- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 5, 2015

President Obama nominated Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Tuesday as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling the commander of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan “a proven leader.”

“He’s one of our military’s most highly regarded strategic thinkers,” Mr. Obama said of Gen. Dunford in an event at the White House Rose Garden. “I know Joe — I trust him. He’s already proven his ability to give me his unvarnished military advice.”

If confirmed by the Senate, Gen. Dunford, currently commandant of the Marine Corps, will replace Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who is retiring after four years in the post.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, Arizona Republican, said he is “extremely enthusiastic” about the nomination, calling Gen. Dunford “an outstanding leader.” He promised to give the nomination swift consideration.

“In addition to his leadership of the Marine Corps, General Dunford’s exemplary service in Iraq and Afghanistan makes him a strong choice as we confront threats to stability and peace in both countries and throughout the region,” Mr. McCain said in a statement.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, called Gen. Dunford “a good man and a good commander.”

“His leadership in Iraq and Afghanistan were critical for the successes we have had there,” Mr. McCarthy said. “I can imagine few others better suited to serve as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

Before taking the top job at the Marine Corps last October, Gen. Dunford served as the top military commander in Afghanistan for about 18 months, leading the international effort there as Mr. Obama has been withdrawing U.S. troops.

Mr. Obama also nominated Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva Tuesday to serve as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He would replace Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., who is retiring.

The two military leaders would face a variety of challenges in the final 18 months of Mr. Obama’s presidency, including winding down operations in Afghanistan and overseeing the U.S. air campaign against the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Gen. Dunford’s combat experience was an important factor in the president’s decision.

“General Dunford isn’t somebody who just talks the talk, but walks the walk,” Mr. Earnest said.

The selection signals that even as the U.S. puts more focus on Asia and looks ahead to high-tech cyber and space threats, the administration still believes a strong ground force commander is needed to work through the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and across the Middle East and Africa.

Mr. Obama emphasized Gen. Dunford’s role in moving the U.S. to the end of combat operations in Afghanistan.

“Under his steady hand we’ve achieved key milestones, including the transition to Afghan responsibility for security, historic Afghan elections and the drawdown of U.S. forces,” Mr. Obama said.

Gen. Dunford began his military career as an infantry officer. He served nearly two years in Iraq, including as head of the Marines’ 5th Regimental Combat Team during the 2003 invasion, where he earned the nickname “Fighting Joe.”

He is well-connected internationally, often meeting with NATO and other coalition leaders, particularly during his Afghanistan command.

While several top military officers were discussed during the process, including the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, and U.S. Pacific Commander Adm. Samuel Locklear, Defense Secretary Ash Carter recommended that Dunford be the nominee, according to several officials with knowledge of the discussions.

If confirmed, Gen. Dunford would be only the second Marine to serve as chairman. Marine Gen. Peter Pace served one two-year term from 2005 to 2007, but was not renominated by then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates because the Pentagon chief feared a long, difficult Senate hearing focusing on the sharp divisions over the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Gen. Dunford has experienced a relatively rapid rise in promotions. He was nominated for a second star in December 2007, but got approval for a third star only two months later as he became deputy Marine Corps commandant, essentially skipping the two-star grade, a step that usually takes several years.

He is a native of Boston and holds master’s degrees in government from Georgetown University and international relations from Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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