President Barack Obama's favorite general , Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman James Cartwright, appears to be successfully fighting off a whisper campaign about his suspect personal behavior, as several senators offered praise this week for his service. In the event that Cartwright is nominated to succeed Adm. Mike Mullen as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this bipartisan support bodes well for his eventual confirmation.
Cartwright, who was identified as Obama's favorite in Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars, is seen as the frontrunner for the position of Joint Chiefs chairman when Mullen steps down this autumn. However, unidentified enemies in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill have launched a campaign to undermine his chances to be nominated. According to Pentagon sources, many top brass have never forgiven Cartwright for going around Mullen and providing Obama with an alternative plan for Afghanistan during the debate over the Afghanistan surge that included recommendations for a smaller U.S. footprint in the country.
Cartwright was also the subject of a classified Inspector General's report that looked into anonymous allegations that he acted inappropriately with a young, female aide on an overseas trip in 2009. Cartwright was cleared of those charges, but Pentagon sources also report that Cartwright's treatment of his wife, including that he asked her to leave his house, has irked other senior officers' wives, including Mullen's wife.
Nevertheless, the whisper campaign against him continues. The latest salvo came Thursday in a thinly sourced report in the Washington Times, which stated that Cartwright "is said to be under scrutiny by three senators who were alerted to character issues," and repeated the rumor that his wife, Sandee Cartwright, "is planning to go public with her feelings about her husband."
The Washington Times identified the three women senators who supposedly are upset with Cartwright as Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Collins is on the Armed Services Committee, which would need to approve Cartwright's nomination.
The Cable caught up with Collins, who denied she had ever expressed any concerns about Cartwright to the White House, the Pentagon, or anybody else.
"I have worked with Gen. Cartwright. I think very highly of Gen. Cartwright. I haven't taken a position [on him becoming Joint Chiefs chairman] because he hasn't been nominated," Collins told The Cable. "But I think highly of him and I've worked closely with him over the past few years, so that information is completely wrong."
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the second-ranking Republican on the committee, told The Cable that he also had no reservations about Cartwright's possible nomination and would support Cartwright if Obama chooses him.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), said he wasn't aware there were any senators who had expressed concerns about Cartwright's extracurricular activities as alleged in the IG report.
"I don't know that there's any senator upset about it. I've delved into it and I think, no problems there," Levin told The Cable. Levin said he would strongly support Cartwright if he were nominated, "because I think he's extraordinarily competent."
If Cartwright doesn't get the nod, however, there are several top military officers waiting in the wings. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the list includes: Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the current Army chief of staff; Army Gen. Ray Odierno, who is now in charge of closing down Joint Forces Command; Adm. Eric Olson, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command; and Adm. James Stavridis, NATO's supreme commander in Europe.