Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Austin names top State Department adviser chief of staff at Pentagon


Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has named a senior State Department official and veteran policy official under successive Democratic presidents as the new Pentagon chief of staff, officials said, as the Biden administration races to identify key defense priorities ahead of the November election, officials said.

Derek Chollet, who played a central role as Assistant Secretary of State Antony Blinken in efforts to broker a deal to transform the Middle East, will replace current Chief of Staff Kelly Magsamin, who is stepping down this month, officials said. Officials spoke in On the condition that his identity not be revealed before the official announcement.

Last year, the White House nominated Scholette to be the most senior political official in the Pentagon, but his nomination became mired in partisan debates in the Senate, where Republicans are competing. She objected to Pentagon policies Authorization for reimbursement of service member travel related costs – Reproductive health care, including abortionsAnd other administrative procedures.

In a statement, Austin said he was grateful to Chollet “for taking on this key assignment at such an important moment.”

Blinken described Shullette in baseball terms, describing him A “five-tool player” whose résumé, including top roles at the Pentagon and the National Security Council during the Obama administration, contributed “a broad range of experience that the rest of us rely on every day.”

Blinken is appointing Tom Sullivan, one of his senior advisers, to become State Department adviser, a senior position that does not require Senate confirmation. Sullivan, who is the brother of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, will maintain his current position as deputy chief of staff for policy.

Chollet returns to the Pentagon four months before the 2024 presidential elections, which will be held there Biden faces a close race that could take former President Trump to the White House for a second term and potentially derail a host of key administration policies. The former president has questioned some of the administration’s key defense and national security initiatives, including its multibillion-dollar effort to help Ukraine fend off Russia.

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One senior administration official acknowledged that the main focus of national security officials in the coming months will be on trying to “trump-proof” a top priority. At the Pentagon, this would likely include transferring some initiatives to multilateral control, for example, including the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The forum was launched by Austin after the 2022 Russian invasion for defense leaders to meet on a monthly basis and coordinate arms donations to Ukraine.

Austin, a former Army general, and his inner circle came under intense scrutiny after news emerged earlier this year that he had been hospitalized in intensive care. Without notifying the White House or the public for several days. Austin later apologized for the secrecy surrounding the episode. Magsamin also faced criticism from Republicans in Congress.

Jeremy Bash, who served as Leon Panetta’s chief of staff when he was defense secretary, cited a description used by Robert Gates, another former Pentagon chief, who said the position of defense secretary actually consisted of two positions: secretary of war and secretary of state. The Pentagon – the sprawling military bureaucracy, encompassing dozens of disparate agencies and an annual budget of more than $800 billion.

“The chief of staff should be an advisor to the secretary on both of these issues, and that means issues of how we deploy U.S. military power to deter conflicts and win wars, but also how we can rapidly deploy capabilities that will be essential to war in the balance of the 21st century.”

Cholet previously worked as a consultant for a consulting firm called Beacon Global Strategies, which Bash helps lead.

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Chollet said in an interview that he expects the Pentagon in the coming months to focus on priorities including helping Ukraine position itself as effectively as possible against Russia. Strengthening the US military position in the Indo-Pacific region; And helping its ally Israel as it tries to prevent a regional war in the Middle East.

He said uncertainty about what will happen after the November election should not prevent the department from pursuing long-term goals. “We will not make any assumptions about what is coming, but we will do our best to finish the first term with the National Defense Strategy as our north star, and then go from there,” he said.

“The most important word in the title ‘chief of staff’ is ‘staff,'” said Schulet, who began his career in Washington by helping former Secretary of State and White House Chief of Staff James Baker III write his memoirs.

“Most importantly, you want to serve your boss,” Chollet said. “There’s also the person who helps everything under the president work better.”

As an advisor to Blinken, Chollet played a leading role in the administration’s response to the conflict in Gaza, accompanying the top diplomat on travel through the Middle East. along with Barbara Leaf, a senior Middle East diplomat, played a leading role in crafting the proposal — which many outside experts see as far-fetched — that would stabilize Gaza after the fighting ends, advance the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, and normalize relations. Relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. He also worked closely with senior White House official Brett McGurk on the proposed US-Saudi defense agreement.

An Israeli official pointed to the role played by Chollet in helping to ease the severe tension sparked by the conflict in Gaza between Washington and the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We are talking about a very sensitive period,” an Israeli official said. “There were issues to be resolved between the two governments and Derek was very effective in bridging the differences.”

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Officials have said that Chollet’s nomination to be the Pentagon’s chief policy officer will not be withdrawn as he takes over as chief of staff, although there is a small possibility that it will be advanced in the coming months. Several Republican senators have done so He pledged to oppose Chollet On the Pentagon’s abortion policy. Meanwhile, the Republican Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said He urged senators to oppose Chollet Regarding his role in the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby called on the Senate to confirm Chollet’s appointment, noting that two major partners of the United States, Israel and Ukraine, are engaged in active conflicts.

“This is exactly the time when you need a Senate-confirmed undersecretary for policy,” he said. “It is fortunate that he will be able to go to the Pentagon and provide support as chief of staff, but it is not the same thing.”

Sullivan, who replaces Chollet at the State Department, has been at Blinken’s side continuously since 2021. Since the Gaza conflict erupted last fall, the main focus of Blinken’s top team has been trying to defuse threats to Israel and improve conditions for Palestinians.

Blinken said Sullivan “has been by my side for meetings with heads of state, foreign ministers, and other world leaders as we rebuild our alliances and partnerships, confront Russian aggression against Ukraine, and stabilize our relationship with China while defending American interests.” It worked to build lasting peace, security and stability in the Middle East.