The US Senate Armed Services Committee voted Tuesday to keep the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in their posts for another two-year term.
While there had been a lot of fuss and a demand that Army Gen. Martin Dempsey provide Congress with his personal views about US military options in Syria if he wanted to remain JCS chairman — the military’s highest ranking uniformed officer and an adviser to the president — the committee ended up handling his nomination, and that of Navy Adm. James Winnefeld to remain as JCS vice chairman, as a routine matter.
The panel approved Dempsey and Winnefeld on separate voice votes. The committee then passed nominations for civilian jobs in the Defense Department and 2,256 other military nominations on a separate voice vote. The other nominations include re-appointing Navy Adm. Cecil Haney as commander of the US Strategic Command and promoting Army Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti to four-star and assigning him to be the Commander of the United National Command and Combined Force Command Korea.
The civilian nominations approved by the committee include Stephen Preston to the Defense Department general counsel, Jon Rymer to be Defense Department inspector general, Susan Rabern to be the assistant Navy secretary for financial management and Dennis McGinn to be assistant Navy secretary for energy, installations and the environment.
A full Senate vote could come this week. Congress is expected to start a five-week summer recess as early as Friday morning. If there are no objections and no holds, a vote on Dempsey and Winnefeld could come Thursday night. That would be just in time for Winnefeld, whose two-year appointment expires on Aug. 3 Dempsey current terms will expire Sept. 30.
Dempsey ran afoul of some armed services committee members at his July 18 confirmation hearing when he appeared to be ducking questions seeking his personal views about the use of military force in Syria. To get a vote, Dempsey was asked to provide in writing his opinion about the U.S. options.
His reply July 22 was candid and gloomy, saying it was his duty to not just say how force could be used, but “whether it should.”
He warned that just establishing a no-fly zone would have a $500 million start-up cost, with additional expenses of $1 billion a month. There would be a risk of having a U.S. aircraft shot down, requiring U.S. forces to be sent on a recovery mission. And, the no-fly zone might not even work, he said.
It could “fail to reduce the violence or shift the momentum because the regime relies overwhelmingly on surface fires: mortars, artillery and missiles,” he said.
Dempsey warned about starting something that could be hard to stop.
“Once we take action, we should be prepared for what comes next,” he said. “Deeper involvement is hard to avoid.”