- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.
By Eve Hunter
Best Defense guest columnist
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies this past Monday, quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald’s definition of a first-rate intelligence as being able to hold two competing and opposing ideas in your mind at the same time. That is precisely the predicament he put his audience in.
Gen. Dempsey approached the current geopolitical situation with a jovial attitude. He compared the U.S. position in the world with the TV character “Mayhem,” of Allstate Insurance (and 30 Rock) fame. His face was aglow with patriotism, even while confronting questions concerning “the West’s failure in Syria.” Hedging his bets, he spoke positively of the Iraq War, saying that Iraq is now a “partner, not [an] adversary.”
Despite the general’s optimism, however, he was very clear in the fact that Congress is inhibiting America’s potential to be a “global leader” and a “reliable partner.” Dempsey spoke of a prospective shift in defense strategy that would include eliminating unnecessary weapons and recognizing, with funds, that diplomacy is the key to global security.
The most engaging part of his speech was his willingness to admit uncertainty. On a macro-level Dempsey was ebulliently confident, but on country-specific questions, he seemed just as flummoxed as the rest of us. For example, our understanding of the Syrian opposition is more opaque than it was six months ago. On Iran, the one question he would ask Ayatollah Khomeini is why he is doing what he is doing. Dempsey’s relationship with his newly appointed Chinese counterpart is only in the beginning stages; implications for defense remain murky.
Many may see a lack of decisiveness as a weakness, but at this inflection point in history I am happy to have a man like Dempsey leading our Joint Chiefs. He is aware of the complexities of today’s world, as made clear by an alliterative reference to bits and bytes being as dangerous as bullets and bombs. At the same time he is painstakingly deliberate, which, at the 10 year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, is a welcome change.
FP’s Situation Report: Dempsey says what other GOs are thinking; Ground forces already operate in Iraq; A Rochester man is indicted for supporting Islamic State; Ban Ki-moon: Fix this!; and a bit more.Gordon Lubold and Nathaniel SobelGordon Lubold is a senior writer at FP and author of Situation Report with help by Nathaniel Sobel, director of research at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Follow him @glubold and him @njsobe4. | Situation Report |
Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge.| The E-Ring |