DAVID COOK: OK. Not OK – we’re still working on the mic. Here we go. (Off-mic exchange.) Turned the temperature in here up to “sauna.” I know you’ll appreciate that.
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: Indeed.
MR. COOK: Thanks for coming, everyone. I’m Dave Cook from the Monitor. Our guest is General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer. This is his first visit with our group, and we’re grateful to him for making time in his busy schedule. He graduated from West Point in 1974 and in the 39 years since then has served his country in a wide range of places and positions.
Early in his career, he was an English professor at West Point, drawing on his master’s from Duke in English, one of his three advanced degrees. More recently his assignments have included being commander of the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad, deputy commander and then acting commander of U.S. Central Command, commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and Army chief of staff. General Dempsey and his wife, Deanie, have three grown children, all who’ve served in the U.S. Army.
Thus endeth the biographical portion of our program; now on to mundane mechanical matters. As always, we’re on the record. Please, no liveblogging or tweeting; in short, no filing of any kind while the lunch is underway. There is no embargo when the lunch is over, except that C-SPAN has agreed not to use video of the session for one hour after the lunch ends in order to give those of us in the room a chance to file. If you’d like to ask a question, please do the traditional thing and send me a subtle nonthreatening signal, and I’ll happily call on one and all in the time we have. We’ll start off by offering our guest the opportunity to make some opening comments, and then we’ll move to questions from around the table. I’ll do one or two, and then we’ll go to Nick Kalman, Megan Scully, David Wood, Stephanie Gaskell, and Mark Thompson.
With that, General, the floor is yours. Thanks again.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, thanks, Dave. Subtle, nonthreatening and nonobscene gestures would be good. (Scattered laughter.)
Couple of things. First I’d like to thank you for your service. And some of you may know that from ’69 to ’71 Dave was in the United States Army, worked on ballistic missile defense, of all things. That’s –
MR. COOK: And then moved to journalism – (inaudible).
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah – and also have two sons currently serving, and I thank them for their service. I think it’s two sons.
MR. COOK: Yes, it is.
GEN. DEMPSEY: This year in history – this day in history, the – in 1803, the Louisiana Purchase, so kind of the opposite of sequestration. (Laughter.) But we’ll glance off that, and just let me tell you briefly about my recent trip, because there’s always some trip that I would describe as recent.
I’m back about two days now from my fourth trip to the Asia-Pacific and my first visit to China. Started in Seoul, went to Beijing, ended up in Tokyo. And I described it as a trip with a theme of assurance to our allies, so starting and ending with our allies in Seoul and Tokyo and assuring them of our continued commitment, and then stopping in Beijing to assure them as well that we will continue to work toward the commitment that the two heads of state made, our president and theirs, to find a new relationship. Now, we haven’t actually agreed on the definition of a new relationship yet. You’ll hear all kinds of phrases used. I didn’t get into the taxonomy of the whole thing; I simply said, yeah, we think it’s an opportunity to forge a new relationship, different kind of relationship, a more positive relationship, but it has to be done in the context of our existing relationships, not as a blank sheet of paper, if you will.
And I think – I think the message resonated. I mean, I came back committed to doing our part mil-to-mil although this will be clearly beyond just the military instrument. And then of course I get off the plane, and we have the other issues that are lingering, whether they’re Mideast issues or budgetary issues. So we’re – you know, we’re trying to sort all that out. But it was a – it was a very useful trip, and one that I found to be kind of encouraging, notwithstanding the provocations in North Korea.
So with that, and in full recognition that when I come to lunches, I don’t actually eat lunch, I admire lunch, I’d be happy to take your questions.
MR. COOK: Let me start with one or two. We had Senator McCain as a breakfast guest last Thursday, and he was arguing that fixing the sequester’s impact on the FAA but not on the Pentagon showed, quote, we’ve got our priorities upside-down I’m hell-bent we’re going to take care of airline passengers while we don’t take care of our national security. And one of the things that caught my attention was him saying that he felt there was a danger that we wouldn’t be, quote, keeping good and qualified and talented young men and women in the military, who are all considering now getting out because they see – they see no future, at least a predictable future, which is the least we owe them, unquote. So how would you assess the sequester’s impact on military morale and retention of the best and brightest?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, that’s the other reason I travel is to get out of Washington and go visit soldiers, seaman and sailors, airmen and Marines and, for that matter, Coast Guardsmen. And so on this particular trip, besides the senior leaders in Seoul and in Tokyo, I also met with military members serving there, and I also stopped, both going and coming, in Alaska, at Elmendorf, and I did a town hall meeting in Elmendorf [sic, Yokota AFB, Japan].
