Biden nominates Marine Corps assistant commandant for top job

President Joe Biden has nominated Gen. Eric Smith, currently the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, to take over the top job following the retirement of Gen. David Berger after four transformative years as commandant.

Gen. Smith is a career infantry officer who has commanded Marines at every level and has served multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan during his career, taking part in the fabled Marine battles in Fallujah and Ramadi. He also served as senior military assistant to Ashton Carter, President Obama’s defense secretary who passed away last year.

Gen. Smith is widely seen as a key ally of Gen. Berger in the recent overhaul of the service’s identity and mission, as the Corps shifted from two decades focused on fighting global terrorism to a new concentration on confronting the rising challenge of China in Asia.

The two generals worked closely on “Force Design 2030,” a  restructuring plan by the Marine Corps to reshape the service’s combat power for future conflicts with “near-peer” adversaries. He was second only to the commandant as an advocate for the plan to transform the Marine Corps so it could be better able to fight amphibious wars in the Pacific.

“Our modernization efforts … ensure that we are manned, trained, and equipped to deter a pure adversary and to campaign into a position of advantage should deterrence fail and lethal force be needed,” Gen. Smith told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing last month. “Our modernization efforts are required to fight and win on future battlefields, make no mistake.”

The nomination of Gen. Smith is the latest in a string of top-level military appointments coming due at the Pentagon in the coming months. President Biden has already named Gen. C.Q. Brown, the Air Force chief of staff, to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs following the retirement of Gen. Mark Milley.

Gen. James McConville, the Army chief of staff, and Admiral Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, also are expected to retire by the end of the year. 

But the military transition faces a political hurdle: Sen. Tommy Tuberville, Alabama Republican, has set up a legislative hurdle to the confirmation of more than 150 senior military officials to protest the Pentagon’s policy to provide paid time off and travel expenses for service members seeking abortions.

Mr. Tuberville said his refusal to fast-track Pentagon promotions is based on Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s decision to approve funding abortion travel without seeking congressional approval. Many congressional Republicans have complained about what they say are “woke” social policies being imposed on the military by President Biden and Mr. Austin, at a cost to military readiness.

“The burden is not on me to undo an illegal policy. The burden is on the Biden administration to follow the law,” he said last week on Twitter. “I will continue to stand up to the most politicized Pentagon in American history.”

Gen. Smith was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1987. His combat awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest noncombat award; the Legion of Merit, a Bronze Star with a V for combat valor, and a Purple Heart.

The overhaul of the Marines spearheaded by Gen. Berger and Gen. Smith has sparked controversy in military circles as well. Many lawmakers former Marines questioned the decision to drop the Corps’s tank units as part of a shift to amphibious and coastal operations likely to dominate in any Pacific conflict.

“I love tanks, I used them in Iraq, I used them in Afghanistan,” Gen. Smith told a naval conference in February. But “when an enemy can hit a tank 90 kilometers away with long-range fire, I can’t move them on time to be in a position to do something that I need them to do … It’s not that [tanks] are bad, it’s that I can’t afford to use them in my current mission.”

— This article was based in part on wire service reports.

Source: WT