General ‘Sacrificed’ to Clear Decks on Iraq


Chairman of joint chiefs of staff to stand down. Senate hearings would have been controversial.

June 9, 2007 – The Bush administration yesterday attempted to wipe the slate clean on the Iraq war and chart a new way forward with the surprise announcement that it was replacing General Peter Pace as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff.

The defence chief, Robert Gates, said he had reluctantly decided on the reshuffle – despite his initial support for Gen Pace – to avoid a “divisive ordeal” at the Senate which would have had to approve an extension of the general’s term.

“The focus of this confirmation process would have been on the past rather than on the future,” Mr Gates told the press conference. “There was a very real prospect that the process would be quite contentious.”

He said he had nominated Admiral Mike Mullen, who is currently chief of naval operations, to replace Gen Pace. In another house cleaning move, the vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Admiral Edmund Gambastiani, also announced his retirement yesterday.

A career marine, Gen Pace has been at the centre of military decision-making by the Bush administration on Afghanistan and Iraq for the last six years. As vice chairman and then chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, he was a key architect of the 2003 invasion to remove Saddam Hussein, as well as the post-war planning.

The decision not to fight for Gen Pace was seen as a sign of the administration’s eagerness to open a new chapter in the Iraq war, and so help rebuild wavering Republican support for the troops increase. Mr Gates denied any doubts about Gen Pace’s performance. “I am disappointed that the circumstances make this kind of decision necessary,” Mr Gates told reporters. “I wish that were not the case.”

The secretary said the political figures he had conferred with were unanimous in their respect for Gen Pace – and unanimous in their feeling that a change in Pentagon leadership was needed.

It was also seen as an extraordinary retreat for an administration which had earlier prided itself on its resolve in pursuing policy matters, as well as loyalty to personnel. Mr Gates told the press conference that conversations in recent weeks with both Republican and Democratic senators had convinced him that a confirmation process would have shone the spotlight on the prosecution of the war.

That spectacle could have proved devastating at a time when the White House is fighting hard to maintain Republican support for additional troops in Iraq. Republican leaders have warned the White House repeatedly that they need to see concrete results from the surge by September if they are to continue to justify their support to a war-weary public.

That task grew even more difficult in recent days as the death toll among US troops serving in Iraq reached a grim milestone of 3,500.

Yesterday’s announcement by Mr Gates came on a day of house cleaning at the Pentagon. A military spokesman said that the Pentagon had asked two military judges at Guantánamo to reconsider their decisions to dismiss all charges against two detainees on the grounds that the military tribunals convened by the Bush administration lacked proper jurisdiction to hear the cases.

The detainees, Omar Khadr, a Canadian arrested as a teenager who is accused of lobbing a grenade at an army medic, and Yasser Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni accused of being Osama bin Laden’s driver, remained in detention.

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