President Obama tapped a highly respected combat commander as his next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Tuesday, signaling that the battles against al-Qaida and Islamic State threatening the Middle East and the West remain top priorities for the nation’s military, despite years of trying to change the focus to Asia.
Announcing his selection of Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. during a Rose Garden ceremony, Obama said America’s armed forces must be ready to meet a broad range of challenges, and that Dunford has proven to be one of the military’s most highly regarded strategic thinkers.
“We have to keep training Afghan forces and remain relentless against al-Qaida. We have to push back against ISIL and strengthen forces in Syria and build moderate opposition in Syria,” said Obama, using an alternate name for the Islamic State group. “We have to stand united with our allies in Europe and keep rebalancing our posture as a Pacific power. We have to keep investing in new capabilities to meet growing threats, including cyberattacks.”
As the U.S. started to look beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon had begun to increase its focus on the Asia Pacific region, where the North Korea threat was escalating and China was flexing its military muscles. But that has been eclipsed by the march of Islamic State across Syria and Iraq, and the group’s effort to expand to other regions and import the fight to the West.
In choosing Dunford, Obama picked a battle commander who led forces in the initial invasion into Iraq and more recently was in charge of the Afghanistan war coalition during a key transitional period during 2013-14. And if confirmed, Dunford also represents a sense of continuity, succeeding Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who will have served as chairman for four years.
Both men are known as intellectual and charismatic leaders who connect well with their troops.