Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff who stirred controversy with remarks against gays in the military will not be nominated for reappointment
WASHINGTON Bitter divisions over the Iraq war, particularly in Congress, led the Bush administration to change course and replace Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a grim Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
Gates said that despite earlier plans to recommend Pace for a second two-year term as chairman, he instead was recommending Adm. Mike Mullen, currently chief of naval operations, to take over when Pace’s term expires Sept. 30. President George W. Bush accepted the recommendation.
“I think that the events of the last several months have simply created an environment in which I think there would be a confirmation process that would not be in the best interests of the country,” Gates said Friday, June 8. “I wish it were not necessary to make a decision like this. But I think it’s a realistic appraisal of where we are.”
Pace had stirred controversy recently by saying that homosexuality is immoral and the military should not condone such behavior by allowing gays to serve openly. He later said he should not have expressed his personal views and should have simply expressed his support for the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which allows gays to serve if they keep their sexual orientation private.
Democrats have used recent military confirmation hearings, including one last week, to blast the administration’s handling of the war.
Bush praised Pace, saying he has “relied on his unvarnished military judgment, and I value his candor, his integrity, and his friendship.”
“Pete’s job has been to help ensure that America’s military forces are prepared to meet the threats of this new century,” Bush said in a statement issued in Rome, where he was visiting. “This is a difficult task in a time of peace. Pete Pace has done it in a time of war and he has done it superbly.”
As chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for two years, and vice chairman for the previous four, Pace has been involved in all of the key decisions leading to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the planning for the post-Saddam Hussein era.
Gates said he had been told by Republican and Democratic senators that a confirmation hearing for Pace would be a “backward-looking and very contentious process.”
The announcement still seemed to surprise some senior Pentagon officials, who as recently as two weeks ago were convinced there would be a second term for Pace, the first Marine to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Pace will now retire when his term is up.
Gates made it clear his decision on Pace came reluctantly.
“I am no stranger to contentious confirmations, and I do not shrink from them,” Gates said. “However, I have decided that at this moment in our history, the nation, our men and women in uniform and Gen. Pace himself would not be well served by a divisive ordeal.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said senators, “will be looking very closely at Admiral Mullen and General Cartwright’s views to make sure they are committed to changing course in Iraq. Both men must be advocates for our troops, not for a failed policy.”
Gates said he would recommend Gen. James E. Cartwright, currently the commander of the Strategic Command, to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He would succeed Adm. Ed Giambastiani, who is retiring. Bush said he would also accept that recommendation.
Associated Press writers David Espo, Anne Flaherty and Terence Hunt contributed to this report.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 15, 2007.