President Barack Obama announced on Monday that he has chosen US Army General Martin Dempsey, who commanded an armoured division in key battles in Iraq, for the United States’ top uniformed military post. “With nearly 40 years in uniform, Martin Dempsey is one of our nation’s most respected and combat-tested generals,” Obama told reporters at the White House.
“In Iraq, he led our soldiers (through) a brutal insurgency. Having trained Iraqi forces he knows that nations must ultimately take responsibility for their own security,” the US president said, as he called on the Senate to confirm Dempsey’s nomination “as swiftly as possible.” The announcement was made on the Memorial Day US holiday, a solemn occasion when America remembers the sacrifices of its fallen war heroes. It also comes at a critical time of reorganisation for the US defence and security apparatus.
Last month, the White House announced nominations for the next defence secretary and Afghan commander – but not for the critically important chairman’s job, one of the most influential posts in Washington. “As commander-in-chief I’ll be looking to you and the rest of the joint chiefs for what I value most in my advisers, your honest, unvarnished advice and the full range of options, especially when it comes to our most solemn obligation, protecting the lives of our brave men and women in uniform,” the president told Dempsey. Dempsey, 59, would succeed Admiral Mike Mullen; Dempsey served in the Iraq war, commanding the 1st Armoured Division in Iraq in 2003-04, and later led training efforts for Iraqi forces.
Nominating the four-star army general is seen as an unusual move and suggested that earlier plans were scrapped, given that Dempsey took over as chief of the US Army only in April. The next chairman of the Joint Chiefs will form part of a new national security team that will have to contend with the nine-year-old war in Afghanistan, turmoil in the Middle East and mounting pressure on the defence budget. “I am announcing my choice today because it’s essential that this transition be seamless and that we stay focused on the national security challenges before us,” Obama told reporters on Monday.
Obama nominated CIA director Leon Panetta to take over as defence secretary and Afghan war commander General David Petraeus to succeed Panetta at the spy agency. Obama had words of high praise for outgoing chairman Mullen, as he passes the torch to Dempsey. “I deeply valued Mike’s professional steadiness and his personal integrity,” the president said. “On his watch, our military forces have excelled across the whole spectrum of missions, from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan to relief efforts after the Haiti earthquake,” Obama said. “He’s helped revitalise NATO, reset our relations with Russia, and steer our relationship with Pakistan and China,” he said. “I believe that history will also record Mike Mullen as the chairman who said what he believed is right and declared no one in uniform should ever have to sacrifice their integrity to serve their country,” Obama said, in an apparent allusion to the decision on Mullen’s watch to dismantle the Pentagon’s controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t tell” policy forbidding gays to serve openly in the US military.
Mullen meanwhile warmly endorsed his likely successor. “I fully support the President’s decision to nominate General Marty Dempsey and Admiral Sandy Winnefeld for the positions of Chairman and Vice Chairman, respectively, of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Both men are extraordinary leaders, who will provide the Secretary of Defence and the President not only their best military advice, but also the great benefit of their decades of military experience and their command in combat operations,” Mullen said in a statement. He said he had selected General Ray Odierno to succeed Dempsey as Army Chief of Staff. “Like Marty, Ray is a combat-proven officer who made a real difference in Iraq, and who will lead the Army with strength and with passion as we complete our mission there and begin to transition in Afghanistan,” Mullen added. Mullen is set to leave his post in September after four years. He was named by Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush.