Barack Obama nominated general Joseph Dunford for chairman of the joint chiefs of staff on Tuesday, making the marine commandant next in line to be the top military adviser to the president.
In making his announcement from the White House, Obama said Dunford is “one of the most admired officers in our military” and a “proven leader of our joint forces”.
“I know Joe, I trust him,” Obama said. “He’s already proven his ability to give me his unvarnished military advice based on his experience on the ground.”
Dunford, 59, has served as commandant of the marine corps since October, and if confirmed by the Senate will succeed army general Martin Dempsey, who plans to retire. Dempsey leaves a slew of challenges for Dunford to inherit, including , the in the Middle East, and the encroaching military and in eastern Europe and Asia respectively.
The president alluded to the complex web of problems that the US military takes on, mentioning not only direct military action but also typhoon and Ebola relief, growing cyber threats and .
Obama also nominated air force general Paul Selva, the head of the military’s transportation command, to serve as vice-chairman, replacing current vice-chairman James Winnefeld. A former cargo and aerial tanker pilot, Selva is a relative rarity among air force chiefs who predominantly served as fighter and bomber pilots. From 2008 to 2011 he was assistant to the chairman and top military adviser to then secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Both generals would serve for a two-year term, seeing Obama through the end of his presidency; like Dempsey, most generals serve two terms.
Before assuming command of the marine corps, Dunford led American forces and the international coalition in Afghanistan from February 2013 to August 2014, and worked with Obama as US troops pulled out of the country. The US plans to reduce its forces in Afghanistan by the end of 2015, down from in 2010.
Earlier in his career Dunford served as an infantry officer and led a marine regiment during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, during which he earned a reputation for imperturbability and the nickname “Fighting Joe”. He rose through the ranks with unusual speed: he was promoted to a three-star general only a few months after being nominated for two stars in 2007, and became a four-star general in 2010.
Dunford also has a reputation for a keen sense of strategy and an understanding of modern warfare, with Obama saying he is “one of our military’s most highly regarded strategic thinkers”. In addition to his 38 years of experience, Dunford has degrees from St Michael’s College, Georgetown University and Tufts University.
Like his predecessor, who contradicted the president by to defeat Isis, Dunford would probably offer critical counsel on US strategy in private but preserve good relations with the White House nonetheless. Despite his occasional straying from the administration line, Dempsey , and Obama lauded the current chairman repeatedly.
“I can tell you that [Dempsey and Winnefeld] have been outstanding,” Obama said. “I have valued not only your counsel but your friendships.”
In his last months as chairman, Dempsey may try to revive through Congress – an effort that has in the Republican-controlled chambers.
The nomination of Dunford and Selva also suggests that Obama is concerned with the Pentagon’s ability to cope with looming budget cuts. The pair will work with recently confirmed secretary of defense Ash Carter, a Pentagon veteran with of the military. Although the White House, Democrats and Republicans have all said they want to limit the cuts, the Pentagon will probably have to enact major changes to adapt.
Both Dunford and Selva should face little opposition at confirmation hearings this fall. Democratic senator Jack Reed Dunford a “superb choice” with “the experience and vision to lead”, and Republican senator John McCain, who heads the armed services committee, Dunford’s “exemplary service in Iraq and Afghanistan makes him a strong choice”.
A veteran and former POW of the Vietnam war, McCain later told reportersthat he is “very, extremely enthusiastic about his selection. He’s a combat veteran. He’s a warrior.”
If confirmed as expected, Dunford will be the second marine to act as chairman.