- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 19, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - He blogs. How’s that for starters in understanding Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, President Barack Obama’s expected choice to be the next NATO commander?

Stavridis is something of a new breed among commanders. He has gained a reputation for being less wedded to convention, more open to engaging with the news media and the public, an advocate for creating civilian and even private partnerships for the military.

And as a military chief, he is an outspoken believer that “smart power” can trump traditional firepower.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Wednesday that he recommended to Obama that Stavridis succeed Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock as NATO chief and head of U.S. European Command.

Stavridis would be the first Navy officer to hold those posts. But it would not be his first role as pioneer. Stavridis was the first Navy officer to hold his current position as chief of U.S. Southern Command.

The job of NATO commander is especially sensitive at this stage in the alliance’s 60-year history, in part because of the quandary over how to turn around its war effort in Afghanistan, and partly because of the delicate state of relations with Russia, which vigorously opposes plans for expanding NATO’s borders.

Not surprising for a sailor, Stavridis’s military resume is short on European experience. But that is not generally seen as a liability.

Lawrence Di Rita, who was a close aid to former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said the admiral was a natural choice for the NATO command job.

“He’s an intellect and warfighter, and from the day he was commissioned those of us who knew him knew him as a future national leader,” said Di Rita, who entered the U.S. Naval Academy when Stavridis was an upperclassman there.

What Obama will count on, if Stavridis is nominated and confirmed by the Senate as expected, is the admiral’s vision for how to run a military alliance and his leadership skills.

Two snippets from Stavridis’s past offer clues to how he would approach his new job:

_In his book, “Destroyer Captain,” Stavridis wrote about his style as skipper of the USS Barry in the mid-1990s.

“All captains are different,” he wrote. “Some can govern effectively from the relative obscurity of an Olympian detachment. I think of a captain more as a servant than as a master, so I must know the needs of the crew. The best way to learn the needs of the crew is from their mouths to my ear, through conversation in the thousands of unlikely quiet (and not so quiet) corners that make up a U.S. Navy warship.”

_In an April 2008 interview with a Pentagon journal, Stavridis spoke of pushing cultural change at Southern Command.

“This new thinking will take us from a culture of war to a culture of war and peace, from a culture of moving people and materiel to one of moving ideas,” he said. “Essentially, I think it is really not about soft power or hard power, but rather what some have called ‘smart power,’ which is the ability to dial between the poles of hard and soft. After all, life is a rheostat, not an on-off switch.”

And then there is his blog, which is posted on the Southern Command Web site, http://www.southcom.mil.

In his latest entry, Stavridis described hosting a reception and award ceremony in Miami for three Northrop Grumman Corp. contractors _ Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Tom Howes _ who were held hostage in Colombia for five years before being rescued last summer.

“At the end of a wonderful day of events and discussions we moved outside for a real SouthCom fiesta, including some cold beer and the terrific music of our SouthCom rock band, Southern Sounds.” (Yes, they have their own rock band.)

Stavridis, a native of Florida, graduated from the naval academy in 1976. His last sea command was in 2002-04 as commander of the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group, which conducted combat operations in the Persian Gulf in support of the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan. He holds a doctorate and a master’s degree in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Although they are from different branches of the military, Stavridis and Craddock have followed a remarkably similar career path in recent years.

Both did stints as senior military adviser to Rumsfeld, and both went from that job to be chief of Southern Command. Assuming that the Senate confirms his nomination, Stavridis will follow Craddock’s path to NATO.

Craddock plans to retire from the Army. An armor officer by training, Craddock commanded troops in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and in the Kosovo conflict in 1999. He has been NATO commander since 2006.

___

On the Net:

Stavridis official biography: http://www.southcom.mil/AppsSC/pages/cdrBio.php

Craddock official biography: http://portal.eucom.mil/craddock.htm

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