Some European leaders think the Obama administration pulled a bait-and-switch by appointing James Stavridis rather than James Mattis as the new Supreme Allied Commander. 

Gregor Peter Schmitz for Spiegel:

On Wednesday afternoon, e-mails circulating between Brussels and Berlin suggesting that, within the course of the day, Washington would name General James N. Mattis as the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. The commander is in charge of all US troops in Europe as well as NATO deployments, including the ISAF security force in Afghanistan.  Traditionally, the United States appoints the supreme commander and the Europeans pick the NATO secretary general. The decision to appoint Mattis appeared to be a logical one. He has long carried the title “Supreme Allied Commander Transformation.”

In the end, though, Mattis didn’t get the appointment. Instead, Defense Minister Robert Gates announced that Admiral James Stavridis would be nominated for the highly prestigious position. The US Senate and the NATO Council must approve his nomination, but it appears likely he will get through. Gates said Stavridis was “probably one of the best senior military officers” in the US.

In Brussels, though, many felt bluffed. “America treats this like it’s purely an American matter — and they didn’t even give any hints about the appointment,” one NATO employee said. “The conspiratorial manner of the personnel search was almost reminiscent of the way the pope is selected,” Stefani Weiss, a NATO expert at the Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation in Brussels, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

It appears Obama was swayed towards Stavridis because the admiral, during his work as the head of the US Military Command in Latin America, promoted cooperation between the military and civilian institutions. Washington now wants to adopt this approach as its new maxim in Afghanistan.


Stavridis is the first representative of the Navy to be nominated to command the NATO forces. Because the mission in landlocked Afghanistan is largely focused on ground troops, the move surprised some in Washington. Nevertheless, military observers note that Stavridis is already working with all arms of the US armed forces in his current role.

Either Mattis or Stavridis would have been fine picks.  

Mattis is better known in Europe, because of his present role with ACT.  Beyond that, it would not be going too far to say that he’s a living legend, having made a name for himself at the battle of Fallujah and for some colorful comments he’s made since.  And he’s being played by Harrison Ford in an upcoming movie!

While he’s not quite a Hollywood idol, Stavridis’ resume is beyond impressive.  He has a doctorate from the Fletcher School, where he won the Gullion Prize as outstanding student, and has won “best of the best” awards throughout his Navy career. 

The choice of a Navy man as SACEUR is a bit unorthodox. But, in recent years, the spirit of jointness has truly taken over the United States armed forces and great flag officers are often assigned without regard to which service branch has typically held a given post.  No Marine had held the job before Jim Jones was appointed in 2003. Then again, SOUTHCOM isn’t traditionally a Navy assignment, either.  And his predecessor there, Bantz John Craddock, is the man he’s replacing as SACEUR.

UPDATE:  A surface warfare officer, blogging under the psedonym The Conservative Wahoo, claims to have known Stavridis for years and offers effusive praise.

There simply is no more accessible flag officer, no one who takes the personal and professional development of the people he mentors more seriously or who does it better. In sixteen years, I have never heard him utter an ungracious word about another human being; nor have I heard one uttered about him.


Jim Stavridis is a national treasure, a true warrior-philosopher, statesman-poet. The United States could not ask for a better man at the helm of NATO’s military operations, and Europe could not ask for a better American to represent our country.

Much more at the link, which was recommended by renowned Navy blogger Galrahn.  He offers other links as well, all laudatory. 

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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