- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

A dark-horse candidate, Adm. Vern Clark, has emerged as the front-runner to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and an announcement by President Bush may come as early as next week, defense sources said yesterday.
The sources said Adm. Clark, the chief of naval operations (CNO) and a Joint Chiefs member, and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs vice chairman, recently underwent second interviews with White House officials.
The defense sources said Mr. Bush has been impressed by Adm. Clark, whom colleagues describe as straightforward, gentlemanly and — like the president — deeply religious. He has dedicated his short tenure as CNO to restoring combat readiness in the 310-ship Navy. One well-placed source said last night that Adm. Clark is Mr. Bush's pick.
The surprise, the sources said, is that Air Force Gen. Ralph Eberhart, the head of U.S. Space Command, apparently did not get the job. Sources said he was the choice of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The names of Gen. Myers, Gen. Eberhart and Adm. Clark were among a list of four-star officers Mr. Rumsfeld had broached to the White House for further discussion.
"Clark is the gentleman every man wants to be," said a retired naval officer who worked with the admiral. "He is the ultimate officer and a gentleman."
One source noted that Adm. Clark resembles Vice President Richard B. Cheney, another favorite of Mr. Bush's, in appearance and a businesslike demeanor.
Adm. Clark caught the eye of senior Clinton administration officials when he directed the staff of the Joint Chiefs during the 1999 bombing of Yugoslavia. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen later assigned him to head the Atlantic Fleet and then in July 2000 to become the Navy's top officer.
The appointment of a Joint Chiefs chairman is one of Mr. Bush's most important priorities. The chairman will be his top military adviser, especially in times of crisis, and the man who will help spearhead the military transformation the president has ordered.
Adm. Clark has been low-profile as CNO, working behind the scenes during recent crises such as the terrorist attack on the USS Cole and China's detention of 24 U.S. crew members on the Navy EP-3E surveillance plane.
He received some criticism within his own officer corps for deciding not to punish the Cole's commanding officer after an investigation found lapses in security measures.
Senate confirmation should not present a problem for Adm. Clark, an officer who has been approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee for several posts, including his current one. Adm. Clark would replace Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, who retires Oct. 1 after four years as chairman.
Born in Sioux City, Iowa, Adm. Clark is a graduate of Evangel College, a private school in Springfield, Mo., affiliated with the Assemblies of God Church. He earned a master's degree in business administration from the University of Arkansas and completed Officer Candidate School in 1968.
A surface ship officer, he commanded various destroyers and, as an admiral, headed the Carl Vinson carrier battle group.
Gen. Myers is a key player in the ongoing Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). He serves as the right-hand man to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who is leading a senior QDR assessment panel.
The next chairman will inherit a shaky relationship between some of Mr. Rumsfeld's civilian aides and senior military officers. Some Army generals complain that the aides are pressing them to cut force structure without taking into account the risk it will bring in the form of increased casualties.
The selection of Adm. Clark would mean that Gen. Myers can continue his QDR transformation work. Gen. Myers would likely have had to step down as vice chairman if Gen. Eberhart were chosen to become chairman to avoid having two Air Force officers at the top positions of the Joint Chiefs.

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