President Barack Obama named Army General Martin Dempsey chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and his top military adviser.
Dempsey, a veteran of the war in Iraq who helped Iraqi troops in their security takeover, would replace Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, whose term ends Sept. 30.
Dempsey is “one of our nation’s most respected and combat-tested generals,” Obama said. “I expect him to push all our forces to continue adapting and innovating to be ready for the missions of today and tomorrow,” Obama added, making the announcement today in the White House Rose Garden.
The shift in top military positions comes as Obama seeks to end the U.S. military role in Iraq, begin a drawdown in Afghanistan and find ways to cut $400 billion from the Defense Department’s budget over the next 12 years.
The president also announced the appointment of Admiral James A. Winnefeld as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Army General Ray Odierno as the new Army chief of staff, succeeding Dempsey. Odierno is best known as a commander in Iraq who crafted the troop surge and put into effect the counterinsurgency strategy.
Obama urged the Senate “to confirm these outstanding individuals as swiftly as possible.”
Joint Chiefs Tours
Winnefeld, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the U.S. Northern Command, has served numerous tours on the Joint Staff, most recently as director for strategic plans and policy. He has led sea commands supporting combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Having served as a NATO commander, Sandy is well known to our allies,” Obama said. “Having served on the Joint Staff, he is known and trusted here at the White House.”
Obama said he hoped for “honest, unvarnished advice” from both in the coming challenges, including reducing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and fighting terrorists and al-Qaeda while at the same time paring back the defense department budget.
Dempsey, who was sworn in as Army chief of staff just weeks ago, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1974 with David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.
Dempsey commanded the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad in 2003 and 2004. The unit’s tour, originally scheduled to last 12 months, was extended three months to quell an uprising led by the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr.
Dempsey returned to Iraq in 2005 to command the Multi-National Security Transition Command, responsible for training and equipping Iraqi troops. He also served as acting commander of U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military operations in 20 countries from the Middle East to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Calling Odierno “one of the most accomplished” commanders in the U.S. military, Obama that in three deployments to Iraq the general helped capture Saddam Hussein and shrink U.S. combat forces.
Obama bypassed a chance to elevate U.S. Marine Corps General James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the top position.
Cartwright met with the president at the White House on the matter on May 21 and had worked closely with the White House, including on planning for the raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden. He was among those at the center of a 2009 debate within the Obama administration over strategy on the war in Afghanistan.
Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward said in a book on the decision-making process that Cartwright was known at the White House as the president’s favorite general and that he disagreed with current Joint Chiefs chairman Mullen and other military and defense leaders over options.
The president earlier nominated Leon Panetta to succeed Robert Gates as defense secretary. Petraeus has been nominated to head the Central Intelligence Agency after Panetta takes over at the Pentagon.
Obama praised outgoing chairman Mullen for his stewardship of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, relief efforts in Haiti after the earthquake, and relations with NATO, Russia, Pakistan and China. He also noted Mullen’s decision to endorse repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
“I believe history will also record that it was Mike Mullen who said what he believed was right and declared that no one in uniform should have to sacrifice their integrity to serve their country.”