January 6, 2007
Mt first reaction upon hearing that President Bush intended to announce his selection of the U.S. Pacific Commander as his next Commander, Central Command (Cent Com) was this: the president sees a future gradual decrease in our national focus on Iraq and Afghanistan while Iran's importance is in the ascendancy.
Admiral William Fallon, if confirmed by the Senate, will succeed General John Abizaid as the CentCom Commander. CentCom manages U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The United States Navy has played a pivotal role in the Persian Gulf and the North Arabian Sea since the end of World War II. Today's U.S. Fifth Fleet protects the sea lanes where much of the world's petroleum transits from oil field to refineries and customer nations.
When Iranian dissidents captured the U.S. Embassy at Tehran, Iran, I was serving at sea aboard one of the U.S. Navy's aircraft carriers. We were immediately dispatched, along with several highly capable surface combatants and support ships in the Battle Group, to patrol off the coast of Iran. For months and even years on end, Naval power deterred greater aggression and hostilities in the region. Aircraft carrier pilot and their aircraft sat on deck in "Alert Five," armed and ready to strike a select series of high priority targets within Iran. The Battle Groups could remain at sea and reliant upon their own fuel, refrigerated stores and ammunition ships for months on end.
Later, when Iran threatened missile attacks against defenseless merchant oil tankers, the U.S. Navy provided a string of surface combatants to defend and secure the oil ships lacking their own defensive systems. Tomahawk cruise missile capable ships augmented the Naval power with long range, precision and unmanned strike systems.
I was also privileged to command U.S. Navy sailors tasked with maintaining tomahawk cruise missile strike capability aimed at Iraq en while we sailed in a U.S. Navy AEGIS guided missile cruiser in company with a mammoth U.S. Battleship capable of striking Iraq with tomahawk missiles or its formidable 16 inch guns.
It is no surprise to us, therefore, that the president would name a Navy Admiral as talented and capable as Admiral Fallon to head the Central Command. For the last several years, Admiral has led U.S. initiates and talks with China. He is known to be a presidential favorite because h has poise under pressure, broad international experience and legendarily good judgment.
Prior to general Abizaid's tenure, CentCom has previously been commanded by well known American "ground pounders" like U.S. Army Generals "Stormin' Norman" Schwarzkopf, Tommy Franks and U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni.
There is another interpretation to the president's decision not to replace General Abizaid with another U.S. Army general.
"The Army brass has been somewhat slow to react, and maybe even nearing the limit of ponderous," a senior retired officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity told us. "Maybe this is why General Casey is coming home a little early."
We have the deepest respect and admiration for general Casey. While serving as the Vice Chief of staff of the U.S. Army under general Shinseki, who had renown clashes with then defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Casey volunteered to leave his comfortable Pentagon assignment to lead his Army in war in Iraq.
General Casey's story reminded me what Medal of Honor winner Bud Day said to me when I asked him why he volunteered to fly fighter jets in Vietnam at the age of 41: "I went because it was my duty," Bud told me. "That's where I needed to be. I had more flying hours than anyone in Southeast Asia. I needed to be there.
General Casey will come home to become the Army Chief of Staff . Casey will replace the retiring Gen. Peter Schoomaker as Army Chief of Staff. Schoomaker, a Special Forces officer, was recalled to active duty by then Defense Secretary Rumsfeld who passed over all the active duty Army three and four star generals to make that assignment an almost unprecedented move seen as an insult to Army leadership.
Casey's replacement in Iraq is to be Lieutenant General David Petraeus, a Bush favorite.
General Petraeus has been in Iraq twice before, serving the first commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command Iraq, which he led from June 2004 to September 2005, and the NATO Training Mission Iraq, which he commanded from October 2004 to September 2005. Prior to that deployment, he commanded the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), leading the "Screaming Eagles" in combat during the first year of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His command of the 101st followed a year deployed on Operation Joint Forge in Bosnia, where he was the Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations of the NATO Stabilization Force and the Deputy Commander of the US Joint Interagency Counter-Terrorism Task Force Bosnia.
General Petraeus is expected to be promoted to four star rank commensurate with his assigned duties in Iraq, if confirmed by the Senate.
In a statement released by the White House Friday afternoon, Bush called Admiral Fallon, General Petraeus and General Casey "accomplished military professionals whose experience, skill, and dedication will enable them to successfully lead our troops as they protect our country."
The three officers are subject to confirmation by the Senate.
The president is also shaking up his diplomatic team. America's former Ambassador to Iraq and the first Director of National Intelligence, Mr. John Negroponte, will move to the State Department to fill a job vacant since last June: the No. 2 post at the State Department.
Mr. Negroponte, a career State Department diplomat since the Eisenhower Administration, is 67 years old, and he would become the deputy to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice if -- as expected -- he is confirmed by the Senate. He was confirmed in April 2005 as the nation's first director of national intelligence by a vote of 98-2.
Our own take on this assignment is that Mr. Negroponte could well become the next Secretary of State.
Condoleezza Rice's tenure as Secretary of State has not been without its mis-steps and oversights. Some in Washington are already saying that she will return to academia before the end of President Bush's second term.
To replace Mr. Negroponte, the president has named Admiral Mike McConnell, 63, a career intelligence professional who headed the National Security Agency from 1992 to 1996. After his retirement from the Navy, Admiral McConnell took a private-sector job as senior vice president of the Booz Allen Hamilton consulting firm.
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