General Dunford can’t avoid politics as next chairman

In this July 1, 2015, photo, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford walks onstage for a news media at the Pentagon, Wednesday, July 1, 2015. Dunford has been nominated to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and says the U.S. and its coalition partners are making moderate progress in the fight against the Islamic State but that the strategy should be re-evaluated if efforts to improve governance and build reliable local ground forces stall. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

According to ABC News, Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford will be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs if the Senate votes in favor of his confirmation.

The chairman rules over the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the top officers of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and the National Guard. Together, they make an advisory group for leaders of important combat organizations, the president, and the secretary of defense. The chairman gives advice to the president and the defense secretary on issues concerning military threats and options, but does not have a responsibility to fall in line politically with how the White House thinks or acts.

General Martin Dempsey, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs, thinks that the role of the chairman should be to analyze and explain military options to the president, rather than simply going along with whatever the president may be thinking. Sometimes, the advice of the chairman is rejected.

“There’s actually an acronym: pol-mil. I’m the dash. I’m the guy that lives in between the policy objectives as articulated by our elected leaders and the military activities to achieve it,” said Dempsey.

Chairmen have often been the target of political attacks because of how close they are to power and those who possess it. The position carries much influence and public importance, yet it is not a role that is easily understood. Some previous chairmen feel that because the public does not fully understand the job, it is more vulnerable to political jabs from all sides.

One of Dempsey’s predecessors, retired Army General Henry Shelton, said that he avoided politics as best he could. He felt that the spotlight should be on the president and the defense secretary, not the chairman.

“I did my best to isolate myself from the political arena and walk squarely down the middle — not an easy task in a city where one’s party affiliation seemed more significant than his blood type,” Shelton, who served as chairman from 1997 to 2001, said.

Peter Pace, the retired general who was the first Marine to have the job as chairman, said he never molded his advice to President George W. Bush around politics. But politics molded his time as chairman. Bush’s defense secretary, Robert Gates, advised Bush not to re-nominate Pace to a second term because it would cause a “divisive ordeal” in the Senate over the decision to invade Iraq and the mistakes that came afterwards.

“Not being re-nominated was very much a political reality,” Pace told reporters.

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