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Joint Chiefs Shuffle: Gen. Pace Out; Adm. Mullen In

REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Rebecca Roberts.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

An unexpected announcement today from the Pentagon: General Peter Pace will leave as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he decided against another term for Pace after conferring with Senate leaders.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (U.S. Department of Defense): I am no stranger to contentious confirmations, and I do not shrink from them. However, I have decided that at this moment in our history, the nation, our men and women in uniform, and General Pace himself, would not be well served by a divisive ordeal.

SIEGEL: The Bush administration has chosen Admiral Michael Mullen, currently the chief of naval operations, to head the Joint Chiefs.

For more now on the announcement and what it means, we're joined by NPR defense correspondent Guy Raz. Guy, was there any indication at all of this coming today?

RAZ: You know, Robert, I traveled with the secretary last week. And in some of the conversations I had with some of the senior defense officials who were traveling as well, there was a real noncommittal answer when the issue of General Pace's future was raised.

Now a few weeks ago, I would say he's re-nomination wasn't in doubt at all. And basically, that's what Gates said today, that he had intended to re-nominate Pace. Basically, the bottom line has Pace is either been the chairman or the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs for the past six years and he's so tied to the Iraq policy.

But basically, his confirmation hearing would have been kind of a referendum on the president's policies and, of course, on the policies of the Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld. So Gates simply wanted to avoid that. At least, that's what he said today.

SIEGEL: The divisive ordeal that he spoke of, that we heard him speaking a moment ago, then would have been a much discussion of Iraq during Pace's confirmation hearings, if there had been?

RAZ: Absolutely, yeah.

SIEGEL: Is this the equivalent then of Peter Pace being fired?

RAZ: I think so. Yes. I mean, Pace certainly wanted to be re-nominated and it's unusual for a Joint Chiefs chairman to serve just one term. Usually, they are re-nominated. But as to say, he was going to be held up to the light by Congress, and his time at the Pentagon was going to be deconstructed. Now, for the past two years, really, since he's become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, his critics had complained that he wasn't independent enough, that he was kind of a yes-man.

And then something strange happened in the past week. It came to light that General Pace actually sent a letter of support to the judge, who handed down the sentence to "Scooter" Libby. Of course, Mr. Libby, who was sentenced to prison in connection with the CIA - with the outing of the CIA operative, Valerie Plame.

SIEGEL: You mean, he sent a letter in support of Lewis Libby?

RAZ: Of a lenient sentence, that's right. Now, of course, that case became a kind of a case against the pre-war Iraq intelligence. So Pace having gotten himself involved in this Libby issue on top of everything else certainly was going to be held into account by Congress.

SIEGEL: Well, what can you tell us about the man nominated to succeed him, Admiral Mullen?

RAZ: Well, he's a Navy man - admiral, of course. And if you noticed, Robert, the last three Joint Chiefs chairman have all come from different service branches. So there was the Army chief, Hugh Shelton; the Air Force chief, Dick Myers; and then in Peter Pace's case, the Marines.

So Mullen's appointment was somewhat expected. He is the head of the chief of naval operations. At the moment, he is the highest-ranking naval officer. And actually, he's the longest-serving member of the Joint Chiefs. He's sort of the dean of the Joint Chiefs. He's served longer than anybody else on the staff right now.

SIEGEL: And might his approach be any different from that of General Pace?

RAZ: It's hard to tell. I mean, he was appointed by Donald Rumsfeld. But that doesn't necessarily mean anything. I think Mullen is going to be under some pressure - public and congressional pressure for sure - to do his job in a way - in the way he's supposed to do it. And that is basically, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, you're supposed to provide the president with independent military advice, an advice that's not tainted by politics.

SIEGEL: That's NPR defense correspondent Guy Raz. Thank you, Guy.

RAZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.
Guy Raz
Guy Raz is the host, co-creator, and editorial director of three NPR programs, including two of its most popular ones: TED Radio Hour and How I Built This. Both shows are heard by more than 14 million people each month around the world. He is also the creator and co-host of NPR's first-ever podcast for kids, Wow In The World.

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