- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2001

Three four-star generals have emerged as the front-runners in the contest to become the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and provide President Bush his first of two top military appointments this summer.

Defense sources said the leading contenders are Air Force Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart, head of the U.S. Space Command in Colorado; Gen. James L. Jones, Marine Corps commandant; and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the Joint Chiefs´ vice chairman.

The sources said Navy Adm. Dennis C. Blair, head of U.S. Pacific Command, is also a possibility. Sources said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was impressed with Adm. Blair´s role in handling the standoff with China over the Navy´s EP-3E reconnaissance plane in April.

One of the four, the sources said, will likely replace Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton, whose second and final two-year term ends Sept. 30.

The history of past selections shows the chairman´s appointment can be one of the president´s most important. By law, the chairman is the nation´s top military officer and the president´s chief military adviser. He also is called upon to carry out a wide range of policy studies, such as a net assessment of how the U.S. military stacks up against potential foreign adversaries.

In Mr. Bush´s case, his pick will play a major role in carrying out the military reforms and modernizations the president wants in the coming years.

The Joint Chiefs chairman can turn out to be a blessing or a curse to a president, recent history shows.

The chairman whom Mr. Bush´s father, President George Bush, inherited, Adm. William Crowe, retired in 1989. He then enthusiastically backed the presidential candidacy of Bill Clinton, George Bush´s opponent. Adm. Crowe´s successor, Colin L. Powell, became a fortuitous pick for the Bush family. He loyally served the father´s presidency and is now Mr. Bush´s secretary of state.

Mr. Clinton chose two chairmen during his eight years in office, including Gen. Shelton. The general developed into such a loyal aide that Republican lawmakers believed he adopted the White House "spin" in some congressional testimony, rather than providing his independent views.

The 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act says the next chairman must come from one of 14 leadership posts — nine four-star commanders in chief (CINCs), the four service chiefs, or the Joint Chiefs vice chairman. The president may waive that part of the act and go outside the 14 posts if he deems it is in the "national interest," the law says.

Mr. Rumsfeld has been sizing up candidates during formal meetings and phone conversations with them on policy matters. He will likely make a final recommendation in July or August.

The chairman typically serves a pair of two-year terms, but may stay for an additional term if the president so chooses and the officer agrees.

One defense source said the choice of Gen. Eberhart, a combat pilot in Vietnam and in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, would complicate matters. The administration would not want the chairman and vice chairman, Gen. Myers, to be from the same service. If Gen. Eberhart were picked, Gen. Myers would likely have to step down, the source said.

As leader of Space Command, Gen. Eberhart oversees the military´s use of space for communication, surveillance and early warning of missile launches. His experience may help the president in two ways.

For one, space will likely play a larger role in the architecture of an emerging global missile-defense system — a pet project of Mr. Bush´s.

Secondly, Mr. Rumsfeld is also keenly interested in the growing importance of space, both for its military uses and for the fact an adversary in time of war might target America´s extensive network of satellites to effectively "blind" commanders.

The defense secretary headed a blue-ribbon panel on space (the Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization) immediately before assuming the Pentagon job.

Mr. Rumsfeld last month adopted his commission´s recommendation to make the Air Force the executive agent for space-asset procurement and development.

The Air Force, which has not had one of its own as chairman since Gen. David C. Jones served in 1978-82, positioned Gen. Eberhart last year to be a candidate.

He was named in 1999 to head the Air Force Combat Command, a post that, under law, does not make him eligible for chairman.

After just seven months in a tour that normally lasts three years, he was switched at Air Force urging to head of the U.S. Space Command, one of the nine CINCs, in February 2000.

Mr. Bush will also nominate a general this summer for another Joint Chiefs slot to replace Gen. Michael Ryan, whose term as Air Force chief of staff expires Oct. 1. Sources say leading candidates are Gen. Eberhart, if he doesn´t receive the chairman´s job, and Gen. John P. Jumper, head of the Air Force Air Combat Command.

Gen. Jones, a Vietnam combat veteran, would be the first Marine to head the Joint Chiefs. He is respected by both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, where he forged a long-lasting friendship with a young senator from Maine, William S. Cohen. As Mr. Clinton´s defense secretary, Mr. Cohen tapped Gen. Jones as his military aide and then as Marine Corps commandant.

"If Bush and Rumsfeld want to receive advice from a military man who doesn´t play politics, it´s Jones," said a congressional staffer who supports the general.

As Joint Chiefs vice chairman, Gen. Myers plays an important behind-the-scenes role in instituting administration policy and drafting Joint Chiefs´ positions. He also serves on internal boards that oversee weapons procurement and budgeting.

The last three Joint Chiefs chairmen have been Army officers.

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