- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

Next week, the US Senate has yet another opportunity to choose between self-serving superficiality or a willingness to put country before politics.

Tomorrow, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold hearings on two important military promotions and assignments. The two General Officer nominees served in succession between 2002 and 2006 as senior military assistants to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Obviously, it will be tempting for some senators to use the occasion to play “let’s beat up on Rumsfeld” instead of truly considering the merits of the officers before them. It will be easy for these senators to take another temporal stab for small political gain, while ignoring the damage they are doing to the process of attracting and retaining the best to serve our country in uniform.

General officer promotions and assignment of three- and four-star officers require Senate confirmation. Prior to recommendation, a potential nominee’s military records are scrutinized for performance, moral and ethical standards and superiors’ recommendations. After full vetting by military and civilian leaders of an officer’s military branch, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and subsequently the White House, nominations are then submitted to the Senate for its consent.

The Senate has every right — even a clear obligation — to review candidates for the most senior positions of our armed forces. Today, more than any time in recent history, our military is faced with dangerous threats coming from nationalistic and theocratic enemies, asymmetrical tactical and technological warfare, and demands for new strategies, capabilities and organizational approaches. We are at war and need the very best and brightest to lead our military. And so the Senate must scrutinize.

But the Senate role decidedly does not extend to punishment for serving in an assignment close to a political appointee. Worse, using a Senate hearing meant to judge qualifications for advancement to create a circus of criticism for policies for which these individuals were not responsible will tarnish the reputation of some of our most talented and honorable public servants. It risks deteriorating the quality of senior officers willing to seek such advancement.

A disturbing trend has emerged over the past several decades. Our federal government is less and less able to attract the best and the brightest of America to serve in positions requiring Senate confirmation. Many studies written by panels of experts analyze the discouraging and adversarial confirmation process facing Presidential nominees. We now face an even further deterioration of the process — extending to the highest ranks of the military. In many ways, it will be the process that is on trial next week, and not the candidates.

Two exceptional officers will be testifying tomorrow. Both have served their country to an extraordinary degree. Both have earned the highest level of respect from civilian leaders and military peers as they have executed their responsibilities. And both Gen. John Craddock and Vice Adm. James Stavridis have served brilliantly as senior military assistants to the secretary of defense.

Two other great military leaders, Gen. James Jones, current Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, current vice chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, both also served as senior military assistants to secretaries of defense and gained invaluable experience by witnessing the civilianpolicy-making process up close. Only the best are given such an opportunity to gain this invaluable perspective and this experience serves the nation well.

How Senate committee members treat the two gentlemen before them next week will convey to other military officers in line behind them the degree of the futility of sacrificing financial gain and family stability, in order to hold challenging positions for our country’s well-being.

Yes, the Senate should study the candidates closely. But the Senate has no place pillorying them for decisions they don’t make or policies they don’t construct. And as difficult as it may be for some, it wouldn’t hurt if diligent questioning was also relevant and respectful.

We expect our military officers to sacrifice self-interest for country. We should accept no less from our senators.

Stephen Herbits has been a part of Defense Department transitions since 1974.



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