US Army Chief of Staff General Martin Dempsey, expected to be named the top US military officer today, will need to draw on his experience in and out of war zones to navigate a budget battle awaiting him in Washington.
The White House said US President Barack Obama will make Pentagon personnel announcements at 10am today.
US officials expect that, beyond Dempsey’s nomination as chairman of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, Obama will announce other top military posts. People familiar with the matter say former Iraq war commander General Raymond Odierno is expected to be named as Dempsey’s successor as the Army’s top officer.
The nomination of Dempsey, who commanded troops during the Iraq war, would be the last major change to Obama’s core national security team following the president’s announcement last month of new leaders for the Department of Defense and the CIA.
The US Senate must vote to confirm nominees to head the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Analysts say Dempsey is expected to face questions during the Senate confirmation process about efforts to tighten defense spending, even as the Pentagon is confronted with numerous other pressing matters.
The US military is engaged in a nearly decade-old war in Afghanistan, is on track to withdraw its remaining 48,000 troops from Iraq by the end of this year and has taken part in military operations in Libya.
In addition to the instability in the Middle East and North Africa, the US is dealing with a Chinese military buildup, North Korean provocations and tensions with Pakistan.
“There is no part of the defense structure that, at this point in time, isn’t going to have to change,” said defense analyst Anthony Cordesman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
Asked about Dempsey’s expected nomination, Cordesman said he was “a better planner, better manager, better budgeter at a time when those skills are going to be almost as important as strategy.”
Republicans and Democrats are looking at defense spending reductions as a way to reduce the US deficit, which is running about US$1.4 trillion this year. Obama announced plans last month to save about US$400 billion in national security spending over the next 12 years. Some in Congress want deeper defense cuts.
Dempsey stands out among top Pentagon officials in part for his unexpected traits — he is party crooner with a master’s degree in English. However, his infantry background will satisfy those in Congress who want the top US military officer in a nation at war to have battlefield experience.
Dempsey commanded the 1st Armored Division in Iraq shortly after the US-led invasion in 2003 and headed the effort to train Iraqi security forces from 2005 to 2007.
From 2007 to 2008, he was the No. 2 and then acting commander of US Central Command, which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also led the US Army’s training effort.
However, even Dempsey must be surprised that, just over a month after taking over as chief of staff of the Army, he is expected to take over the post being vacated by Admiral Mike Mullen, who steps down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Oct. 1.
The presumptive nominee to replace Mullen had been General James Cartwright, the current vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who was described in journalist Bob Woodward’s book Obama’s Wars as the president’s favorite general.