The Name Game: Who Will Be The Next Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff? : The Two-Way Adm. Mike Mullen will step down at the end of September and two names have emerged as the most likely successors.
NPR logo The Name Game: Who Will Be The Next Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff?

The Name Game: Who Will Be The Next Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff?

Gen. Martin Dempsey (left) and General and Gen. James Cartwright are thought to be top contenders for the job of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. AP hide caption

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The name game continues around Washington about who will be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Adm. Mike Mullen steps down at the end of September.

Marine Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman, has long been seen as the front runner. But now a new name, according to Pentagon and defense sources, is picking up steam: Gen. Martin Dempsey, who was installed as Army chief of staff just over a month ago.

Dempsey is a down to earth (check him out on YouTube singing, "New York, New York,") combat veteran, who is very close to the troops. He commanded the 1st Armored Division in Iraq for a little more than a year starting in 2003. He was responsible for Baghdad during the time the insurgency grew. He went on to become acting commander of Central Command, the military command with responsibility for Iraq and Afghanistan, before recently running the U.S. Army's Training and Doctrine Command.

More and more people are talking up Dempsey, with one retired general calling him "the best guy for the job."

Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward wrote in Obama's Wars, that Cartwright is seen as President Obama's "favorite general," and the president gave him a shout-out two weeks ago during a White House event for the Wounded Warrior Project: "We're also joined by the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one of my top advisors over the last several years. I couldn't be more grateful to him — Gen. Jim "Hoss" Cartwright. Please give him a big round of applause."

But a number of analysts as well as retired and active senior officers point to potential problems with Cartwright: The first is he has no combat experience at a time when the U.S. military has been at war for a decade. Cartwright is a pilot who flew F-4s and F-18s and is something of a cerebral techie. He once ran the U.S. Strategic Command which oversees everything from space operations to missile defense to information operations.

Another problem: A Pentagon inspector general's investigation completed last year found Cartwright had an "unduly familiar relationship" with a female staffer.

The investigation found that the general was working at a desk in his hotel room in Tbilisi, Georgia in March, 2009, when a female aide came in after drinking heavily and fell asleep on a bench at the base of his bed. The investigation determined there was no physical contact but questioned Cartwright's judgment and his oversight of his staff. Cartwright told investigators that neither he nor his staff decided to wake her up and escort her back to her room because that would have raised more questions. So they just let her nap there.

She later woke up and returned to her room.

The investigation recommended that Navy Secretary Ray Mabus take "corrective action," but Mabus found the evidence insufficient to take any action.

Still another problem: Cartwright has upset some in the Pentagon hierarchy for not favoring the surge of troops into Afghanistan during the last Afghan review. The general worked behind the scenes with Vice President Joe Biden on a so-called "hybrid plan" that would limit troops to about 20,000 troops, rather than the 30,000 number the Pentagon was pushing and which President Obama finally approved.

Woodward writes that Mullen was upset Cartwright went behind his back, while Cartwright said he was not in the business of withholding information or advice.