Let me describe it this way. It’s – it is on everyone’s mind. And you know, I found that kind of disappointing, frankly. I mean, you know, you want to go and you want to hear about their issues related to their service in wherever they happen to be serving, and yet what we hear most often now is their concerns about their future, but you know, their potential for a future career in military. They’re worried about readiness. You know, for example, if – you know, if you’re a pilot, you come into the Air Force to fly. If you’re not flying, there’s a level of dissatisfaction in that.
Here’s the way I’ve described it broadly, though. We have a current readiness challenge, and it’s a current readiness challenge because in order to absorb the FY ’13 sequestration target in the last six months of the year, we’ve had to go where you can sweep up the money, and generally speaking, that tends to be in the readiness account, maintenance and training, because some of the other accounts are inaccessible when you get to the halfway point in the year. I won’t bore you with the budget details; you’ll just have to take my word for that. But you know, we’re in the business this year of finding the money where we could find it, and that generally draws you to the readiness account.
So we have a readiness challenge, which is not to say we’re not fulfilling our obligations globally today, but in order to do that, we’re advantaging those organizations that are either deployed or about to deploy, and everybody else is not training or not maintaining. And that of course is a challenge that we’ll have to overcome.
And then – and just a final point on that, today’s readiness challenges could indeed, Dave, become tomorrow’s retention challenges. They’re not there yet. But again, if we bring these young men and women who have, you know, been operating, et cetera, significant pace with significant responsibilities and feeling as though they’re making significant contributions, and we bring them back and sit them, that will, I predict, lead to a retention problem.
MR. COOK: Last question from me. I was struck by a quote from you in a piece by Thom Shanker of the Times where you said, quote, we’ve been living with unconstrained resources for 10 years, and frankly, we’ve developed some bad habits; those bad habits, we’re seeking to overcome – it appeared in the story where you’re talking about your plan to have generals and admirals evaluated by their peers. But I’m wondering, do you think that there are – does that observation go more broadly about the dangers of living with unconstrained resources? Does it go beyond just personal conduct of top officers?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, sure. No, absolutely. You know, it’s not just cliché to say that when you have all the resources you need, you no longer have the responsibility to think. So we are thinking. We’re trying to think our way through this challenge. And I think we will find opportunities to retain our level of effectiveness while becoming more efficient.
But you know, you can’t wring that towel out too tight. You know, we have, of course – even under Secretary Gates, we found – I don’t have the exact number committed to memory, but I think it’s 79 or so billion dollars of efficiencies, and then the Budget Control Act, we were tasked to find $487 billion. And so full sequestration takes you to another $500 billion. There’s a point at which you just can’t do that by being more efficient. And we’re actually now, as part of Secretary Hagel’s strategic services management review, trying to find that point.
MR. COOK: Nick.
NICK KALMAN (FOX News): Thank you. General, just a few minutes ago the president held a press conference. And in it he defined – in regard to the Assad regime using chemical weapons – defined “game changer” as rethinking the range of options available to us. Critics say this – these kinds of statements embolden the Assad regime. And I was just wondering if you could give us your take on that.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I didn’t see the press conference. I was actually in a – in a budget meeting, believe it or not. So I can’t speak exactly to what the president said. You know, nothing I’ve heard in the last, you know, week or so has changed anything about the actions we’re taking as a military. We’ve been planning. We’ve been developing options. We are looking to determine whether these options remain valid as changes – as conditions change.
Now, that doesn’t mean that the – what we’ve heard over the last – week ago wouldn’t change the policy calculus, both in this capital and in others. But militarily, our task has been to continue to plan, to continue to engage with partners in the region and to continue to refine options so that if we’re asked to implement any of them, we’ll be ready to do that.
