Defense Secretary replaces Joint Chiefs Chairman Pace
Ron Brynaert and Michael Roston
Published: Friday June 8, 2007
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Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that he would be replacing Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace in an unexpected news conference Friday afternoon.

"Pentagon sources are telling NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski that Defense Secretary Gates has replaced Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with Adm. Mike Mullen," MSNBC reported prior to the briefing. "He is currently the Navy’s chief naval officer.”

Think Progress notes that Mullen's selection "also marks the first time in 21 years that both the head of the Joint Chiefs and the CentCom Commander, Adm. William Fallon, have been Navy officers."

"When Fallon was appointed in January to lead CentCom, analysts noted the choice of a Navy officer reflected 'a greater emphasis on countering Iranian power, a mission that relies heavily on naval forces and combat airpower to project American influence in the Persian Gulf,'" Think Progress's Nico blogs. "In announcing the nomination of Mullen this afternoon, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr said that Mullen 'watches Iran closely.'"

Gates said that it "had been his intention from early in my tenure to recommend to the president that General Pace be renominated for another two-year term as chairman."

"However, after consultations over the course of several weeks with both Republican and Democratic senators, I concluded that because General Pace has served as chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the last six years, the focus of his confirmation process would have been on the past, rather than the future, and further, that there was the very real prospect the process would be quite contentious," Gates added.

Last week, RAW STORY reported on comments made by Pace on Memorial Day which appeared to significantly underestimate the number of US armed service members killed in the Iraq War.

A spokesman for his office later defended his remarks in an interview with RAW STORY, claiming that Pace meant to distinguish between US troops killed in action and the hundreds who who have died from 'non-hostile' causes in the Iraqi theater of combat.

"You only have a few minutes when you're doing short interviews on morning shows, and General Pace was trying to be very precise," Lieutenant Colonel Gary Tallman from the Public Affairs Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday. "He was referring to American service members killed in action as of May 25, which at that date was 2815, and there additionally have been 619 non-hostile deaths, and that puts you over 3,400."

Pace had appeared to say that fewer than 3,000 US soldiers died since the US invaded Iraq in 2003.

"When you take a look at the life of a nation and all that's required to keep us free, we had more than 3,000 Americans murdered on 11 September, 2001. The number who have died, sacrificed themselves since that time is approaching that number," he said in the CBS News performance on Monday morning, which RAW STORY reported later in the day.

The remark was criticized by one Iraqi veterans group.

"Memorial Day is a time to remember anyone who lost their lives in military service to this nation. The ultimate sacrifice doesn’t discriminate as to whether a hero is a combat death or non-combat," said Jon Soltz, the Chairman of, a political action committee that supports veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who are running for public office. "All those who gave their lives deserve to be treated with equal honor and respect. It’s simply wrong to leave out those who were non-combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan when speaking of those who gave their lives in service to the nation."

Lt. Col. Tallman admitted in the interview with RAW STORY that even General Pace's staff was surprised by the remark that he made in the appearance with Harry Smith.

"Col. Haddock [another Joint Chiefs spokesperson] spoke to him about that specifically afterwards, and he said, 'That made us say ''hmmmm...,'' that made us stop and think, because the media reports well over 3,000, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense reports everything,'" Tallman explained.

But, apparently Pace defended himself to his staff.

"He said 'no, no, I'm right. I'm speaking to those who were killed in action,'" Tallman added.

(Full story on Pace's Memorial Day comments can be read at this link)

In addition, the blog Nitpicker criticized Pace for signing a letter in support of former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby before he was sentenced to thirty months in jail for obstruction of justice and lying to investigators probing the CIA leak case.

"Is it common for a currently serving general in the American armed forces to write letters praising convicted criminals?" asked the Nitpicker. "And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, no less?"

At Huffington Post, chairman Jon Soltz called the replacing of Pace "good news."

Aside from the Memorial Day comments and Libby letter, Soltz also notes, "On March 11, Pace chose to publicly air his personal views on homosexuality, calling the lifestyle 'immoral,' and said that was justification for the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy on gays openly serving."

"General Pace grossly overstepped his bounds and poorly represented the military with his political actions and misguided statements," Soltz writes.

Full transcript of Gates' press conference:


SEC. GATES: Good afternoon.

It is my honor to announce today that I will recommend to the president that he nominate Admiral Michael G. Mullen, the chief of Naval Operations, as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, succeeding General Peter Pace when the latter's term of office concludes on September 30th, 2007.

Admiral Mullen became chief of Naval Operations on July 22nd, 2005. A 1968 graduate of the Naval Academy, he has served in allied, joint and Navy positions overseas and in both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets. I have become well-acquainted with Admiral Mullen over the past six months and believe he has the vision, strategic insight, experience and integrity to lead America's armed forces.

I'm also pleased to announce that I will recommend to the president that he nominate General James E. Cartwright, currently the commander of Strategic Command, as the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, succeeding Admiral Edmund G. Giambastiani, Jr., who has announced his intention to retire.

General Cartwright has been the commander of STRATCOM since 2004, responsible for global command and control of U.S. strategic forces, computer network operations, Department of Defense information operations, as well as global command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. He served as director of the Joint Staff for Force Structure, Resources and Assessment from 2002, 2004.

I believe he is exceptionally well-qualified to take on the responsibilities of the vice chairman.

