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June 10, 2007

Peter Pace the Piper
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained his last-minute decision not to reappoint Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace on the basis that Pace's Senate confirmation battle would amount to a "divisive ordeal" focused on the past rather than the future.  Gates claimed he had every intention of renaming Pace until he consulted with Senate leaders who signalled that the nomination hearings would amount a contentious examination of the Bush Administration's Iraq policies as carried out by Pace.

This rationale places the blame in the exact wrong spot, inplying that overly aggressive Congressional oversight is costing the US government the best-qualified person to lead the war effort.  The truth is the opposite:  that Pace's leadership will wither under scrutiny means he isn't the right person to tackle one of the toughest jobs in memory for the US military. 

There's something distressingly ostrichlike about Gates' avowed reluctance to subject Administration policies to further Congressional scrutiny.  His comments all but confess that Pace's record is vulnerable.  Given that, his professed wish to reappoint Pace must be called into question. 

Gates' comments are most charitably read as a nice way to telegraph the real reason why Pace was pushed aside.  When a policy or project is in need of sweeping overhaul and dramatic changes in direction, having the architect of the status quo in the room can be a real hindrance.  Though that person, Pace in this case, will provide valuable history, knowledge and expertise, it is almost impossible for them to resist justifying the choices and decisions that led to the current mess.  The need to pay due respect to such rationales and judgements can slow or derail the effort to break from the past and find a more effective path forward.  In order to fix what's gone on during Pace's watch, in other words, his colleagues and successors will need to offer their unvarnished opinions of Pace and his efforts, something that won't happen if he's still in charge.

Gates' comments can probably be forgiven as an effort to show respect and politness while showing a loyal soldier to the door.   By showing deference to the man, Gates has freed himself from having to show deference to the policies.  Let's hope he sees it that way.


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'Pace fired because he balked at Iran'

General Pace can be characterized as pragmatic and not an idealogue. He was not a true believer in the bogus "Global War on Terror", believing that it was a matter of policing, not military action. He was a fitting replacement for General Myers as a horse-holder for Donald Rumsfeld, but now Rumsfeld is gone and the Iraq operation is more obviously in tatters. Pace could not be kicked upstairs like the failed General Casey was; he was already upstairs.

To take Pace's place is not someone from the army, which is doing the heavy lifting and taking the majority of the casualties, but nominee Admiral Michael Mullen who has no expertise in land warfare but is an idealogue. This fits the pattern of the Bush administration. Enlist the true believers rather than competent journeymen.

Mullen: "I honestly believe this is the most dangerous time in my life. The enemy now is basically evil and fundamentally hates everything we are -- the democratic principles for which we stand ... This war is going to go on for a long time. It's a generational war."

Like any good salesman, Mullen believes in his product, and his product is war. Damn the truth, it's full speed ahead.

If Mullen is approved then there would be two admirals in the chain of command above General Petraeus in Iraq, including Admiral Fallon at Central Command. Having no one above him who understands his job (including SecDef Gates and CinC Bush) is a plus for Petraeus giving him more operational freedom (albeit in a lost cause). At least he'll have a messenger from Washington who 'speaks army'--Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute the so-called 'war czar' (though he lacks rank).

Mullen may be more or less inclined to 'balk at Iran' but it makes no difference. We have civilian control of the military in this country and these kinds of decisions (attacking countries) are not in their job descriptions, nor should they be--remember General Colin Powell at the UN. Yes, he was in mufti, but still a general.

Particulary intriguing are Gates's contradictory statements regarding hearings. "I am no stranger to contentious confirmations, and I do not shrink from them." but "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."

To shrink or not to shrink, that is the question.

Beyond what has been written we really don't know why Pace is being shown the door. There are many possibilities. Perhaps we'll learn more. Rumsfeld, just before he left office, in an interview with Bob Woodward, said that the whole Iraq occupation thing was not his idea, that he supported General Garner who (before he was dismissed in June 2003) advocated immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Maybe Pace will open up too, but it's less likely for a military man, especially if he expects a cushy high-paid directorship with a defense contractor like General Myers got.

A bit of trivia: Pace (pa-chay) in Italian, Pace's ancestry, is 'peace'. There are so many ironies in life.

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