Joint Chiefs Shuffle: Gen. Pace Out; Adm. Mullen In

The Bush administration has announced plans to replace Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rather than risk a Senate confirmation struggle by reappointing Pace, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would recommend Adm. Mike Mullen to replace him.

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Rebecca Roberts.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

An unexpected announcement today from the Pentagon: General Peter Pace will leave as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he decided against another term for Pace after conferring with Senate leaders.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (U.S. Department of Defense): I am no stranger to contentious confirmations, and I do not shrink from them. However, I have decided that at this moment in our history, the nation, our men and women in uniform, and General Pace himself, would not be well served by a divisive ordeal.

SIEGEL: The Bush administration has chosen Admiral Michael Mullen, currently the chief of naval operations, to head the Joint Chiefs.

For more now on the announcement and what it means, we're joined by NPR defense correspondent Guy Raz. Guy, was there any indication at all of this coming today?

RAZ: You know, Robert, I traveled with the secretary last week. And in some of the conversations I had with some of the senior defense officials who were traveling as well, there was a real noncommittal answer when the issue of General Pace's future was raised.

Now a few weeks ago, I would say he's re-nomination wasn't in doubt at all. And basically, that's what Gates said today, that he had intended to re-nominate Pace. Basically, the bottom line has Pace is either been the chairman or the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs for the past six years and he's so tied to the Iraq policy.

But basically, his confirmation hearing would have been kind of a referendum on the president's policies and, of course, on the policies of the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld. So Gates simply wanted to avoid that. At least, that's what he said today.

SIEGEL: The divisive ordeal that he spoke of, that we heard him speaking a moment ago, then would have been a much discussion of Iraq during Pace's confirmation hearings, if there had been?

RAZ: Absolutely, yeah.

SIEGEL: Is this the equivalent then of Peter Pace being fired?

RAZ: I think so. Yes. I mean, Pace certainly wanted to be re-nominated and it's unusual for a Joint Chiefs chairman to serve just one term. Usually, they are re-nominated. But as to say, he was going to be held up to the light by Congress, and his time at the Pentagon was going to be deconstructed. Now, for the past two years, really, since he's become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, his critics had complained that he wasn't independent enough, that he was kind of a yes-man.

And then something strange happened in the past week. It came to light that General Pace actually sent a letter of support to the judge, who handed down the sentence to "Scooter" Libby. Of course, Mr. Libby, who was sentenced to prison in connection with the CIA - with the outing of the CIA operative, Valerie Plame.

SIEGEL: You mean, he sent a letter in support of Lewis Libby?

RAZ: Of a lenient sentence, that's right. Now, of course, that case became a kind of a case against the pre-war Iraq intelligence. So Pace having gotten himself involved in this Libby issue on top of everything else certainly was going to be held into account by Congress.

SIEGEL: Well, what can you tell us about the man nominated to succeed him, Admiral Mullen?

RAZ: Well, he's a Navy man - admiral, of course. And if you noticed, Robert, the last three Joint Chiefs chairman have all come from different service branches. So there was the Army chief, Hugh Shelton; the Air Force chief, Dick Myers; and then in Peter Pace's case, the Marines.

So Mullen's appointment was somewhat expected. He is the head of the chief of naval operations. At the moment, he is the highest-ranking naval officer. And actually, he's the longest-serving member of the Joint Chiefs. He's sort of the dean of the Joint Chiefs. He's served longer than anybody else on the staff right now.

SIEGEL: And might his approach be any different from that of General Pace?

RAZ: It's hard to tell. I mean, he was appointed by Donald Rumsfeld. But that doesn't necessarily mean anything. I think Mullen is going to be under some pressure - public and congressional pressure for sure - to do his job in a way - in the way he's supposed to do it. And that is basically, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, you're supposed to provide the president with independent military advice, an advice that's not tainted by politics.

SIEGEL: That's NPR defense correspondent Guy Raz. Thank you, Guy.

RAZ: Thank you.

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Gen. Pace to Step Down as Chairman of Joint Chiefs

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace i i

Defense Secretary Robert Gates (left) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace appear before a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearings, May 9, 2007. Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace

Defense Secretary Robert Gates (left) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace appear before a Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee hearings, May 9, 2007.

Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images
Adm. Mike Mullen i i

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen testifies on the defense budget before the House Armed Services Committee, March 1, 2007. Mullen has been recommended to be the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Chad J. McNeeley/U.S. Navy via Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chad J. McNeeley/U.S. Navy via Getty Images
Adm. Mike Mullen

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen testifies on the defense budget before the House Armed Services Committee, March 1, 2007. Mullen has been recommended to be the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Chad J. McNeeley/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he will recommend Adm. Mike Mullen, currently the chief of naval operations, to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mullen would replace Marine Gen. Peter Pace, who has held the post since 2005.

If formally appointed by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate, Mullen would replace Pace as the nation's top military officer.

Gates, speaking at a Pentagon news conference, said that Mullen has the "vision, strategic insight and integrity to lead America's armed forces."

Gates said that until recently, he had intended to renominate the Marine general for another two years, but that after consulting with senators in both parties, he had concluded that "the focus of his confirmation process would have been on the past and not on the future," apparently suggesting that reconfirmation would meet stiff resistence in Congress.

"I am no stranger to contentious confirmations, and I do not shrink from them," Gates said. "However, I have decided that at this moment in our history, the nation, our men and women in uniform, and Gen. Pace himself would not be well-served by a divisive ordeal in selecting the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff."

Asked by reporters whether the decision had anything to do with Pace's conduct of the war in Iraq, Gates replied: "It has absolutely nothing to do with my view of Gen. Pace's performance."

Gates said Mullen "is a very smart, strategic thinker. And I think he has a view of the interests of the services as a whole."

Mullen has served as chief of Naval Operations since July 2005. His previous assignments included being commander of the NATO Joint Force Command Naples and commander of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe.

He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968 and later the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School. He earned a masters of science degree in operations research from the Naval Postgraduate School.

Mullen has commanded three ships and served in leadership positions at the U.S. Naval Academy, the Navy's Bureau of Personnel, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and on the Navy Staff.

Pace, 60, was the first U.S. Marine to serve as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was sworn in on Sept. 30, 2005, and served as principal military adviser to the president during the Iraq war.

Pace was also the first U.S. Marine to serve as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the post he held before becoming chairman.

He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and grew up in Teaneck, N.J. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1967 and earned a master's degree in Business Administration from George Washington University.

Pace also attended Harvard University for the Senior Executives in National and International Security program and graduated from the Infantry Officers' Advanced Course at Fort Benning, Ga.

As chairman and vice chairman, Pace has been involved in all of the key decisions leading to the 2002 invasion of Iraq and planning for the post-Saddam Hussein era.

The war, now in its fifth year, has claimed the lives of more than 3,500 U.S. troops.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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