Five challenges for new U.S. Joint Chiefs nominee

Pan.bg 12 май 2015 | 15:04 views (2223) commentaries(0)
img Valentin Tzvetanov, Pan.bg editor’s remarks: The information has been taken from http://thehill.com
The 59-year-old Marine Commandant tapped by President Obama to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has had a fast rise to the top.
He’s gained widespread respect within the military and Congress as a strategic thinker and an unflappable and battlefield-tested leader, as well as for being candid and forthright.
All of that will now be put to the test as the Marine infantry officer faces multiple political and foreign policy challenges. Here are the top five.
The U.S. is nine months into leading a military coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) that consists of airstrikes and training Iraqi forces to fight the terrorist group on the ground.
Military officials say Iraqi forces have recaptured 25 percent of territory from ISIS, but acknowledge the group has made gains in Syria. The U.S. is also leading a train-and-equip program for moderate Syrian rebels; progress has stalled due to a slow vetting process.
Dunford will have to find a balance between the administration’s desire to keep troops out of ground combat, and their numbers low, and giving the president his best advice on how to defeat the terrorist group.
Current Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey favored hitting ISIS hard, but the administration has opted for a slower-paced military response with Iraqis in the lead. Dunford will have little wiggle room under a current troop limit of 3,100, and a current troop presence in Iraq of about 3,000.
The biggest battle in Iraq is yet to come. In order to defeat ISIS in Iraq, Iraqi forces and the coalition will have to push the group out of its stronghold in Mosul, which the group captured last June.
Dempsey told lawmakers last year that U.S. troops could be needed to accompany Iraqi forces into Mosul, and Dunford, who would take the position in September, would be responsible for making that suggestion to the president.
The Pentagon has been fighting for years to end the automatic spending cuts and budgetary ceilings known as the sequester.
The cuts were launched by a 2011 budget deal that called for the Pentagon to slash its




planned spending by $1 trillion over a decade.
There was hope within the military and the defense industry that a Republican-controlled Congress could overturn the sequester. However, fiscal hawks within the party have fought to keep the caps in place.
Republicans have drafted budgets that leave the caps in place but boost war funding, which is not subject to the caps. The White House and Pentagon leaders say that solution is not ideal, and are still pushing to overturn the caps.
Dunford, who is well-respected by lawmakers, could play a role in convincing Congress to lift the caps. He will also have to show lawmakers that the Pentagon will be a good steward of tax dollars and is making reforms to pare down the budget.
That could mean pushing for controversial reforms within the military, including compensation and benefits, which Pentagon leaders have argued are eating up the defense budget.
One of Obama’s top goals was to pivot U.S. economic and foreign policy, as well as military resources, to Asia.
The idea was to counter the rise of China, but the pivot has been slowed by events — namely the rise of ISIS, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Arab Spring and its aftermath.
“The pivot to Asia is stalled for a variety of political and budgetary reasons, while the Middle East and Europe are consuming increasing time, resources and attention across the U.S. government, and that is not going to change in the remaining 20 months of Obama’s tenure,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow in the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
The appointment of Dunford, a former infantry officer with command experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, is a “nod to reality,” she said.
However, there’s no question the administration, and Dunford, will try to work on the pivot — particularly given the region’s rising importance to the U.S. economy, said Nora Bensahel, a distinguished scholar in residence at American University’s School of International Service.
“The question is how much they can do that while being forced to deal with the crises of today,” she said.
Dunford will have to walk a line between skeptics within the Pentagon who oppose opening all combat units and roles to women and overseeing the fulfillment of the administration’s push to see it happen.
In 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta opened ordered the services to open all units and roles to women by Jan. 1, or explain why they couldn’t.
Arguments against the change run the gamut, from women not being able to meet the physical standards of combat jobs to issues involving privacy, sexual intimacy, hygiene, fraternization, increased incidents of sexual harassment and assault, and lowering the effectiveness and cohesion of all-male units.
The Marine Corps in particular has resisted the idea of integrating women into the infantry, but its leaders have nonetheless taken steps to study how to do it. The service opened its infantry officer course to women for research but later closed it, with no females passing.
Dunford will play a large role in setting the tone for implementing this change within the military, and within his own service, Bensahel said.
Bensahel said he would have to “rise above the Marine Corps’ particular concerns and issues to be a leader of this overall force that is going to be going through this very significant change.”
Friction between the Pentagon and the White House is natural, and Dunford will be in the middle of it as Obama’s top military adviser and the military’s top representative.
The relationship between Obama administration and the military has been rocky. In its first year, the White House felt boxed in by then-Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on Afghanistan troop levels.
Tensions further rose when Obama ordered the withdrawal of all troops from Iraq and set a withdrawal timeline for Afghanistan. Critics argued both actions risked undoing gains and empowered the enemy.
Former Defense secretaries have also bashed the White House. Robert Gates and Panetta blasted the National Security Council for micromanagement of the Pentagon, and Chuck Hagel reportedly clashed with some of its members.
Obama said when announcing Dunford’s nomination that he expected his “honest military advice.”
But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a critic of the administration’s national security policy, highlighted concerns Dunford and the new vice chairman, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, would be ignored.
“He won’t take their advice and counsel. He won’t - he has taken any of it, so why should he start now?” he said.
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