MR. COOK: Can I ask you – just to follow on a story that Julian Barnes did in The Wall Street Journal yesterday, where you were quoted as saying in White House meetings that one severe constraint on your ability to act in Syria was the Syrians’ – the Syrians’ air defense, which came from Russia. Can you comment on how constrained those air defenses – how constraining they are for you?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. I’m not sure that I said constrained – I may have. But they – the point I was trying to make is there were people comparing our actions in Libya to what could potentially occur in Syria. And I was making the point that the air defense picture in Libya was dramatically different than it is in Syria. In Syria you’ve got – I think it’s five times more air defense systems, some of which are high-end air defense systems, that is to say higher altitude, longer range.
And more importantly, they’re all collapsed into the western one-third – you know, looking at it vertically, the western one-third of the country. So it’s a much denser and more sophisticated system. Now, the United States military has the capability to defeat that system, but it would be a greater challenge, take longer and require more resources.
MR. COOK: Megan.
MEGAN SCULLY (CQ/Roll Call): Thanks. Back to the budget for a second, the FY ’14 request has been called a straight-line projection from FY ’13, but the budget cuts are now longer. And you – and you’ve see this coming since 2010. Why did the Pentagon opt not to make some of the hard choices in the FY ’14 request? And so you expect to send an extensive amended request to the Hill when the Strategic Choices Review is complete?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, as to why the budget went into without acknowledging the Budget Control Act caps of sequestration, having been a service chief, I can tell you that the – it won’t surprise you, probably, that the act of preparing a budget is comprehensive, complicated and tedious. And recall that sequestration really didn’t get signed into law until the 1st of March, meaning when we – when the deal was – when the deal wasn’t made and the – and the continuing resolution came due, that’s when it become – it became real.
It would be literally impossible for us to have done – we would have had to do two budgets, and that’s not possible, particularly when you’re talking about furloughs, by the way. But, you know, the same people that you’re asking to do budgets generally are subject to furlough. So I – you know, it wasn’t by – it wasn’t a neglect, it was a practical matter of literally what was possible for us to ask the services to do.
To your follow-on question, will we now have to submit an alternate budget, that decision hasn’t been made. And by the way, it won’t be mine to be made, but I know that the decision has not been made. But if you think about the pragmatic – pragmatically, and especially now with the news that the deficit breach is now being delayed – you know – as you know, we thought that was all going to occur in July and it would provide some forcing function for additional budget negotiations – that’s now been slipped to the right. So it does now appear that we will live with what we’re living with, you know, out into the fall.
So there’ll be two choices. One, you know, we will – we could just submit another budget, or we would have – we’ll have to enter – if we don’t, we’ll have to enter into some negotiation with Congress on how to – on how to absorb those cuts. But that decision hasn’t been made yet.
MR. COOK: Dave Wood.
DAVID WOOD (Huffington Post): General, there’s been a lot of talk in this town recently about throwing up a no-fly zone and, without reference to any specific country in the Middle East, could you talk a little bit about what goes into an operation like that? Because I think there’s a notion around that it’s pretty simple and easy, but what I know of it is that it might be a little more complicated. Could you just talk about that a little bit?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, no-fly zones are – actually, any military operation tends to be a little more complicated than it generally gets talked about, you know, in open sources because there are things that have to occur. Secondly, they tend to be more risky. And the third thing I’ve mentioned is, you know, at some level, we’re kind of the victims of our own success; we’ve made the very difficult look very manageable for a very long time. So we do have to be a bit cautious about that.
But a no-fly – to be effective, a no-fly zone would have to have several elements. You’d have to knock down some of the integrated air defense system of a – of an adversary. You know, you wouldn’t – although stealth technology exists, to have a no-fly zone, you simply don’t penetrate it, you have to control it. So it means that at some level, you would have to degrade the integrated air defense system.
Secondly, any time we would put an airman, in this case, over potentially hostile territory, you’re going to have to have a search-and-rescue or personnel recovery plan. So we would have to position resources that in the event of a – of a pilot going down, either by hostile activity or by mechanical failure, that we’d have the capability to extract them from that situation.
And third, these – you have to assume – I shouldn’t say you have to assume; I have to assume, as the military member with responsibility for the – for these kind of activities, that the potential adversary is not just going to sit back and allow us to impose our will on that, that they could, in fact, take exception to the fact that we were imposing a no-fly zone and then act outside of their borders with long-range rockets and missiles and artillery or even asymmetric threats.
