First Admiral William J. Fallon took over as head of U.S. Central Command, even though it's the Army and Marines that are most engaged in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now Admiral Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, has been nominated to become the next head of the joint chiefs of staff. If approved, that means a Naval officer will helm the joint chiefs, Central Command, Southern Command, Pacific Command (an understandably typical position for an admiral) and Special Operations Command. What's up with the Navy's commanding position?
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One factor is obvious, says Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute: The Navy "has not been tarred by the failure in Iraq." In other words, it's precisely because the Navy doesn't have the degree of skin in the game that the ground services have that admirals are making for attractive nominees for vacancies at key commands. That certainly tracks with Defense Secretary Gates's worry that General Peter Pace's prospective renomination hearing would have become a rancorous reexamination of the Iraq war. And it's doubly surprising, given how the Navy was the service most comfortable with ex-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the man most closely associated with Iraq other than President Bush. "The irony is that the Navy culture was always able to get along with Rumsfeld, but otherwise rolled rather quickly with the Rumsfeld reversal" underway thanks to Defense Secretary Gates. No one can say the Navy is anything but buoyant. "The Navy has an intellectual tradition stronger than that of the other services," Thompson adds, referencing the overrepresentation of Naval officers on the Joint Staff.