Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Potentially More Curveballs Coming in Service Appointments

The rumors came flowing in again today, with the suggestion made that the Chief of Naval Operations announcement was imminent, potentially any day now. I'm not convinced.

The next step would appear to be the confirmation hearing of Leon Panetta, currently scheduled for Thursday. While it is possible the service chiefs announcement could come before the hearing, I doubt it. The Obama administration will likely give the new Secretary a voice in the final decision, although potentially not a deciding voice.

The Army Chief of Staff position is all but apparently locked up for General Odierno. I honestly have no opinion, except I believe it is a good thing that a General who had a prominent role in the success in Iraq is getting credit.

The Chief of Naval Operations job though, I think it is more tricky than people think. I have heard for months and months and months from any number of smart folks in a Navy uniform that the choice absolutely will be ADM Greenert. I will not believe that until after a Senate confirmation, because based on everything I am hearing on the political side it is far from cut and dry. Whether one talks to reporters or folks in the Senate, there is a big, dark cloud quietly hovering over ADM Greenert, and short of the Navy cutting some deal I do not see a scenario where ADM Greenert gets a fair confirmation hearing.

ADM Greenert's problem in confirmation isn't like General Cartwright or even ADM Stavridis, because at least those guys have had a fair shake from an IG investigation over tangible issues that can be addressed inside the service. The problem facing ADM Greenert is that his day to get a fair shake would be the hearing itself, and there is nothing fair about a hearing in front of a political body, particularly one that has their own credibility on the line.

For years and years the House and the Senate have had about a dozen hearings that concentrated on the San Antonio class problems and failures. It was absolutely obvious to anyone who saw the May 25th hearing on shipbuilding that the Senate has thoroughly examined virtually every issue surrounding San Antonio, including the information that was revealed at the court martial of Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kearns (where he was acquitted). The Navy has never held anyone responsible for any of the problems related to the San Antonio, including the dumpster fire that was the first deployment of USS San Antonio (LPD 17) where Petty Officer 1st Class Theophilus Ansong was lost to the sea during a small-boat operation. It stretches the imagination that the Senate, after years of frustration with the San Antionio program, would appoint ADM Jonathan Greenert to CNO without taking him to the woodshed over San Antonio.

Look, the court martial of Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kearns (where he was acquitted) all but proved the death of Petty Officer 1st Class Theophilus Ansong was the fault of Fleet Forces Command at the time ADM Jonathan Greenert was in charge of Fleet Forces Command. Every single sailor I've quietly engaged in a conversation about the first deployment of San Antonio has specifically named Fleet Forces Command as the responsible authority for the dumpster fire that was that deployment, pushing the ship out when it was blatantly obvious the ship was not ready (and there are some very ugly pictures that prove it). A sailor died and no one has ever been held accountable for it.

Stop and say that again... No one has ever publicly been held accountable for the problems of the San Antonio program. No one. At any level. For any problem.

The Senators know this.

I'm sorry, I just don't see a scenario where ADM Greenert is going to sail in calm seas through the Senate. I don't see a scenario where any Senator can remain credible on issues related to leadership and accountability when ADM Greenert's nomination is the last opportunity for the Senate to hold anyone in the Navy accountable for San Antonio problems. No one would suggest that ADM Greenert is responsible for the problems of the San Antonio class, but it is absolute fact that an ADM Greenert nomination would represent the last chance for anyone who has completely screwed up that program to be held accountable, and ADM Greenert can legitimately be held accountable for Fleet Forces Command's failed responsibilities leading to the deployment of USS San Antonio (LPD 17), and unlike the waste of billions of dollars that have occurred because the ship was rushed to deployment instead of thoroughly tested (which would have identified problems on other ships of the class earlier) - on that rushed deployment of USS San Antonio, a sailor died.

If I am talking to folks on Capitol Hill about this issue, then the Navy or the President must be aware that the issue exists. I know reporters are talking about it, so I'm unsure why OPNAV is pretending the issue doesn't exist. If ADM Greenert is the nomination, either there is a big, private deal behind the scenes or somehow the Administration doesn't believe the Senate is going to do anything. I'm not so sure.

I know the two choices for CNO were ADM Greenert and ADM Willard, and I would agree that both would do a fine job, in fact if you get rid of the San Antonio cloud (which is hard to do if we are to believe accountability really matters in the Navy), ADM Greenert is the best choice. I don't think the Senate allows ADM Greenert pass without drawing blood, potentially with deep cuts that kills his nomination, and I don't think a lot of people want ADM Willard because he is seen as overtly and overly parochial about aircraft carriers and the platform being the solution for every maritime or military problem.

Which all adds up to one reason of many, despite the whole paying dues to the aviator and submarine community bullshit which is by definition the antithesis of an organization responsibly and independently promoting on excellence; that I honestly believe ADM Stavridis will ultimately be the next Navy CNO.

Yes, I'm aware of the IG. No I do not think it is a big deal nor do I believe it will be a factor in hearings. Stavridis is widely recognized as one of the very best of this generation of military officers, among all services, and his nomination will make the President look smart, which in these type of appointments seems to matter a great deal.

The only other choice for CNO would be the far left field option of ADM Harvey. I think ADM Harvey would be incredibly brilliant, and I think the DC OPNAV crowd would collectively give live birth to a full sized cow if he got that appointment, after all it would mean their smear campaign failed. Harvey would be brilliant. Different, but brilliant.

Very smart people say ADM Greenert for CNO and Gen Odierno for Army Chief of Staff. As for me, I still expect to see another curveball, like the one we've already seen with General Dempsey.

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