Too Much Status Quo at the Pentagon?

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For the second time in his seven weeks as Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates has decided to shift a top-level commander from one post to another rather than promote a younger man. Pentagon sources say Gates will nominate Admiral Timothy Keating to be the new head of Pacific Command. Keating, a four-star admiral who ran the Navy's operations during the start of the Iraq war, is currently the top-ranking officer at Northern Command, which is responsible for defending the United States and was the primary military command that responded to Hurricane Katrina. He replaces Admiral William Fallon, who is expected to take over at Central Command (responsible for the Middle East) shortly after his confirmation hearing on Captiol Hill today.

Moving one four-star officer to replace another is not unusual, and Pacific Command has always been run by a Navy admiral. But by simply reshuffling top-ranking officers around the nine so-called "combatant" commands rather than bringing in up-and-coming officers is starting to raise eyebrows inside the Pentagon. Both Fallon and Keating were appointed by Gates' predecessor Donald Rumsfeld—a Defense Secretary known for strong-arming even the most senior commanders—and while continuity is useful in military circles, keeping the same leadership has a ripple effect: it keeps lower-ranking officers from moving up and, some critics argue, discourages new or creative thinking.

Gates is expected to move one senior officer up to a combatant command, though—sources say he will likely elevate Air Force Lt. General Gene Renuart to take Keating's job at Northern Command. Renuart was a key Air Force commander during the first phase of the Iraq War and most recently was tapped by Rumsfeld to be his senior military assistant. If he is nominated and confirmed to head Northcom, he will be promoted to four-star rank and become the second Air Force general to head the four-year-old command.