WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama on Monday announced that he has chosen US Army General Martin Dempsey, who commanded an armored 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 reorganization for America’s defense and security apparatus.
Last month, the White House announced nominations for the next defense 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, who will succeed Admiral Mike Mullen, served in the Iraq war, commanding the 1st Armored 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 defense 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 Monday.
Obama nominated CIA director Leon Panetta to take over as defense 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 revitalize 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.