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What will the Dempsey era bring?


The lesson this weekend was clear: In Washington, always believe every rumor you hear. After rumblings that grew from a trickle to a waterfall, President Obama announced that he will nominate Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey to be his new chairman of the joint chiefs, just as expected. And, just as expected, Dempsey's vacancy as Army chief will be taken by Gen. Ray Odierno, the one-man JFCOM wrecking crew who many observers have said had "chief" written on him for years.

Beltway rumor-mongers did not correctly predict Obama's pick for vice chief, though: The inside money was on Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, who has been a steadying influence on the Air Force, a service that people said had earned a "turn" in the top leadership on the Joint Staff. But the White House looks down at the JCS, not up from within the Building or the service stovepipes, and it cares less about hurt feelings or perceptions of fairness inside the Palace. So it is going from a JCS run by a Navy admiral to one with a Navy admiral as its vice chief: Obama nominated Adm. James Winnefeld, head of Northern Command, to take the place of Marine Gen. James Cartwright.

In this situation, it's hard to know what's real and what's the product of Beltway Telephone. Cartwright was believed to be next in line for the top job. Did Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen really withdraw their support for him because he didn't tell them he was going to oppose their plan for the Afghanistan "surge?" Did hidden enemies in the Pentagon really try to sabotage his chances by leaking an Inspector General's report that looked into Cartwright's relationship with a female subordinate -- even though he was cleared? Did the Army orchestrate this whole thing to get its man into the chairman's job, so the service would have a top-level a bulwark against the budget ax? What happened to Adm. James Stavridis, the European Command boss whose conduct of the Libyan war was said to have given him an edge in the chairman's race?

All, some or none of it could be true -- or most likely, your position in the Corporation will dictate what you believe and what you reject. We can only be sure of a few things: All of Dempsey's goals and views about being Army chief are now thrown out -- Odierno is the new news. Dempsey the tanker must show that he can become Mr. Joint, and talk about ships and aircraft the way Mullen learned to talk about brigade combat teams. Dempsey also must see the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell to its conclusion, and begin to help with the Afghanistan drawdown. Oh, and some kind of DoD budget issues may come up as well.

Dempsey also has the opportunity to put his own stamp on the job as chairman, much as Mullen has spent it as a high-profile advocate for returning service members and their families. The chairman's job is as much as bully pulpit as anything else, and it'll be interesting to see how one of the Army's top thinkers -- Dempsey commanded Training and Doctrine Command before his touch-and-go as chief -- will use it.

What do you think he should do?

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