Gates: Joint Chiefs Selection Was About Team-Building

Jun 2, 2011 9:31am

ABC News' Luis Martinez reports: In his first public comments about the selection of the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Gen. Martin Dempsey’s nomination to the post was about maintaining the cohesiveness of the Obama administration’s national security team. Traveling to Singapore to attend a security conference, Gates rejected news reports that the one-time front runner for the post, Gen. James Cartwright, was passed over for the job because of his stance during the administration’s policy debate over the strategy for Afghanistan. It was long believed that Cartwright’s current job as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff put him on the inside track to becoming the president’s top military advisor. Bob Woodward’s book, “Obama’s War,” also described him as President Obama’s “favorite general.”  However, it was  Dempsey, the Army’s newly installed Chief of Staff, who was announced Monday to succeed Adm. Mike Mullen in the fall. Some news reports suggested Cartwright’s stance during the Obama administration’s 2009 policy debate for a new Afghanistan strategy may have been a factor.  Today, Gates denied that, saying, “I will tell you that some of the negative things that have been reported as influencing the decision, for example the Afghan piece, are completely wrong. It had nothing to do with it whatsoever.” During the policy debate, Cartwright had reportedly favored a counterterror approach that required less troops in Afghanistan and focused more on specifically targeting Taliban and al Qaeda operations. That stance was contrary to the counterinsurgency approach, favored by other top military officials that would require more troops and time. Ultimately, President Obama chose the counterinsurgency approach that led to the surge of 30,000 more U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Today, Gates praised Cartwright as “one of the finest officers I have ever worked with, I think he has been an outstanding vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff” and said he considered him a friend. He said his focus for the past year had been to maintain the cohesiveness of the Obama administration’s national security team which he described as “an extraordinary asset for the president and for the country.” Most important to him was ” how do we sustain the kind of teamwork that has been so critical and it has everything to do with relationships. And it's the relationship between the secretary of defense and the president, between the secretary of defense and the chairman, all of these relationships are important. Those were the kinds of considerations as we looked the kind of challenges at the defense department and in the national security arena that we could face in the future, that were uppermost in my mind. And so, that's the reality.  And this other stuff, frankly, most of it's garbage." — Luis Martinez

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