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Published: Thursday, 6/14/2007

Losing Pace

PRESIDENT Bush's decision not to renew Marine Gen. Peter Pace for a second term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was a surprise, although not extraordinary.

Since the American Revolution, the heads of generals in wars that U.S. armed forces are losing or not winning have not set easy. It is easy to see why General Pace was removed: The Iraq war is going badly.

Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, the chief civilian below Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney responsible for the war, was fired last November, right after Republicans lost the congressional elections.

Yet there are some aspects to General Pace's non-renewal that don't seem quite fair. The word was first put out that he was going to be given a second two-year term. Then Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates apparently checked with Congress, "discovered" that General Pace's reconfirmation hearings were going to be rocky, and dumped him. That's an unjust embarrassment to a senior Marine with a distinguished career.

If General Pace had been told in advance that he was not going to be renewed, he himself could have engineered a dignified withdrawal from the field. As it was, his departure bears a disturbing resemblance to the 2003 dismissal of the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric Shinseki, for having stated with great prescience, based on experience, that hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops would be required in Iraq to assure the peace after the war had been won.

Instead, with classic White House spin, we are told that General Pace's exit is Congress' fault for threatening a bruising confirmation fight. Had he gone before the Democratic-controlled Senate for a hearing, he would have been grilled not only about a war effort in disarray but also his recent comment that homosexual acts are immoral and his unquestioning defense of Bush war policy.

Secretary Gates will recommend that Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the chief of naval operations, serve as the next chairman.

The real bottom line, if there was a substantive reason for getting rid of General Pace, is that he was not strong enough within the administration in defending America's armed forces. Mr. Bush has run them down in terms of manpower and equipment by prolonging a futile war past the four-year mark, with no obvious complaints from General Pace.

It is the fundamental policy that is wrong, not the general who was carrying it out.

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