So, you know, yes, it’s a – you could establish a no-fly zone. You would have to have personal recovery. And regionally, in the area that kind of bounds the no-fly zone, you better have your readiness condition up in the event that they would – that they would take action against the imposition of the no-fly zone.
Q: And then how long do you keep it in place?
GEN. DEMPSEY: We started in – you know, I could go back to Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch, where for about 10 years, we kept the no-fly zone in place. So it’s – you know, it’s indeterminate.
And by the way, the other thing with a – since you were talking about particular country in the – in the – in that region, about 10 percent of the casualties that are being imposed on the Syrian opposition are occurring through the use of air power. That’s an estimate that might be off by 2 to 3 percent. The other 90 percent are by direct fire or by artillery. So the question then becomes, you know, if you – if you eliminate one capability of a – of a potential adversary, will you be inclined to find yourself in a position to be asked to do more against the rest.
Now, none of these reasons are reasons not to take action, as I’ve said from the start, but they all should be considered at the – you know, before we take that first step.
MR. COOK: We’re going next to Stephanie Gaskell then Mark Thompson, Eric Schmitt, Anna Mulrine, Francine Kiefer, Brian Bender, Paul Shinkman, and Howard LaFranchi. Stephanie.
STEPHANIE GASKELL (Politico): General, thanks for being here. Could you tell us a little bit more about what our troops are doing in Jordan? There are supposed to be 200 or so that are there or on their way – has their tempo increased in the past week? And do you plan to send more? And just quickly, do you have any more information on furloughs and specifically who will be exempted?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Sure. On – on our presence in Jordan, I guess now probably six months ago or so, we placed a – CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command] placed a forward headquarters in Jordan to do some integrative planning with our Jordanian partners on the defense of Jordan. And that relates to the potential for rocket and missile attacks or ballistic missile defense apparatus.
We also wanted to have in place in Jordan the communications architecture so – you know, we wanted to have a headquarters with, let’s call it, the pipes in place for communications, intelligence, all the things that, should that headquarters become necessary as a contingency, it would have it pre-established; you know, all the satellite feeds, all the things that allow us to take advantage of one of our real strengths as a military, which is command and control.
Secondly, to do some logistics planning for potential humanitarian operations; you know, should there be a need or a desire or a request to provide support through humanitarian issues, that we’d have the logistics piece of that in place, whether it’s airfield access or – you know, all the things that go into – again, one of our – one of our true distinctive advantages as a military is mobility, and so we wanted to do some mobility planning.
And you asked if their tempo has increased. Well, you know, as you know, we’ve been rotating people in and out, so, you know, as the new team comes in, they will tend to take a while to get up to speed. I would say their tempo probably has increased a bit, given the heightened tensions that appear to be accruing around the alleged CBW [chemical, biological weapons] use. So, sure, their tempo’s increased.
By the way, though, we’ve also got – besides that 200-man package, that we do a lot of training with the Jordanian armed forces. We do exercises with them. In fact, we’ve got one of our major exercises with them coming up. So our tempo on Jordan is fairly significant.
Q: (Off mic.)
GEN. DEMPSEY: You know, I didn’t check in today, but at any given time it’s probably something between a thousand and 1,500, given exercises, train, advise and assist, and this 200-man headquarters.
You asked about furloughs. First of all, look, I think – it’s heart-wrenching to me that we’re at a point where we have to furlough our – those civilian counterparts of ours who work just as hard as their uniformed counterparts and, by the way, who often sit right next to each other in the office spaces in the Pentagon, but not just in the Pentagon. I’ve said before of the 800,000 or so that could be affected, only about 16 percent of them are in the national capital region. These are not a bunch of white-collar guys out there waiting to be furloughed. This is, you know, men and women across America.
Secondly, we’ve been doing our best to avoid it. And as you know, the secretary of defense announced that from an initial target of 22 days, we’ve been able to reduce that, because of the reprogramming authority, to about 14 days. And he’s challenged us to keep looking. So I don’t – and I don’t know whether we’re going to find the opportunity to avoid it entirely, but we would certainly like to do so.
MR. COOK: Mark? I’m sorry –
Q: Do you think the 14 is the most squeeze you’re going to get, or do you see it going down to about a week?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I don’t know, but I do know that the secretary has – you know, has, on about a daily basis, asked us to determine whether 14 is still the right number, with the idea that we would like to furlough as little as possible.
