Thursday’s photo-op at the White House offered another reminder that the Joint Chiefs of Staff is about to undergo a major leadership change.

During yesterday’s event, President Bush appeared for the first time with his nominess to serve as the next Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the JCS, Navy Admiral Michael Mullen and Marine Corps General James E. “Hoss” Cartwright. After confirmation by the Senate, Mullen will replace Marine General Peter Pace as Chairman of the JCS, while General Cartwright replaces the out-going Vice-Chairman, Navy Admiral Edmund Edmund Giambastiani.

The departure of General Pace and Admiral Giambastiani was announced almost a month ago. Various MSM accounts–including this one from the Washington Post–explain the political considerations that prompted the change. When Defense Secretary Robert Gates leared that General Pace would face serious Congressional oppositon if re-nominated for a second term as JCS Chairman, he elected to replace Pace with Admiral Mullen. General Pace, the first Marine to serve as the nation’s senior military officer, held the post for only two years. His tenure as JCS Chairman is the shortest in 40 years.

In the end, Pace’s re-nomination was torpedoed by three factors: the War in Iraq, his long association with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and his comments that homosexuality is immoral, and that gays should not be allowed to openly serve in the military. As for Giambastiani, he was also viewed as a member of the Rumsfeld team, although some reports suggest that the Admiral already planned to retire this fall, after 37 years in uniform.

Among the president’s nominees, Admiral Mullen (who currently serves as Chief of Naval Operations) is described as a “problem-solver, rather than a visionary.” In a military that’s trying to balance the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with other long-term concerns–including recapitalization and transformation–Admiral Mullen is a logical, albeit, safe choice.

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The nominee for Vice-Chairman is much more intriguing. General Cartwright currently serves as Commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM), which is charged with the integration of such missions as long-range strike, strategic deterrence, integrated missile defense and information operations. Most of the assets for these missions belong to other services and commands in peacetime; for example, STRATCOM’s ballistic missile subs are operated by the Navy, and its land-based ICBMs are assigned to U.S. Air Force Space Command. But, in wartime, these platforms–and their operational control—would shift to STRATCOM, based at Offut AFB in Nebraska.

General Cartwright has a rather atypical resume for a STRATCOM CINC. He’s a Marine fighter jock by vocation, with experience as an F-4 RIO, and later, as an F-4 and F/A-18 pilot. Over his 35-year military career, he’s served as commander of a fighter squadron and Marine aircraft group, and as Commanding General, First Marine Aircraft Wing. His staff assignments include two tours with J-8 (Joint Force Structure, Resources and Assessment Directorate) in the Pentagon.

By all accounts, General Cartwright is very smart, exceptionally well-organized, and he’s performed well as STRATCOM CINC. During his tenure at Offut, he’s also gained notice as something of an innovator, at least in terms of staff coordination and communications. Shortly after arriving at STRATCOM, General Cartwright created a command-and-control “blog,” aimed at improving the flow of information across organizational lines and stove pipes. Not surprisingly, a number of bloggers, including Dr. Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk, took notice of Cartwright’s initiative, after the general mentioned it in public forums. Based on his comments, it was clear that General Cartwright understood the blog’s potential for collaboration and communication–and the obstacles in achieving those goals:

“The first thing that came out was ‘Don’t post anything on that blog without clearance from the commander,’ ” Cartwright said. “We had to beat that down.”

The next firewall thrown up to Cartwright’s blog were responses that came from only senior staff officers like captains and majors “giving me only what their commanders wanted me to hear,” he said. “I called that the ‘tethered goat’ response and it wasn’t all that helpful.

“What I wanted was information and context to help with decision making. I can’t wait for the perfect advice,” Cartwright said. “If there is a bad decision then that’s on me. That’s my responsibility.”

Finally after “blowing the doors down and sitting on” the blog nay-sayers, Cartwright is getting what he wants from STRATCOM’s Web tools, he said

Don’t bother with a Google search for General Cartwright’s blog. It’s hosted on SIPRNET, DoD’s secret-level intranet, and without a security clearance, a “need-to-know” and access to the system, you’re not going to see it. The real question now is whether Cartwright will take the blog to the Pentagon, and use it in his new post as JCS Vice-Chairman.

As you might imagine, communications and “collaboration” in the E-Ring tends to follow more traditional formats, including position papers, staff summary sheets and of course, those obligatory PowerPoint briefings. Predictably, the general officer corps hasn’t rushed to embrace General Cartwright’s example, and we haven’t found another example of a CINC blog. It will be interesting to watch the Pentagon’s reaction to Cartwright’s command-and-control blog, assuming it makes the move from Omaha.

While General Cartwright certainly deserves credit for innovation, there are drawbacks in his information model. Sometimes, the community doesn’t have the right answer, or the correct information. A former colleague tells us that the STRATCOM blog contained incorrect information on North Korean missile systems during the run-up to last summer’s highly-publicized tests. The wrong data remained posted for almost a week, and could have affected the CINC’s assessment of DPRK capabilities and intentions. No one could tell us why the erroneous information stayed up so long, or why it wasn’t corrected sooner.

Still, General Cartwright understands these risks and appears willing to take them, in the interest of improving access to information and his own decision-making. We also believe it’s a risk worth taking, and we wish General Cartwright–and his blog–the best of luck in their new assignment. It ought to be quite a show, as a Marine fighter pilot tries to drag the E-Ring into the 21st Century.

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