May 31, 2011 in Nation/World

Balancing act awaits nominee

Budget, troop withdrawal among challenges for Joint Chiefs chair
Richard A. Serrano Tribune Washington bureau
Associated Press photo

Nominees Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, center, Adm. James Winnefeld, right, and Gen. Ray Odierno attend Monday’s announcement.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama nominated Army Gen. Martin Dempsey as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, putting the finishing touches on his new national security team and starting what the administration hopes will be a gradual U.S. withdrawal from the war in Afghanistan.

In a Rose Garden presentation, Obama said he was moving Dempsey from Army chief of staff to the higher post overseeing all Pentagon and military operations, selecting him in part because of his past two tours helping lead the war in Iraq.

Dempsey took over as Army chief of staff in April.

“Marty,” the president said, “your tenure as chief may go down as one of the shortest in Army history. But it’s your lifetime of accomplishment that brings us here today.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Dempsey will replace Adm. Michael G. Mullen, who is retiring when his term expires in September.

As Obama’s senior military adviser, Dempsey’s challenge will be to balance the administration’s desire for the Afghanistan troop withdrawal with the Pentagon’s desire to keep as many troops there as long as possible to preserve fragile security gains. Obama has said he will start the withdrawal in July and expects all U.S. forces to be gone and the Afghan government to take over by 2014.

The president noted that Dempsey and the Defense Department will oversee some “difficult budget choices” in military spending that are likely to come up in the months ahead, while also “keeping our military the finest fighting force in the world.”

In Iraq, Dempsey commanded the 1st Armored Division in 2003 and 2004, when the insurgency was gaining intensity.

He returned to Iraq in 2006 to take charge of the training of Iraqi army and police. After receiving a fourth star, he was named acting head of U.S. Central Command.

Dempsey, a former English professor at West Point, is considered a popular, thoughtful officer who has questioned the Pentagon’s belief that expensive, high-tech weapons system are the key to winning the insurgencies the U.S. is fighting.

Also Monday, the president nominated Navy Adm. James Winnefeld as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs – which Obama said means that “for the first time,” both top leaders of the Joint Chiefs will have led combat troops after Sept. 11, 2001.

Army Gen. Ray Odierno – like Dempsey, an Iraq war veteran– was named to replace Dempsey as Army chief of staff.

All three appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

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