WASHINGTON — The new chief of the Pentagon's internal think tank, James Baker, is viewed as contemplative and intellectual, though probably not an analyst in the same mold as Andrew Marshall, the man he is replacing who stepped down after 42 years of service.
James Baker, named May 14 as the head of the Office of Net Assessment, advised successive chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen and Gen. Martin Dempsey. As principal deputy director for strategic plans and policy, Baker leads an analytical cell at the highest levels of the Pentagon. In the new role, he will report directly to Carter.
"From his service in uniform to his work on the Joint Staff, Jim Baker has devoted much time and energy to thinking about the future security environment," Carter said in the announcement of his appointment. "He has the experience, creativity and long-term vision to help our military and our nation chart a clear path forward into an uncertain future — assessing today's trends to prepare for tomorrow's challenges and opportunities."
The Office of Net Assessment is an independent organization within DoD and is charged with identifying emerging or future threats, and opportunities for the US. To do so, the office develops and assesses standing trends and future prospects of US military capabilities, in comparison with other countries.
Known as far-sighted, idiosyncratic and free of political and bureaucratic thinking, Marshall made the office into an extension of himself, and is credited with grooming some of Washington's leading thinkers. He had uncommon longevity and was 93 when it became news last year that he was stepping down.
From the Cold War to the post-9/11 era, the office has managed the Pentagon's analysis community and commissioned countless studies at various think tanks.
Baker worked for Mullen and Dempsey in a capacity that examined strategy and policy on more of a day-to-day or year-to-year basis, different from the Office of Net Assessment's 20- and 30-year scope, under Marshall.
"There was no decision paper due on Friday, the things we were looking at were a lot further out," said retired Navy Capt. Jerry Hendrix, who worked for Marshall and is now a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
While Baker is a strategist and has a reputation for helping senior officials through challenges, Hendrix said, Baker does not appear to be an analyst in the mold of Marshall, who had established his own analytical method.
"We have to wait for Mr. Baker to get into the job to see if he maintains the long-term view of the office or shortens the focus to more immediate orf medium-range challenges," Hendrix said.
Despite Marshall's nickname, Yoda, he never bought into his own legend and he was known only as "the boss," to his ever widening circle of star proteges, according to Hendrix. The list is said to include Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and the current Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work.
"I've been in the room with Dep Sec Def Work, a pretty powerful man in the building, and yet, when I say 'the boss,' he knows immediately who we talk about," Hendrix said. "The individuals in his[Marshall's] office never considered ourselves to be Jedis by any means."
Hendrix knew Baker only by reputation, but said he appeared to be discrete, with a resume that suggests, "he is very used to being the guy behind the guy behind the guy. In that way, he and Marshall are similar."
Baker did not come from among Marshall's acolytes, though he is the point man for strategic thinking across the plans and policy directorate. An official bio describes Baker as conducting independent "red cell" analyses of current policies, and providing creative and global strategic perspectives on the full array of political-military challenges facing Dempsey.
Under Mullen, Baker was the director of the influential Chairman's Action Group. (CAG). There, his team produced hundreds of analyses and studies on matters ranging from Iran to Pakistan, Russia, cyberspace, civil-military relations and the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military. He also accompanied Mullen to more than 30 countries and throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.
Baker is part of a wave of new Pentagon personnel moves in recent days, senior-level officials who will outlast President Obama's final term in office. Obama has nominated Marine Gen. Joe Dunford as Joint Chiefs Chairman, Air Force Gen. Paul Selva as vice chair, Gen. Mark Milley to become Army chief of staff and Adm. John Richardson to become the chief of naval operations.
While Marshall was a career political appointee, Baker is a career member of the senior executive service, which suggests he may remain in the position without having to be reappointed, to provide continuity. That may yet change under Carter's successor.
Aaron O'Connell, an author, history professor at the US Naval Academy and adviser to the Joint Staff, said in the tight-knit community of Joint Staff analysts, Baker is uniformly respected. Baker is contemplative, calm and soft-spoken with, "the exact right mix of humility and intellect, such that people will wait for him to speak and stop speaking sto that he can speak," O'Connell said.
"He's not known for a specific task or deed, but for a number of years now, he for Dempsey and Mullen, he's been using the same kind of muscles he'll need at Net Assessment," O'Connell said.
Whoever is in the job, it calls for curiosity and moral imagination, a leader who is both part history professor and futurist. Baker will have to make the jobithis own and is unlikely to try to duplicate the Yoda legacy, O'Connell said.
"This requires an emotional intelligence; you have to understand people, and be able to couple that with big numbers and big ideas in order to do prediction," O'Connell said. "I think that Jim's got that."
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.