General’s role did not cost him Joint Chiefs post, Gates says

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Wednesday dismissed as “garbage” reports that a senior Marine general was passed over to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff because of his back-channel role in the 2009 administration debate on sending additional troops to Afghanistan.

Speaking to reporters on his way to a security conference in Singapore, Gates denied that Gen. James Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was not chosen as chairman because he helped White House aides develop options for sending fewer troops to Afghanistan than the number favored by Gates and other top Pentagon officials.

Cartwright was once considered the favorite to take over as chairman, the nation’s highest-ranking military post, when Adm. Michael G. Mullen finishes his term this year, but this week President Obama nominated Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who had just taken over as Army chief of staff this spring.

“I’ve been in a dialogue with the president on these succession issues for at least a year,” Gates said. “Some of the negative things that have been reported as influencing the decision … are completely wrong.”


Gates implied that Cartwright’s reputation as a loner worked against him.

“The cohesiveness that we have had for the last two years I think has been an extraordinary asset for the president and the country, and so foremost in my mind was … how do we sustain [that] kind of teamwork,” Gates said.

He would not disclose details of the internal administration deliberations on the selection of Dempsey. As Defense secretary, Gates makes a private recommendation to Obama on whom to choose as chairman and other top military posts, which normally carries great weight in the selection.

Obama is believed to have initially favored Cartwright for the chairmanship and was quoted last year as calling the Marine his “favorite general.”


In 2009, Cartwright worked with aides to Vice President Joe Biden and others in the White House on alternatives to the request for 30,000 additional troops for Afghanistan sought by U.S. commanders as well as Gates and Mullen. Those discussions by Cartwright rankled some in the Pentagon, who privately criticized it as going around the proper chain of command.

Cartwright’s relationship with a female aide had also been investigated by the Pentagon inspector general, which cleared him of any improper conduct.

Gates, who has announced he is stepping down at the end of this month, is on his final overseas trip as Defense secretary. He is expected to meet Thursday with his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Liang Guanglie.

China’s military modernization remains a source of concern to the U.S., but the two nations’ military relationship is on the upswing, Gates said.


“We are not trying to hold them down,” Gates said. “China has been a global power for thousands of years. It is a global power and will be a global power.”