By Eric Schmitt
WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has selected Lt. Gen. Michael W. Hagee to be the next ommandant of the Marine Corps, Pentagon officials said today.
General Hagee, who commands 45,000 marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., as the leader of the First Marine Expeditionary Force, would replace Gen. James L. Jones when he leaves the job, probably early next year. President Bush has nominated General Jones to be the supreme NATO military commander.
Mr. Rumsfeld’s choice is subject to the approval of President Bush and the Senate, but both steps are considered a formality in a process that would award General Hagee a fourth star and a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Pentagon officials said Mr. Rumsfeld settled on General Hagee as the 33rd commandant based on his operational experience, political skills and creative ideas on revamping the military for the 21st century to be a more agile and lethal force. Mr. Rumsfeld visited General Hagee and his marines at Camp Pendleton last week.
“He sizes up problems rationally, doesn’t get flustered and is a good innovative thinker,” said Adm. Dennis Blair, a retired head of the Pacific Command and a Naval Academy classmate of General Hagee.
Other candidates for the job included Gen. Peter Pace, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Lt. Gen. Emil R. Bedard, the deputy commandant for plans, policies and operations. Mr. Rumsfeld was said to be reluctant to move General Pace, one of his favorite officers, from his current position, officials said.
The battlefields of the 21st century are almost certain to be in countries without large standing armies, air forces or navies, where overwhelming force will be less essential than swiftness and maneuverability and where austere conditions or inaccessible, rugged terrain will require self-sustaining units like those the Marines operate.
General Hagee (pronounced HAY-gee) is an ideal candidate to lead the Marine Corps through this set of challenges, colleagues and military officials said.
A native of Fredericksburg, Tex., General Hagee is a soft-spoken Vietnam veteran who has commanded marines from the platoon and company level to his current West Coast headquarters job.
His background includes an unusual blend of operational xperiences across the globe. From 1992 to 1993, General Hagee was liaison officer to the American special envoy to Somalia, Robert Oakley, working with the American military and the various Somali factions.
In 1995 to 1996, he worked for John M. Deutch, first as senior military assistant when Mr. Deutch was deputy defense secretary and later as executive assistant, when Mr. Deutch became the director of central intelligence.
“This guy is John Wayne with remarkable brains and tremendous integrity,” Mr. Deutch said in an interview today.
General Hagee, 57, also was the deputy director for operations of the Pentagon’s European Command, from 1996 to 1998, and then moved to Hawaii to work for Admiral Blair as the Pacific Command’s director for strategic plans and policies.
In his current job, General Hagee would command marines who would be dispatched to fight in the Persian Gulf, should President Bush decide to invade Iraq.