WASHINGTON — It is a morbid theme, but one that no superpower can ignore. So the Obama administration has quietly reviewed, and revised, the sequence in which Pentagon civilian officials would take command should Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates die unexpectedly, say in a surprise attack.
An executive order published without fanfare this month does away with a system for Pentagon succession instituted by former President George W. Bush, which played down the service secretaries and elevated positions held at the time by trusted aides to Donald H. Rumsfeld, who as defense secretary wanted it that way.
These plans governing Pentagon succession are intended to guarantee civilian control of the military during a doomsday situation, like a nuclear strike or a terrorist attack, when the defense secretary could be taken out of action at the moment when war-fighting decisions must be made. The Bush order, issued in December 2005, continued the traditional sequence of the deputy defense secretary as next in line. But it booted the Army secretary out of the No. 3 slot in the order of succession, in favor of the under secretary of defense for intelligence.