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American Forces Press Service

Team Building Drove President's Choices, Gates Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, June 2, 2011 – Building a team was the most important consideration as President Barack Obama made his choices for top national security positions, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.

While he wouldn’t give specifics about his advice to the president, Gates told reporters traveling with him to the Shangri-La Dialogue security conference in Singapore that some reporting on the process of selecting Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld as the next chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was inaccurate.

Gates said he has been talking about the succession matters with the president for at least a year. Reporting that current vice chairman Marine Corps Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright was denied the chairmanship because he offered differing advice on Afghanistan is incorrect, the secretary said.

“I will tell you that some the negative things that have been reported as influencing the decision – for example, the Afghan piece – are completely wrong,” Gates said. “They had nothing to do with it whatsoever. Hoss Cartwright is one of the finest officers I’ve ever worked with. I think he is an outstanding vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I think he has made an enormous contribution, and I’ve enjoyed working with him for four years, and consider him a friend.”

The secretary said he talked with Obama about his own successor – the president chose current CIA Director Leon E. Panetta – as well as the whole range of positions that opened up as a result of his June 30 retirement and that of Navy Adm. Mike Mullen as chairman, whose second two-year term ends Sept. 30.

Building a good team was paramount in his mind in his discussions with the president, Gates said. “The cohesiveness we have had over the last two and a half years as a national security team, I think, has been an extraordinary asset for the president and for the country,” he added. “Foremost in my mind was how do I make recommendations to him, and how do we sustain the kind of teamwork that has been so critical?”

The relationships among those leaders – the president, vice president, secretary of defense, secretary of state, chairman, vice chairman and so on – is what drives these teams, the secretary said.

“Those were the kinds of considerations -- as we look to the challenges we will face in the future -- that were uppermost in my mind,” he said. “That’s the reality. This other stuff, … most of it’s garbage.”

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