It had been my intention from early in my tenure to recommend to the president that General Pace be renominated for another two-year term as chairman. However, after consultations over the course of several weeks with both Republican and Democratic senators, I concluded that because General Pace has served as chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the last six years, the focus of his confirmation process would have been on the past, rather than the future, and further, that there was the very real prospect the process would be quite contentious.

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 in selecting the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Pete Pace has been a United States Marine for more than 40 years. He has served our country with great distinction and deserves the deepest thanks of the American people for a lifetime of service to our country and for his leadership. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with him, trust completely, and value his candor and his willingness to speak his mind. I look forward to continuing to work with him until the fall and to a continuing friendship after his retirement.

I also will miss Ed Giambastiani. I had intended to recommend that Ed be renominated for another term as vice chief, but the selection of Admiral Mullen foreclosed -- as chairman foreclosed that option.

I then asked Ed to take on another senior assignment, and he decided to proceed with his plans to retire.

On a personal note, Ed and I first worked together over 20 years ago, when I was deputy director of Central Intelligence.

Ed has given 37 years of distinguished military service to America and merits our gratitude and highest respect.

Both General Pace and Admiral Giambastiani will be recognized in ways that befit their extraordinary and distinguished service.

I'd be happy to take a couple of questions. Lita?

Q Mr. Secretary, did members of Congress tell you specifically that they did not want to see General Pace renominated?

SEC. GATES: I would characterize the counsel that I received more along the lines that I've described: that it would be a backward-looking and very contentious process.

Q Mr. Secretary, could this be described in Washington terms, I guess, as a shake-up?

SEC. GATES: No. I think this is an effort to do what I think is in the best long-term interests of the services and of the country, as well as the individuals involved.

I think that -- as I say, my intent had been to renominate both General Pace and Admiral Giambastiani, but 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.

Q So it's not a reflection of how General Pace conducted the war in Iraq?

SEC. GATES: It's absolutely -- it has absolutely nothing to do with my view of General Pace's performance or that of General Giambastiani whatsoever.

Q Sir, any concern that with only a year and a half left in your tenure, in the midst of the new security plan, that a change in the top at this moment will complicate, make your job harder?

SEC. GATES: No, I don't think so. First of all, the people that I'm recommending to the president are very experienced. We have three other chiefs of staff who are experienced people. We have, I think, a deep bench at the Department of Defense. The vice chairman, in particular, over the -- over recent years has particularly taken on a role in working with deputy on resources, in dealing with the Hill and the interagency process. I think General Cartwright has a lot of experience in each of these areas, and I know the deputy is looking forward to working with him, assuming Senate -- assuming the president nominates him and the Senate confirms him.

So I think that -- I don't think that there'll be a problem.


Q Mr. Secretary, who will replace Admiral Mullen as CNO?

SEC. GATES: That -- no decision's been made on that at this point.

Q Mr. Secretary, you seem rather down about this situation where you couldn't get your first two choices for these nominations. What does it say about the situation in Washington, where the politics on the Hill affect even senior and very crucial military appointment?

SEC. GATES: Well, I -- I am disappointed that circumstances make this kind of a decision necessary. I -- as I say, I just think that a divisive ordeal at this point is not in the interests of the country or of our military services, our men and women in uniform, or the individuals. I wish that that were not the case. I wish it were not necessary to make a decision like this, but I think it's a realistic appraisal of where we are.

Q Mr. Secretary, in your talks on the Hill with congressional members, did any of them give suggestions to you for Admiral Mullen or the other choices --


Q -- (off mike)?

SEC. GATES: No. This -- this was -- my selections here have been made, quite frankly, in consultation with General Pace and with the deputy secretary.


Q Mr. Secretary, what is it that Admiral Mullen brings to this position at this particular time?

SEC. GATES: Well, he's probably, I think, probably at this point is the most senior of the service chiefs, but more importantly, I think he is a very smart strategic thinker. And I think he has a view of the interests of the services as a whole.

When my senior military assistant was making his introductory calls on the various service chiefs and he asked Admiral Mullen what was the thing he was most concerned about, the chief of Naval Operations said the Army. So he has a broad view of what the needs and requirements of the services are and of the nation. And I think he brings also a tremendous strategic sense.

So as we try to look to the future in terms of where we need to be five years from now, or 10 years from now, I think Admiral Mullen will bring a tremendous perspective.

Q Mr. Secretary, what was it exactly that the congressmen told you that they had concerns about with Chairman Pace?

SEC. GATES: What they, to a person, told me was the highest respect they had for General Pace as a military officer, for his integrity, and so on. Their comments were more about what they thought the hearings would be like and what the focus of the hearings would be, rather than on anything about General Pace individually -- or as a person. So it was really more an appraisal of the fact that because of his experience over the last six years, the focus of the hearings would be backward-looking instead of forward-looking, and contentious just because of all the issues that we're familiar with.

So I think it's important -- I'm glad you asked the question because one of the things that everybody I talked to expressed was their very highest regard for General Pace as a military officer.

Q Does that indicate to you, Mr. Secretary, that support for the Iraq war in Congress, even among Republicans, is seriously waning?

SEC. GATES: No, I don't think it says that.

Q Well, why wouldn't they then want to go through the rigors of that debate?

SEC. GATES: It was my decision that we would -- that this kind of a divisive ordeal was not in the best interests. It ended up being my decision.

STAFF: Thanks very much.

Q Thank you.