Gates won't seek to retain top Pentagon officers

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is replacing the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after heeding warnings from lawmakers that the current officers would go through a difficult renomination process amid debate over the war in Iraq.

Gates acknowledged he would have liked to nominate both Gen. Peter Pace and Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, the current chairman and vice chairman, but both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill advised him that the duo would face what Gates called a “contentious ordeal” focused on the past rather than the future.

If confirmed, Adm. Mike Mullen, the Navy chief and the most senior of all service chiefs, will replace Pace while Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright, the head of Strategic Command, will take Giambastiani’s slot. Both Pace and Giambastiani will retire.

President Bush has to appoint both Mullen and Cartwright formally.

Gates in a press conference Friday expressed disappointment that politics are influencing his decision-making.

“The events of the last several months have created an environment that would [lead to] a confirmation process that would not be in the interest of the country,” Gates said. “I am disappointed that circumstances make this kind of decision necessary.”

Gates stressed, however, that Congress did not object to the capabilities of the two officers, but to the fact that their involvement in the decision-making process over the past six years would have had lawmakers question the past rather than focus on the future. Pace served as principal military adviser to the president during the Iraq war.

The chairman and vice chairman positions are usually two-year positions with the option to renominate.

Pace's two years as chairman are up at the end of September, while Giambastiani has until August.