STUTTGART, Germany — After months in limbo, Gen. John Allen appears to be on the fence about whether he wants one of most coveted jobs in the military: NATO supreme allied commander-Europe and chief of U.S. European Command.
Allen, who recently relinquished command in Afghanistan, is apparently undecided about whether he wants NATO’s top military job, which is being vacated by Adm. James Stavridis, the first naval officer to be NATO supreme commander.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on Wednesday said he told Allen: “I think your country will always find a way to make use of your great services, but you’ve got to make the decision as to what you want to do in the future.”
NBC News, citing unnamed Defense officials, said Allen does not want to subject his family to the embarrassment of confirmation hearings that rehash the Jill Kelly email scandal. Although he was cleared in an investigation, his nomination for the NATO/EUCOM post was initially put on hold.
If Allen withdraws from consideration, who might be tapped for the post?
A review of the military’s current list of four-star commanders doesn’t reveal any obvious choices.
Gen. Carter Ham, the current head of Africa Command, could be viewed as a no brainer, given his experience heading up a combatant command and deep roots in Europe, but he is slated to retire this year. An official at AFRICOM has told Stars and Stripes that Ham is set on retiring and has no intention of sticking around, even for another high-profile spot.
Meanwhile, other current COCOM bosses seem unlikely. Gen. John Kelly of Southern Command, a traditional stepping stone to EUCOM, has been in command only for a couple of months. Gen. Lloyd Austin is tapped to replace a retiring Gen. John Mattis at Central Command, which is responsible for U.S. military interests in the most volatile part of the world — Middle East and Southeast Asia. Adm. Samuel Locklear, also relatively new to Pacific Command, seems unlikely given the Pentagon’s heightened focus on the region.
Who is left?
Since serving as SACEUR involves deep engagement with European allies, choosing someone familiar with the cultural terrain and joint operations would be a bonus.
Among the senior leaders with Europe ties, two officers are already in the region: Gen. Philip Breedlove, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Adm. Bruce Clingan, commander of U.S. Navy Forces Europe, Africa and Allied Joint Force Command Naples. Breedlove took up command at USAFE only in July; Clingan took over in Naples a year ago.
Meanwhile, as NATO forces draw down in Afghanistan, there will be renewed attention given to lessons learned from more than a decade of war. Senior U.S. military leaders in Europe have said training programs that build on those experiences and help allies bolster the standing of enlisted leaders in the respective militaries will be of particular importance. If that’s the case, someone like Gen. Robert Cone, commander of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, a prestigious post previously commanded by the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, could make sense.
However, the Pentagon and White House could break precedent, and instead of mining the ranks of current four stars, they could look to a larger pool of three-star officers for potential promotion.
Or they could even look to the ranks of the retired. Last year, before Allen was nominated for EUCOM, retired Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute’s name was mentioned in media reports as a possible candidate. Lute has served as an unofficial “war czar,” coordinating policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, and is well regarded inside the Obama administration, according to a Washington Post report.