Bush's choice is a worthy break in tradition

Outside editorial

Posted: Thursday, August 30, 2001

The following editorial appeared in Wednesday's Miami Herald:

In his smart break with tradition, President Bush has chosen well in nominating Air Force Gen. Richard Myers to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, now head of the Miami-based U.S. Southern Command, vice chairman. Myers will be the first Air Force officer to lead the Joint Chiefs in more than 10 years, during which time the post has been filled by Army officers.

Pace's appointment is even more of a break with tradition, as there has never been a Marine in charge of the Joint Chiefs as either chairman or vice chairman. Pace is more than qualified for the honor and duties involved. Myers now serves as vice chairman under Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, and it's understandable that the Bush White House feels comfortable with him. He has been working with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the Pentagon budget and priorities since the new administration took charge.

Even more though, President Bush surely liked Myers' gung-ho two-year stint overseeing all military space programs as head of the U.S. Space Command from 1998 to 2000. Myers was an activist leader there in a job that some predecessors treated more as a ceremonial role. His aggressive push for space weaponry fits well with the Bush administration's drive to create a U.S. missile-defense system.

While we like the general's nomination, we think the missile program is impractical.

Both nominees have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, but right now there is no reason to assume other than they'll take over their new jobs Oct. 1. And none too soon. The dwindling budget surplus will require hard-nosed choices for military spending.

Myers, Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs face a complex challenge when it comes to shaping and sustaining a military force to meet the diverse needs of the 21st century. Military intelligence is as important in this era of terrorists and drug wars as are functioning smart weapons and well-trained troops.

The annual tug of war with Congress over whose district might lose a defense contract promises to be tougher than usual if the uncertain economy continues. And while Pace's presence at Southcom will be missed, his ascendancy to second in command at the Joint Chiefs should be good news for South Florida. He could be a strong advocate in support of making Miami Southcom's permanent home, as it should be from both strategic and cultural standpoints.

Pace's Latin American experience - he has been a fast study after only a year at Southcom - should help to keep the Bush administration focused on the Southern Hemisphere's growing importance.

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