WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's selection of Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff seems to have done the impossible — created consensus in Washington.
"I know Joe. I trust him," Obama said in the Rose Garden while formally nominating Dunford on May 5. "Joe is a proven leader of our joint force, including our troops in Afghanistan whom he served Christmas dinner to. He is one our military's most highly regarded strategic thinkers."
In a world where Obama cannot call the sky blue without being criticized, the agreement from all sectors around his pick speaks volumes.
Mackenzie Eaglen of the conservative American Enterprise Institute noted that Dunford has been the favorite for the JCS spot over the past year and called him a "smart choice" for the job, in part because of the respect Dunford commands on the Hill.
"While the chairman of the Joint Chiefs really has a 'constituency of one' in the president, the chairman has a board comprised of 535 members of Congress to whom he answers, as well as a listening audience among the American people more broadly," Eaglen noted. "Restoring relations and credibility with Congress should be one of the top priorities for the incoming chairman.
"Given the bipartisan respect and accolades for him, the president should be happy at how quickly it is likely to progress and be approved," she added.
Indeed, lawmakers reacted to the nomination with praise that was, at times, gushing — suggesting that Dunford and his vice chairman nominee, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva of US Transportation Command, will be easily confirmed.
"In addition to his leadership of the Marine Corps, Gen. Dunford's exemplary service in Iraq and Afghanistan makes him a strong choice as we confront threats to stability and peace in both countries and throughout the region," said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., who will oversee the confirmation process for both nominees.
Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the panel's top Democrat, called Dunford a "superb choice."
"Gen. Dunford has the experience and vision to lead the Joint Chiefs and help shape our national security strategy at a time of enormous global challenges," Reed said. "I have come to greatly value Gen. Dunford's counsel and insight."
SASC member Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said she would support Dunford's nomination, calling him "an outstanding choice."
"His leadership of the Marine Corps and his extensive combat leadership experience in Iraq and Afghanistan make him tremendously qualified for this position," Ayotte said, "and he will provide candid military advice and valuable expertise at a time when threats to our national security are increasing."
Tim Kaine, D-Va., another SASC member, called Dunford "a proven leader with extensive experience in Iraq and Afghanistan." If Dunford is confirmed, Kaine said that experience would be "a tremendous asset as we continue to face significant challenges in the region from [the Islamic State group] and other adversaries."
Among defense-minded lawmakers, the praise stretched across the Capitol.
"When the president chose Gen. Dunford as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he chose well," said House Appropriations Defense subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J. "A well-respected leader, Joe Dunford is a warrior who is incredibly well-prepared to serve in this position of great responsibility. I look forward to continuing to work with him."
And House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said the president made a "good choice" with his nomination.
"The range and severity of threats America faces today is unprecedented," Thornberry said. "I am encouraged that the president has chosen as his top military officer a general who has stared down many of those threats personally. Gen. Dunford has always been candid in giving his best military advice to this committee, if he is confirmed, I look forward to that relationship continuing."
The same positive response came from industry, with retired Marine Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, now the chairman of the board for the National Defense Industrial Association, a major industry trade group representing the defense sector, issuing a statement saying he "enthusiastically" supports the nominations.
While praise for Dunford spread through the beltway, praise for Selva came from even further.
During his time as former assistant to then-JCS Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Selva served a dual-hatted role as military assistant to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As part of his portfolio, he was to monitor the implementation of the so-called Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
That solution has not worked out the way it was designed, but it is impossible to lay the weight of a 1,000-year struggle at Selva's feet. Indeed, one Israeli diplomat interviewed by Defense News called Selva "a straight shooter; full of integrity."
Punaro noted that the teaming of Dunford and Selva follows a decades-long tradition of selecting "distinct yet complementary" backgrounds and skill sets for the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
"The chairman should ideally hail from the strategic and operational community, having been fully immersed in the perspectives of regional commanders and the combatant commands and should have serious combat experience given the current operational activity," Punaro said. "The vice chairman should come from the institutional and managerial side of the defense establishment, aware of the demands of the combatant commands, but be more fully immersed in the institutional processes of the defense establishment along with a comfortable familiarity with emerging technological developments."
Punaro said Obama and Defense Secretary Ash Carter "clearly ... have accomplished those complementary roles with these two outstanding nominations."
But while the praise is universal at the moment, the real test will come once Dunford and Selva have to start tackling the issues facing the Pentagon — and an administration on its last legs.
Eaglen identified a "stalled" pivot to Asia and an increasingly volatile Middle East and Europe as priorities the pair will have to deal with from day one. On top of that, they will have to sort out the management of the budget as those operations continue.
Still, she expressed confidence in Dunford and Selva's ability to navigate those waters as best they can.
"President Obama is not picking placeholders or caretakers to lead his Defense Department in these last two years when the bureaucracy tends to relax, think smaller and take less risk," Eaglen said. "Given rising challenges and risks, he needs the types of leaders who will lean forward and go out with a bang."
Barbara Opall-Rome in Israel and Andrew Tilghman in Washington contributed to this report
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.