mcloudy.png
Friday December 6th, 2019 2:14PM

Pentagon in its longest-ever stretch of leadership limbo

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

WASHINGTON (AP) — When he resigned as defense secretary last December, Jim Mattis thought it might take two months to install a successor. That seemed terribly long at the time.

Seven months later, the U.S. still has no confirmed defense chief even with the nation facing potential armed conflict with Iran. That's the longest such stretch in Pentagon history.

There is also no confirmed deputy defense secretary, and other significant senior civilian and military Pentagon positions are in limbo, more than at any recent time.

The causes are varied, but this leadership vacuum has nonetheless begun to make members of Congress and others uneasy, creating a sense that something is amiss in a critical arm of the government at a time of global uncertainty.

William Cohen, a former Republican senator who served as defense secretary during President Bill Clinton's second term, says U.S. allies — "and even our foes" — expect more stability than this within the U.S. defense establishment.

"It is needlessly disruptive to have a leadership vacuum for so long at the Department of Defense as the department prepares for its third acting secretary in less than a year," Cohen told The Associated Press. He said he worries about the cumulative effect of moving from one acting secretary to another while other key positions lack permanent officials.

"There will inevitably be increasing uncertainty regarding which officials have which authority, which undermines the very principle of civilian control of the military," Cohen said. "In addition, other countries — both allies and adversaries — will have considerable doubt about the authority granted to an acting secretary of defense both because of the uncertainty of confirmation as well as the worry that even being a confirmed official does not seem to come with the needed sense of permanence or job security in this administration."

Key members of Congress are concerned, too.

"We need Senate-confirmed leadership at the Pentagon, and quickly," Sen. Jim Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who heads the Armed Services Committee, said Thursday. The panel's ranking Democrat, Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, said the vacancy problem has created "disarray" in the government's largest bureaucracy.

It started with Mattis, who quit in December after a series of policy disputes with President Donald Trump that culminated in his protest of administration plans to pull troops out of Syria as they battled remnants of the Islamic State.

At least outwardly, the Pentagon has managed to stay on track during this churn, and senior officials caution against concluding that the military has been harmed.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, whose chosen successor as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Mark Milley, had his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday, told reporters that military commanders understand what their civilian leaders expect of them.

"We'll look forward to a confirmed secretary of defense in the near future, for sure, but I don't think (the vacancies) had a significant impact over the last six months," Dunford said Tuesday. "I don't believe that there's been any ambiguity across the force about what they need to be doing and why they need to be doing it."

The day after Dunford spoke, trouble struck on another personnel front, potentially endangering the nomination of Air Force Gen. John Hyten to take over as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the incumbent, Gen. Paul Selva, retires July 31. The vice chairman is the nation's second-highest military officer.

A senior military officer has accused Hyten of sexual misconduct. Members of Congress this week raised questions about the allegations and about the military investigation that found insufficient evidence to charge Hyten. It's unclear when, or if, Hyten will get a confirmation hearing.

Just last Sunday, the Navy was hit with its own leadership crisis.

Adm. William Moran, who had already been confirmed by the Senate to become the top Navy officer on Aug. 1, abruptly announced he was retiring . He said he felt compelled to quit because of an investigation into his use of personal email and questions about the wisdom of his association with a retired Navy officer who had been accused of inappropriate conduct with women in 2016.

At Milley's Senate hearing Thursday, he was asked repeatedly about the problem of multiple and lengthy vacancies in the higher ranks of the Pentagon. His responses suggested he sees at least the potential for it to cause damage.

"It would be much better to have the nominees fully vetted and confirmed because that gives us much more effectiveness in terms of dealing with our adversaries," members of Congress and the American public, he said.

Mark Esper, who has been the acting secretary of defense since Mattis' first fill-in, former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan, abruptly resigned in June , is scheduled to testify at his confirmation hearing next Tuesday. But even that comes with complications. He is required to step aside pending Senate confirmation, and Navy Secretary Richard Spencer will move into the role of acting defense secretary until Esper is approved. Spencer would then return to the Navy.

This tangled web is unlike anything the Pentagon has ever seen. Only twice previously has the Pentagon had an acting secretary; in the longest and most recent instance, the fill-in served for two months in 1989 during the George H.W. Bush administration. No administration has ever had two acting defense secretaries, let alone three.

John Hamre, who served as deputy defense secretary from 1997 to 2000, says much of the work in the Pentagon is based largely on a policy framework established by previous defense secretaries, and that work is not greatly affected by the absence of a confirmed secretary.