Q: Do you have a date when you’re going to have to make a decision and put out the notices? I know (inaudible).
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I think that probably the date certain would probably coincide with his strategic management choices – or his strategic choices management review, which comes due by about the end of May.
MR. COOK: Mark.
MARK THOMPSON (TIME): Yes, sir, Mr. Chairman. An Institute of Heraldry question.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Ah.
Q: In February, Leon Panetta created and you endorsed the Distinguished Warfare Medal.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah.
Q: Two weeks later, a new secretary of defense comes in, there’s a big sturm und drang about it, and all of a sudden he’s appointed you to re-review the notion of this new kind of medal. And two weeks ago, with your endorsement, he came out and basically said, forget it, it’s not a medal, it’s a distinguishing device, it’s going to piggyback on top – so the whole issue of precedency goes away. What happened?
GEN. DEMPSEY: What happened? Well, for one thing, I think as a first principle, I think we have to remember that the challenge that Secretary Panetta gave us was to recognize the contributions of those who may be remote from the battlefield, but having significant impact on the battlefield. So we stayed true to that principle. Our initial swing at this, if you will, to use a baseball metaphor, was that a separate medal would be preferable, and we had consensus among the Joint Chiefs in that regard. And then we talked about precedence, and precedence, of course, became kind of the third rail, actually. And when we realized that the – that the discussion of precedence was kind of overwhelming the first principle, which was hey, look, we really need to recognize these guys and gals, we decided at the request of Secretary Hagel to go back and look at could we – could we remove this concern about precedence and still recognize those who are serving in – around the globe but not necessarily in Afghanistan, Iraq or wherever.
And we found that the issue of a device that could be affixed to literally any medal now got us beyond the third rail of precedence, and so we decided that that was a better solution. Because, you know, by the way, we took input from the field, whether it was through veteran support organizations, but also, believe it or not, I have a – I have a persona in the blogosphere, and my persona in the blogosphere was getting beaten rather severely on this issue. And so we realized that we either had it wrong or we didn’t roll it out correctly. But one way or another, we didn’t want to lose the first principle, which was, let’s recognize these young men and women.
Now as it turns out, in FY ’14, we’re going to have another complete review of medals and precedence, and the issue might come back up. And at some point, we might go down the path of a separate medal. But for now, we think that the device provides a better answer.
Q: Just a couple quick follows. The reaction was so strong, too, when it first came out, that suggests it didn’t go to the VSOs [Veterans Service Organizations] ORother folks before you rolled it out initially. Is that correct?
And number two, if Secretary Panetta were still in charge, would this have happened?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, for the VSOs we – you know, we tried to – we try to collaborate with them on things that we know they have a deep interest in. You know, clearly that collaboration didn’t reach the level that it probably could have, should have in this – in this particular case.
As far as Secretary Panetta, when this all started, when Secretary Hagel said, hey, I think we better take another look at this, I picked up the phone and called him, and so did Secretary Hagel. So he understood why we were doing what we’re doing, and he supports it.
MR. COOK: Eric?
ERIC SCHMITT (NY Times): General, thanks.
GEN. DEMPSEY: By the way, same thing I did when I was the chief of staff of the Army and thought that it was time to put the beret back into the kit bag and go back to the patrol cap. The first call I made was to – was to General Shinseki.
Q: General, thanks for doing this lunch. In its letter to the Senate last week assessing that Syria had used small doses — small amounts of sarin, the administration said that there was a physiological evidence of this. Can you tell us what physiological evidence are they talking about? And when did that piece of information become available to American officials?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I can’t add anything more than you’ve already heard, actually – as you heard, the evidence – the concerns or the questions that are still being answered are about chains of custody and so forth. But I have nothing to add to what you’ve already heard.
Q: How recently did that piece of information or information overall come to the attention of the American government?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Of the American government?
Q: Yeah, that physiological evidence.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I don’t recall actually when the intelligence became available. The – it was a couple of our European allies, I think, who came upon it initially, as I understand it. But I’d have to go back and review the chronology. I don’t have it committed to memory.
MR. COOK: Anna.
ANNA MULRINE (Christian Science Monitor): General, there’s been a lot of talk about a no-fly zone on Capitol Hill, and –
GEN. DEMPSEY: I don’t think we should put a no-fly zone on Capitol Hill, just for – (laughter). I’m against it.
