The Cable

Top Pentagon Asia official to step down

As Chinese President Hu Jintao arrives in Washington, The Cable has learned that one of the Obama administration’s top Asia hands is on his way out. Retired Marine Corps Gen. Wallace “Chip” Gregson will resign as the Pentagon’s top Asia official in April, becoming the first top Obama Asia appointee to be confirmed to depart ...

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As Chinese President Hu Jintao arrives in Washington, The Cable has learned that one of the Obama administration’s top Asia hands is on his way out. Retired Marine Corps Gen. Wallace “Chip” Gregson will resign as the Pentagon’s top Asia official in April, becoming the first top Obama Asia appointee to be confirmed to depart in 2011.

Gregson has been serving since May 2009 as the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, part of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, run by Michele Flournoy. Gregson told his staff last week that he will leave the Pentagon on or about April 1. His departure will begin the game of musical chairs coming to President Obama’s Asia policy team.

Following a reorganization of the Pentagon’s policy shop in 2009, Gregson’s office was given a portfolio that includes China, Japan, North and South Korea, India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Gregson, who focused mostly on the Northeast Asia parts of that portfolio was known as a knowledgeable and competent official who nonetheless played a more subdued role in diplomacy than his State Department counterpart, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.

“After Barack Obama’s election in November 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reportedly gave the Pentagon’s transition team one bit of advice: ‘Send adults, please.’  Chip Gregson was one of those adults, if by that we mean balanced, serious, professionalism,” said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia Pacific Security Program and the Center for a New American Security. “He also had a long-term strategic vision for how to protect U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region, and his successors will be working on some of his ideas for years to come.”

Privately, administration sources told The Cable that Gregson ultimately could not keep could not keep pace with the ambitious political agenda set by the State Department, which is seen as the locus of administration power in much of Asia. He is said by these sources to have fallen somewhat out of favor with Flournoy and she is rumored to be behind the drive to replace him with someone who could be more effective.

“Chip is an awfully good guy in a rough and tumble political world,” one insider source said.

Gregson’s office did not immediate respond to a request for information on what he will do next, and there’s no word on who his possible replacement might be. Gregson’s principal deputy is Derek Mitchell and his other deputies are Michael Schiffer, Robert Scher, and David Sedney, any of whom could be viable candidates for the job.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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