Pushback on Obama's potential European command nominee
February 9th, 2012
04:15 PM ET

Pushback on Obama's potential European command nominee

By Barbara Starr

The White House is considering nominating a retired general with little recent combat field experience to be the new commander of NATO and U.S. military operations in Europe, a senior administration official has told CNN. The official has direct knowledge of internal administration deliberations on the nomination.

Several officials emphasized that no final decision has been made by President Barack Obama but also confirmed that retired Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, currently a top White House aide, is a leading candidate.

Lute, who retired from the military in 2010, coordinates Afghanistan and Pakistan affairs at the White House, a job he also performed while on active duty for both Presidents Obama and George W. Bush.  In his White House role, Lute has often clashed with Pentagon and military officials over war policy, including the troop surge in Afghanistan.

If nominated and confirmed by the Senate, he would serve as the head of the U.S. European Command, and as the military head of NATO as supreme allied commander in Europe, at a sensitive time.  The United States is trying to keep NATO allies committed to the war in Afghanistan. NATO also could wind up supporting any United Nations tasks in Syria.

While the move to bring back a retired general is very unusual, it is not unprecedented.  During his tenure as defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld orchestrated the return to duty of retired Army Gen. Peter Schoomaker to become chief of staff when he felt there were no suitable candidates.

The current commander in Europe, Adm. James Stavridis, was previously commander of U.S. Southern Command in Miami. He is scheduled to retire this summer.

"This is a head scratcher," the senior administration official said of a potential Lute nomination.  Several civilian and military officials made similar remarks to CNN but none would allow their names to be used because they were speaking ahead of the actual confirmation.  "There is a sense inside the Pentagon that there are highly qualified, currently serving four-star officers with combat experience who would be very strong candidates."

A senior U.S. military officer with extensive combat experience in commanding troops also told CNN, "No matter how you color it, this means the president believes there is no currently serving military officer who can do the job. "The officer expressed further concern saying he believes many in the military will view this as a political decision by the White House to put a now-civilian political operative into a military job overseeing NATO involvement in Afghanistan, offering NATO "best political advice rather than best military advice."
He said, "This is politics a bridge too far."

"People like Doug Lute, but people inside the building feel currently serving officers are the recommended way to go," the official added.
The official declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.  But even on background it is highly unusual for officials to weigh in on White House military nominations before they are announced.

The level of sensitivity about the issue of bringing a retired general back on active duty for one of the most sought-after jobs in the military is significant. Pentagon officials privately acknowledge they fear it will be interpreted as a sign of Obama's lack of confidence in the current senior military officer corps.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's press secretary George Little declined to comment other than to say the decision is up to the president.

The White House may be looking for ways to keep Lute close to the President.  White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to confirm whether Lute is a leading candidate, but he but told CNN, "Doug Lute's career in the Army speaks for itself. And he has advised two different presidents from two different parties on two different wars - serving more than five years at the heart of policy deliberations in the (National Security Council) in difficult national debates."

"I am not engaging in your rumors here. Fact is that the President wants and needs Doug right where he is as we continue implementing the Lisbon guidance on Afghanistan and rebuilding the critical relationship with Pakistan," Vietor added.

But the level of reaction inside the Pentagon remains significant.  In his White House job Lute often clashed with Pentagon and military officials over war policy including the troop surge into Afghanistan.

"Many people are uncomfortable," with a retired officer being brought back on active duty when there are so many current three and four stars who served recently in Iraq and Afghanistan," the administration official said.  Lute has not served in a senior position in either theater.

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Sam

    I can understand that the government is trying to pick the right person for the job, but I believe that we have good and competent General Officers in our Service that can do the job well.... Let's forget about Democrats or Republicans... Let's do the right thing for AMERICA... God Bless

    February 12, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Reply
  2. jean2009

    The Keystone XL pipeline through the heart of American to pipe Canadian tar sands oil to the international tax-free zone at Port Aurthur, Texas – Valero Oil...is not providing out of work Americans work ,or doing Americans any favor. Currently we purchase 97% of Canada's oil. All the Keystone pipeline does is give Canada a way to transport their dirtiest of crude across the heart of America, not pay American taxes when it arrives at the international tax-free zone...and then sell it to the highest bidder on the world market. Which would increase our cost for oil not reduce it.
    http://www.policyinnovations.org/ideas/policy_library/data/01614

    It is Mayor Bloomberg's view that a New York City parade should wait until the Afghanistan War is over...I don't see how this would be something the President would decide for the city of New York?
    http://www.military.com/news/article/iraq-vets-still-pushing-for-nyc-parade.html

    And Portland tony...FYI women's reproductive rights is not some stupid public relations gaff. The Catholic church does not pay for their employees health insurance; the worker's wages pay for their health insurance. No one church or religion should have the right to dictate what an employee can purchase with their wages. If women are laid off and their wages are no longer providing income to purchase health insurance they like everyone else have to purchase COBRA. An employer cannot tell an employee which house to purchase, which vehicle to buy...so why should they have a right to say the insurance the worker is paying for cannot provide contraception?

    Also Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute is a very knowledgeable candidate with years of experience who is much more than a desk jockey. He actually was Deputy Director of Operations for the U.S. European Command in 2003...his heading the NATO and the U.S. military operations in Europe would actually be a field he is familiar with. I'm sure there is a military pecking order and everyone wants the job, but I trust the President to pick the best man for the job.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Lute

    February 11, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Reply
  3. Mohammed

    This article didn't pick it up. The reason why he was picked is because Pres Obama wants to downsize our presence in Europe. We don't need to be there anymore. The Cold War is over. He'd rather have field generals ready to fight a real war rather than overseeing Europe. A Nato air campaign against Syria does not require a recently fielded general either.

    February 10, 2012 at 10:48 am | Reply
  4. Portland tony

    Sounds like Mr. Obama is letting his staff run rampant during this election year. To name a few examples...The lack of a national parade honoring Iraqi veterans, this stupid public relations gaff with the Catholic church and now the political appointment of a desk jockey (however qualified) to a key NATO command. So far you have pi**ed off the veterans, the Catholics, and the military brass and given the Republicans some good propaganda to throw in your face. Oh almost forgot, the pipeline fiasco which didn't please out of work Americans.

    February 9, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Reply

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