MR. : Just drone strikes. (Laughter.)
Q: You just mentioned too that, you know, the vast majority of what’s affecting civilians is artillery fire. So I just want your assessment on how effective the no-fly zone would be, it’s also talked about arming rebels, but the country is pretty awash in weapons fire. So those two things that lawmakers are calling for now. And what’s your assessment on how effective they would be on the ground in Syria?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Militarily effective – we could make them militarily effective. Whether the military effect would produce the kind of outcome I think that not only members of Congress but all of us would desire, which is, you know, a – an end to the violence, some kind of political reconciliation among the parties and a – and a stable Syria, I – that’s the reason I’ve been – “cautious” is the right word – about the application of the military instrument of power, because it’s not clear to me that it would produce that outcome.
Now that said, the options are ready, and if it becomes – either if it becomes clear to me or if I’m ordered to do so, we will – we will act. But at this point that hasn’t occurred.
MR. COOK: Francine.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Hi.
FRANCINE KIEFER (Christian Science Monitor): Does crossing a red line, whether it be in Syria or Iran or in North Korea – does crossing a red line obligate a military response?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, first of all, you’re asking the wrong guy. I don’t set red lines. In fact, if I – you know, there’s plenty – and in the 21st century, you can actually check that. I didn’t set red lines on the budget. I don’t set red lines on our military activities across the globe. I simply prepare for options when asked to produce them. And so you are literally asking the wrong guy.
MR. COOK: Bryan.
BRYAN BENDER (Boston Globe): Well, two questions. One is just a quick follow-up on your comments, sir. You said if ordered to engage militarily, you would.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah.
Q: Would you still do that, even if you thought militarily would not achieve the goals that –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Would I follow orders?
MR. COOK: (Chuckles.) We may have a headline here, sir.
GEN. DEMPSEY: I think so, sure! (Laughter.)
Q: So even if you thought the military option would not achieve those broader goals –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, look, first of all, I do have – besides being the chairman and the – and the military adviser to the SECDEF [Secretary of Defense] and the president, I’m also a member of the National Security Council. So I do have the opportunity to express my personal judgments as these issues evolve.
Once the – once the nation – President of the United States takes a decision to do something, of course I follow it.
Q: OK. Now my real question is – you talked about bad habits that have built up over the years with this nearly unlimited defense budget. Can you talk more specifically about what you think those bad habits are? Because the outside observer sees a defense budget that has doubled in the last decade, not including the price of the wars. You can’t just sort of blame it on that.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah.
Q: So where – what’s gone wrong, where you find yourself in such a tight spot right now? With a relatively small percentage of your budget kind of fenced off –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Sure.
Q: – is it the defense contractors? Is it Congress? Is it the military leadership? What, more specifically, is the bad habits that you refer to?
GEN. DEMPSEY: A few thoughts that are certainly not an all-inclusive list, but I think in the – in our acquisition programs, you know, I think there’s certain room to become more efficient. I think over the years our health care costs have exceeded expectations in a – no pun intended – unhealthy way. I think that infrastructure – and these are places where we could use the help of the United States Congress, actually. On infrastructure, we’ve – we haven’t had to reduce the scope and scale of our – of our infrastructure accounts. I think we will have to do so under the – under the budget authorities that we see coming our way.
I think that in – even in operations I think that there’s times when we’ve probably overinvested. We make – we might be able to accomplish the task in different areas of the world with fewer resources if we forced ourselves to think about how to do that.
I think that the – you mentioned contractors. I think our reliance upon contractors is excessive and in particular in certain aspects of the use of contractors.
So I think what you’ll see come out of the SECDEF’s Strategic Choices Management Review is that we will have to look at those places where we have most – where we have grown most and decide whether that growth is justified. And my suspicion is we’ll find that in many cases, it’s not all justified.
MR. COOK: Paul Shinkman.
