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If not Allen, then who?

STUTTGART, Germany – If the alleged “inappropriate and flirtatious” email exchanges with a Florida socialite prove troubling enough to derail Marine Gen. John Allen’s nomination as NATO’s next supreme allied commander and leader of U.S. forces in Europe, the White House national security team will have one more hole to fill.

Allen, who has been caught up in the sex scandal that ended the career of CIA Director David Petraeus, is now the subject of an inspector general probe that is examining some 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents related to emails allegedly exchanged between Allen and Jill Kelley, the Tampa socialite at the center of the scandal, according to defense officials.

If the investigation proves career-ending for Allen, who currently serves as commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, it raises an obvious question: Who else could take the helm of U.S. European Command and fill the role of supreme allied commander Europe?

While President Barack Obama has stated that he remains confident in Allen’s ability to serve, Pentagon planners are likely drawing up a short list of potential alternatives to the Marine four-star.

While no names have been floated publicly, here are some commanders likely to be in the running:

Gen. Carter Ham, who heads Africa Command, could be a comfortable choice. Presumably slated to retire next year, Ham’s deep experience in Europe could separate him from the pack. Ham, who previously commanded U.S. Army Europe, also has led in Iraq and headed the Pentagon review that looked at the effects of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Prior to Allen’s nomination in October, there was media speculation that the Obama administration was pondering retired Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute as the next commander of EUCOM. Lute has served as an unofficial “war czar,” coordinating policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Obama administration, according to a Washington Post report earlier this year. While bringing a general out of retirement might have been deemed too unconventional a few months ago, a series of high-profile scandals within the active-duty force could make such a move more feasible now.

Other names in the mix:

Gen. Lloyd Austin, vice chief of staff of the Army, who also is considered a top candidate to lead Central Command.

Gen. John Kelly,  recently confirmed to serve as the new commander of Southern Command, which traditionally has been a stepping stone to EUCOM. Current EUCOM boss Adm. James Stavridis and previous commander retired Gen. John Craddock both served at the helm of SOUTHCOM before heading to Europe. 

Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former head of Northern Command, also could be considered to have the kind of pedigree needed to work with allies in Europe.

If Winnefeld were moved to Belgium, that would leave an opening at the Pentagon. Stavridis, who was recently cleared of any wrongdoing in connection with an inspector general probe that is believed to have derailed his chance to serve as chief of naval operations, had long been considered by Pentagon watchers as a likely future chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Now absolved of wrongdoing, the White House could feel compelled to give Stavridis a second chance as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

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