- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

With President Bush replacing his two top field generals for Iraq, speculation has arisen in the Pentagon about the long-term future of his principal military adviser, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace.

From the start, no other four-star general has had more to do with Iraq war policy than Gen. Pace, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman handpicked by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Mr. Rumsfeld chose the highly decorated Marine as vice chairman in 2001. He promptly gave the disciplined Vietnam combatant a front-row seat in his Pentagon office as strategy was set for the war on terror and the 2003 invasion that toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Rumsfeld then elevated Gen. Pace as the first Marine to head the Joint Chiefs in September 2005. Unlike the four service chiefs who get four-year terms, the Senate confirms chairmen for two years at a time. The question some are asking inside the Pentagon this week is whether the president will nominate Gen. Pace later this year for a second term, as has been the tradition for chairman.

“Is the president going to root out all his Iraq advisers?” is the way a defense source described speculation in the Pentagon.

A White House spokesman said yesterday he does not know the president’s plans regarding Gen. Pace.

The speculation comes as the Pentagon yesterday announced Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ first major changes for the Iraq war since taking office.

Adm. William J. Fallon, the combatant commander for the Pacific region, will succeed Army Gen. John Abizaid, who is retiring, as head of U.S. Central Command. The command is the center of the war on Islamic extremists, encompassing Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and the Horn of Africa.

Gen. Fallon’s Pacific Command has principal missions of watching Stalinist North Korea and communist China.

Navy admirals have overseen ground operations in the Pacific, but Adm. Fallon will be the first naval officer to run wars in the Persian Gulf region, which is home to a large sea component headquartered in Bahrain.

Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, will be replaced by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who now heads the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center. Gen. Casey will succeed Gen. Peter Schoomaker as Army chief of staff.

Gen. Petraeus led the 101st Airborne Division in the original invasion. He later took command of training an emerging Iraqi army and police force. He received high praise for making progress in the difficult job of building an Iraqi security force virtually from scratch.

Mr. Bush announced the resignation of Mr. Rumsfeld in November, saying he wanted a “fresh perspective” on an Iraq war that has seen more than 3,000 American troops killed amid extremely violent sectarian fighting.

Pentagon officials say they expect Mr. Bush to order a “surge” of 5,000 to 20,000 soldiers who would focus on quelling violence in Baghdad. There would also be a new economic package in addition to the more than $30 billion approved by Congress for reconstruction and redevelopment.

Gens. Casey and Abizaid had both been expected to leave later this year. Gen. Abizaid, an Arabic speaker seen perfectly suited for the Arab-dominated region, was in his fourth year of command, longer than the normal two-to-three-year shift for combatant commanders. Gen. Casey has been mentioned frequently as Gen. Schoomaker’s successor.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said yesterday it made sense to change commanders now and have them in place to implement Mr. Bush’s new Iraq strategy.

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