Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Is there a star fading at National Defence Headquarters?

There seems to be some speculation over whether General Rick Hillier will continue as Chief of Defence Staff after February 2008. Conventionally, the CDS remains in post for three years and then either retires from the Service or moves into an international military position.

Normally such rumblings around Fort Fumble on the Rideau would be passed of as "rumour". Long service members don't take much stock in rumours, and talk of postings and appointments holds no stock until something actually shows up in the pages of Canadian Forces Supplementary Orders.

Hillier however, is a different case. He's been more vocal, more visible and more publicly political than any Chief of Defence Staff ever.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier is expected to be replaced as top military commander when his three-year term expires in February, Conservative insiders have told CTV.
Just to put a finer point on it, he's not being fired. He's just not likely to get six years in the job and, to be completely honest, the Canadian Forces is too small to make its organizational head a "fixture".
Observers say Hillier, who is popular with rank and file soldiers, had hoped to stay on to oversee the war in Afghanistan.
It's nice to be popular with the rank and file, but that and $1.91 will get you a cup of coffee. As far as "overseeing" the war in Afghanistan, that's not the sole focus of his job. His role is to run the Canadian Forces in its entirety. There are those who would argue that Afghanistan, because the Harperites are focused on that mission to the point of distraction, has taken too much of Hillier's attention at the expense of other operations and the operational readiness of other elements of the CF.
But observers say the government seems determined to get rid of the charismatic general, blaming him for outshining his political masters and undermining former defence minister Gordon O'Connor.
This runs deep. Hillier and O'Connor didn't get along from the start, partially because O'Connor overstepped his role. Command of the Canadian Forces is the job of the uniformed head of the CF - not the Minister of National Defence. Hillier did seem to undermine O'Connor but at least a part of that falls on O'Connor and Harper for letting it happen. Hillier became well known for making political statements which would have been better left to his political masters, to the point that he was accused of being a Conservative Party hack and making defence policy.
When the Armed Forces held a private farewell ceremony for O'Connor earlier at Ottawa's Cartier Square Drill Hall on Tuesday, Hillier showed up late.

And he wouldn't talk about his often-testy relationship with O'Connor.

Conservative insiders told CTV the late arrival is another example of the general's disrespect for his political bosses.

Yeah, well, showing up late is just bad form for anybody in uniform, but to be honest, once O'Connor's picture was removed from the wall there was no reason to show up at all. What the Conservatives don't get is that most people in the military consider politicians to be a lower form of life. O'Connor placed demands on Hillier which, to be completely honest, were often ridiculous and which might explain why O'Connor, who once said he aspired to the position of Chief of Defence Staff, never moved beyond the rank of Brigadier General.

I don't think it's the political bosses Hillier has a problem with. It was that particular political boss. The new minister is just about as dumb, but there is less chance Peter MacKay will attempt to play "general" around the real thing.

Another said, "O'Connor is a good guy but he got his feet taken right out from under him by Hillier."

They blame Hillier for embarrassing the former defence minister over his department's failure to reimburse soldiers' families for the full cost of their loved ones' funeral.
Then they're blaming the wrong person. Hillier required approval to change what was Treasury Board policy. It is not within the purview of the Chief of Defence Staff to change benefits and compensation without Treasury Board approval. It is the function of the Minister of National Defence, O'Connor at the time, to seek changes of TB regulations. It's interesting that these unnamed Conservatives (and CTV) missed completely the inept behaviour of O'Connor with regard to prisoner handling, transfer and monitoring. The truth is, O'Connor operated the defence file badly, failing to keep properly briefed on policy considerations, but dabbling in force generation requirements which were more properly left to the uniformed generals and admirals.
Hillier, however, if he finds himself being hustled out the doors of 101 Colonel By Drive earlier than he had hoped, has no one to blame but himself. All flag officers know that they play a political game at their own peril and Hillier was more than a little political.

He would have been well advised to pursue the challenges of his position in way he had told others to behave: Keep your mouth shut and get on with your job.

OH YEAH: This little bit is interesting.
Possible successors include Vice-Admiral Drew Robertson and Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie although insiders say Lt.-Gen. Walter Natynczyk is likely to get the top job because the prime minister likes him.
Ahem! Because Stevie likes you, you will probably get the job?! How very Bush-like. I would hesitate to put Natynczyk into the chair for a couple of reasons, this one not being the least of them.

H/T impolitical

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