What can be hurt is coordination with the White House, "where an acting secretary is underpowered when sitting opposite a secretary of state, for example," Hamre said. He added that defense policy innovation might be the area that suffers the most.

"This is where we will see the greatest impact by having only acting secretaries," he said.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, AP Online Headlines - Washington, AP Online Congress News
© Copyright 2019 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Pentagon in its longest-ever stretch of leadership limbo
The US still has no confirmed defense secretary even with the nation facing potential armed conflict with Iran
6:39AM ( 9 minutes ago )
Lithuania's new president, a former bank analyst, sworn in
A former bank analyst, 55-year-old Gitanas Nauseda, has been sworn in as Lithuania's new president
6:38AM ( 11 minutes ago )
2020 Democrats paint contrast with Trump on immigration
4 Democratic presidential candidates promise major changes to US immigration law
6:25AM ( 23 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Trump drops bid to have a citizenship question on the census
President Donald Trump insists he is not backing down on his efforts to collect citizenship information, but he has abandoned his bid to inject a citizenship question into next year's census
5:57AM ( 51 minutes ago )
Iran demands Britain release oil tanker seized off Gibraltar
Iran demands British navy release an oil tanker seized last week off Gibraltar, accusing London of playing a 'dangerous game'
5:34AM ( 1 hour ago )
India prepares to land rover on moon in global space race
India is looking to solidify its place among the world's spacefaring nations with its second unmanned mission to the moon, this one aimed at landing a rover near the unexplored south pole
5:21AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
Passengers violently ejected from seats on turbulent flight
Dozens of people were violently slammed off the ceiling of a jetliner that encountered unexpected and intense turbulence over the Pacific Ocean
1:59AM ( 4 hours ago )
R. Kelly arrested in Chicago on federal sex crime charges
A U.S. Attorney's office spokesman says singer R. Kelly has been arrested on federal sex-crime charges in Chicago.
1:33AM ( 5 hours ago )
Race becomes new flashpoint with Pelosi, Ocasio-Cortez
Race has become a new flashpoint in the debate between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other House Democrats over migrant children in detention at the border
12:22AM ( 6 hours ago )
AP Online National News
Pentagon in longest-ever stretch of leadership limbo
The U.S. still has no confirmed defense secretary even with the nation facing potential armed conflict with Iran
3:35AM ( 3 hours ago )
Hong Kong protesters march with mock coffin of city leader
A small group of protesters has paraded around Hong Kong government headquarters with a mock coffin of city leader Carrie Lam
2:55AM ( 3 hours ago )
S. Korea proposes UN probe over Japanese sanctions claims
South Korea has proposed an investigation by the United Nations or another international body as it continues to reject Japanese claims that Seoul could not be trusted to faithfully implement sanctions against North Korea
2:15AM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Online Headlines - Washington
Powell sends further signals of future rate cuts
Fed Chairman Powell sends further signals of possible future rate cuts to keep economy in 'good place'
5:52PM ( 12 hours ago )
Trump accuses big tech of bias against conservative voices
President Donald Trump says big tech companies must not be allowed to censor the voices of the American people on social media
5:38PM ( 13 hours ago )
Trump turning to non-census avenue on citizenship question
Trump expected to announce new executive action during news conference on the 2020 census and his push to include a citizenship question
5:02PM ( 13 hours ago )
AP Online Congress News
Lithuania's new president, a former bank analyst, sworn in
A former bank analyst, 55-year-old Gitanas Nauseda, has been sworn in as Lithuania's new president
6:38AM ( 11 minutes ago )
2020 Democrats paint contrast with Trump on immigration
4 Democratic presidential candidates promise major changes to US immigration law
6:25AM ( 23 minutes ago )
Dutch leader to visit Trump for talks on trade, defense
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is visiting U.S. President Donald Trump next week, amid reports that the Netherlands is considering an American request to send a frigate to the Persian Gulf to protect shipping
6:22AM ( 26 minutes ago )
AOC, other liberal Dems in spotlight at immigration hearing
Four Democratic freshmen who reported squalid conditions at migrant detention stations at the southern border are taking the spotlight at a House committee hearing
6:15AM ( 33 minutes ago )
Trump unloads on Paul Ryan after 'American Carnage' excerpts
President Donald Trump unloads on former House Speaker Paul Ryan following critical 'American Carnage' excerpts
6:11AM ( 37 minutes ago )