a month. Obama named General Raymond Odierno to succeed Dempsey in the Army job.

Admiral James Winnefeld, commander of US Northern Command, was nominated as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Defense Department picks come as Obama is facing growing pressure to accelerate a troop drawdown in Afghanistan and is preparing to complete a withdrawal from Iraq.

The Obama administration is also facing questions about the U.S. military involvement in Libya.

Calls for a stepped-up pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan have increased after the May 2 killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a US commando raid in Pakistan.

PRESSURE FOR PENTAGON BUDGET CUTS

Another top issue facing the US military is pressure for budget cuts in the Department of Defence at a time when the United States is grappling with a US$1.4 trillion budget deficit and soaring debt levels.

Echoing remarks Dempsey himself has made to US soldiers, Obama vowed: “We will provide whatever it takes to achieve our objectives in the current fight.”

Until about a week and a half ago, many assumed that the top US military job would go to General James Cartwright, the current vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who was described in journalist Bob Woodward’s book “Obama’s Wars” as the president’s favourite general.

But questions arose about Cartwright’s leadership style, and mistrust of him among the Pentagon’s top brass derailed his chances. Neither Gates nor Mullen endorsed Cartwright for the Joint Chiefs job, according to a US official.

Dempsey was an instructor and assistant professor in the English Department at the West Point military academy earlier in his career.

He commanded the 1st Armored Division in Iraq shortly after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces from 2005 to 2007.

From 2007 to 2008, he was the No. 2 and then acting commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also led the U.S. Army’s training effort.



Dempsey told a Senate hearing in March that he views the massive U.S. debt and deficits as a threat to national security.
“He’s somebody with very broad capability as a manager,” said Anthony Cordesman at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
“He understands resources. He’s worked on new concepts of warfare, so you have a very practical grounding but also the capability to look forward and do so with a great deal of personal experience,” Cordesman said.