Joseph Dunford: The New Chairman in Town

"Dunford’s recent career shows a general who is confident in his abilities and who knows what he wants."

On July 9, Commandant of the Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford will face the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) for his nomination hearing to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Despite his short time at the helm of the country’s “9-1-1 force,” and the fact that he would only be the second Marine to be the president’s top military adviser, he has earned President Barack Obama’s “trust.”

And he seems to have the trust of the SASC’s leadership, too. Chairman John McCain said “Dunford’s exemplary service in Iraq and Afghanistan makes him a strong choice" to be the next chairman. The Committee’s Ranking Member, Jack Reed, has the “utmost confidence that General Dunford will serve with distinction as the next Chairman.”

It is therefore reasonable to assume that Dunford will soon take over for General Martin Dempsey. So, what should we expect from Dunford in this new role? Based on his service as commandant, we should expect him to focus on “readiness”—in multiple meanings of the world—to turn into his organizing principle.

Ready America for a challenging world: Dunford’s “Planning Guidance” claimed that “the current operating environment is volatile and complex,” citing challenges such as “the proliferation of modern conventional, asymmetric, and cyber weapons, violent extremism, transnational crime, and piracy.” Adding to this instability is “water, energy, and food scarcity, weak governments resulting in ungoverned spaces, territorial and tribal disputes, and regional competition.” As he faced these challenges as commandant, he asked his Marines to be “ready, relevant, and capable” (emphasis added), and made significant changes to ensure this would be the case.

He planned for “distributed operations, both at sea and ashore,” which would allow the Marines to react more quickly to potential conflicts in Asia alongside their allies and partners. Indeed, according to Dunford, “distribution will provide us more effective theater security cooperation.” While this does expose the service to logistical risks, it made sense to ensure Marines could “fight today,” regardless of the location of the flashpoint.

The general also changed the way Marine leadership commands in important areas like Europe and Africa. Currently, the Marine commander in the Americas is based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and the Marine commander in Europe is based in Norfolk, Virginia. The changes, scheduled to be instituted this month, would place a one-star commander in Miami to lead Marine Corps operations in the Caribbean and Central and South America, and a two-star commander in Germany to lead operations in Europe and Africa. This restructuring not only put higher-ranking leaders in charge of these important forces, but also locates them where they can have in-theater experience and greater impact.

These changes provide insight into how Dunford will prepare the U.S. military to deal with coming challenges: have our forces work with allies and partners to solve local problems, and put them near or in areas of potential conflict—Europe, Africa, and Asia—for rapid response. But of course, there is more to the chairman’s job than high-level military strategy.

Ready the right advice: Dunford is regarded by those who know him as “an operational artisan” and a “talented politician.” During his time commanding American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, he earned a “reputation for being as attuned to political currents as he [was] to the complexities of insurgent combat.” This seems to be true. He “impressed” President Obama “during hundreds of hours of secure video conferences, and an easy rapport developed between the two men,” according to The New York Times.