Pres­i­dent to pick Army boss to lead Joint Chiefs

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - NATION & WORLD - By Greg Jaffe

WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump is ex­pected to choose the head of the Army to be­come the next chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tap­ping a vol­u­ble and un­con­ven­tional com­bat vet­eran to be­come Amer­ica’s top mil­i­tary of­fi­cer, in­di­vid­u­als fa­mil­iar with White House plans said on Fri­day.

In a move that re­flects his pen­chant for show­man­ship, the pres­i­dent plans to an­nounce his nom­i­na­tion of Gen. Mark Mil­ley at Satur­day’s an­nual Army-Navy foot­ball game, end­ing months of spec­u­la­tion about who will re­place the cur­rent chair­man, Gen. Joseph Dun­ford Jr., who is due to step down next fall.

Ac­cord­ing to the in­di­vid­u­als, who spoke on the con­di­tion anonymity to dis­cuss a de­ci­sion that has not been made pub­lic, Trump con­sid­ered two se­nior of­fi­cers, Mil­ley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Gold­fein, whom De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis pre­ferred.

The se­lec­tion of a chair­man, who over­sees global op­er­a­tions and serves as the pres­i­dent’s chief ad­viser on mil­i­tary mat­ters, rep­re­sents an im­por­tant op­por­tu­nity for Trump to make a mark on the U.S. mil­i­tary.

If con­firmed by the Se­nate, Mil­ley would bring to the job a dis­tin­guished record as a com­man­der in the coun­terin­sur­gency wars of the last two decades. A grad­u­ate of Prince­ton, Mil­ley served as a Green Beret and later com­manded troops in Afghanistan.

As the Army chief, Mil­ley cham­pi­oned a pro­posal to cre­ate spe­cial­ized units to train lo­cal forces in Afghanistan, while also seek­ing to im­prove the Army’s readi­ness as the Pen­tagon re­ori­ents to­ward chal­lenges from Rus­sia and China.

It’s not clear why Mat­tis pre­ferred Gold­fein, an­other widely re­spected, cere­bral of­fi­cer. Some cur­rent and for­mer of­fi­cials cited the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to go with Mil­ley as a sign of the Pen­tagon chief ’s di­min­ished in­flu­ence with the White House.

“It’s a pretty big de­ci­sion to go against Mat­tis,” said one for­mer top de­fense of­fi­cial who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

De­spite Mat­tis’s pref­er­ence for the Air Force of­fi­cer, he has a good re­la­tion­ship with Mil­ley. When the de­fense sec­re­tary wanted to re­think Afghanistan, he took the un­usual step of go­ing to Mil­ley to brain­storm, even though as Army chief of staff he did not have di­rect over­sight of the war, said a for­mer se­nior de­fense of­fi­cial.

Mat­tis was frus­trated by the Army’s in­abil­ity to slim down big head­quar­ters in Afghanistan and push more soldiers into an ac­tive role sup­port­ing Afghan troops. Mil­ley, who has a back­ground as a Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions sol­dier, was seen as the kind of of­fi­cer who could pro­duce a more un­con­ven­tional ap­proach, of­fi­cials said.

Mil­ley also ded­i­cated time to mak­ing sure that the U.S. mil­i­tary un­der­stood the risks and was pre­pared for a pos­si­ble con­flict with North Korea. In­side the Pen­tagon, he warned that any con­flict with Py­ongyang would lead to mas­sive loss of life and cat­a­strophic dam­age. At the same time, he pushed the Pen­tagon to re­think how such a war might be fought and to im­prove the readi­ness of the en­tire joint force to carry out an at­tack on North Korea if or­dered, said a se­nior Army of­fi­cial. Most of the Army’s plans for a war on the penin­sula were pred­i­cated on North Korean ag­gres­sion rather than Amer­i­can of­fen­sive ac­tion to blunt a grow­ing North Korean threat.

Mil­ley is likely to el­e­vate the pub­lic pro­file of the chair­man. Dun­ford has main­tained a low pro­file as the mil­i­tary’s top of­fi­cer that matches his cir­cum­spect per­son­al­ity. Mil­ley, by con­trast, is a vol­u­ble per­son­al­ity and nat­u­ral story teller who could fol­low the path of Adm. Michael Mullen, a for­mer chair­man in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Con­cerned about the grow­ing gulf be­tween the mil­i­tary and the so­ci­ety it was sworn to de­fend, Mullen not only spoke on news shows, but also made an ap­pear­ance on the Late Show with David Let­ter­man.

JOSHUA ROBERTS / BLOOMBERG

Gen. Joseph Dun­ford, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (left), talks to Gen. Mark Mil­ley, chief of staff with the U.S. Army, in Washington, D.C.

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