The Cable

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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.

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.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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