PRESIDENT Clinton's choice to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, does not ooze charisma. He cannot match the naturally smooth political style of the current chairman, Gen. Colin Powell.
But General Shali, as he is commonly known, has far more experience commanding troops than General Powell did when he ascended to the military's top post. And as a Polish-born immigrant who learned English watching John Wayne movies and rose through Army ranks from buck private, General Shalikashvili has a personal history every bit as compelling as that of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the pioneering female judge recently named to the Supreme Court.
"He knows the armed forces of the United States and all of the ranks in a way that very few people in or out of uniform do," said Secretary of Defense Les Aspin at a briefing for reporters.
Shalikashvili also has more experience than most top US officers with the post-cold-war problems the military now faces. In his current job as four-star military head of NATO, he has been responsible for laying plans to carry out airstrikes in Bosnia, if that becomes necessary. At the end of the Gulf war, when he was deputy US Army commander in Europe, he deftly organized the difficult operation to protect Kurds in northern Iraq.
These are just the sort of low-to-mid-level military operations that the US might face in the years ahead. In White House policy circles there are "a constant series of questions that come up about the use of force," pointed out Secretary Aspin. "You want somebody who is a very wise advisor on that."
Shalikashvili's European experience will also serve the White House in good stead when it comes to multilateral operations, said Secretary Aspin. And as the general presiding over the US troop drawdown in Europe, Shalikashvili has handled the downsizing issues the whole military faces.
Mr. Clinton made his final choice for the Joint Chiefs post Wednesday night, after a dinner attended by a 15-person pool of candidate generals and admirals. "Essentially it was a mix of issues that came to bear in the president's mind here," Aspin said.