PAUL SHINKMAN (US News & World Report): Mr. Chairman, switching to Afghanistan for a moment, if you could. I’ve spoken to multiple combat commanders who said that the Afghans’ ability to MEDEVAC [medical evacuation] and care for their battlefield wounded is going to be the deciding factor on whether they’ll be successful after our withdrawing. I wonder if you agree with that assessment, what you think of their current state and what’s going to happen when the U.S. pulls the majority of its pilots and doctors out at the end of 2014?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, first of all, I do think that MEDEVAC – I mean, a MEDEVAC or a CASEVAC [casualty evacuation] – there’s a difference, an important difference – MEDEVAC treatment en route, CASEVAC treatment back to a medical treatment facility. I mean, really what we’re trying to establish for the Afghans is a CASEVAC capability. And I do think it’s – it is a matter of great interest. And it is confidence-building measure for any military. I mean, look, we don’t walk out of our forward operating base unless we have confidence that if we’re wounded, that there’s somebody there to help care for us and to evac us to the next level of treatment.
So yeah, we are paying great attention, close attention to that. And it’s one of the reasons you’ve seen us increase our purchase, for example, of MI-17s, and it’s also one of the reasons we’re – as part of our building enablers for them, we’re trying to establish field hospitals at key regional nodes around the country as well as building up their own medical specialist and combat lifesaver capability.
So sure, I think that is a key factor in how confident they will be. And with about – you know, a little less than two years now to go, the assessments that I have and my personal observations suggest that we’ll be able to make it and have them in a position where they can do most of that, if not all of it, themselves when they have to.
To your point about, you know, that will they be able to take up this responsibility – you know, I – Paktika province is a great example for me. I mean, you – there’s – as you know, there’s – you know, a large percentage of the violence in Afghanistan normally occurs in a handful of districts and provinces. And those districts and provinces probably provide a glimpse of what’s possible in the future. What I mean by that is even in Paktika province today, the urban areas are generally under control; urban village, you know, towns, if you will, are generally under control of the Afghan security forces. A lot of the space in between may not – is contested. And I think that probably for the foreseeable future well beyond ’14, that will be the case in some of these districts and provinces.
The question will become, can the central government, through the Afghan security forces, when it chooses to, impose its will on that part of the – of Afghanistan that may remain contested?
So if the metric of success is, you know, can the Taliban raise their Taliban flag over a particular district center – if that’s the measure, we’re going to be disappointed. But if the Afghan central government, having seen that flag raised over the district center, can reimpose itself and resecure it on behalf of the central government of Afghanistan, then I think we’re onto something that’s probably sustainable over time. But that’s kind of my observation today, 20 months or so from the end of ’14.
MR. COOK: Alexis.
ALEXIS SIMENDINGER (Real Clear Politics): General, two quick questions –
MR. COOK: Can you speak up a little, Alexis, for the –
Q: – just to follow up with the question that you were just asked, to what extent do you see the reports of the U.S. money going to the Karzai government as an impediment to what it is that you’re trying to accomplish there?
And the second question is I just came from the president’s news conference where he said that he was looking back in a way to close Guantanamo, that he saw this as an impediment to doing that. My question to you is, how do you imagine that he might be able to help with the impediment if indeed it’s Congress? Can you help with that endeavor in Guantanamo?
GEN. DEMPSEY: OK, on the – on the first – what was the first one again?
Q: Karzai –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Oh, yeah, Karzai and money. Well, first of all, the money that the department, DOD, generally controls is the Afghan Security Forces Fund and some degree of CERP, the Commanders Emergency Response Program. And so I won’t speak about the money that other agencies might be dispensing in Afghanistan. I think, though, to answer your question, can sometimes our money be – you know, create dependencies? Sure, absolutely, which is why, over time, we’ve tried to dial back the Afghan Security Forces Fund, and we’ve tried to dial back CERP so that the central government of Iraq (sic: Afghanistan) would take more responsibility. But I do – you know, whoever is dispensing money in any of these missions, whether it formerly was Iraq or now Afghanistan, you do have to be careful that over time you don’t create dependencies.
OK, great. On Guantanamo: You know my responsibilities in Guantanamo are the safe and secure operation of the facility. And until that mission is no longer given to me, that’s what we’ll continue to do. I’m not sure I can help on Capitol Hill with the issue of whether Guantanamo should stay open or closed. I’m sure I’ll be asked, but my mission is to – is to secure it and provide a safe operating environment not only for the detainees but for the soldiers that oversee them until such time as it’s no longer there.
Q: What do you mean you can’t help? I’m not sure I understand.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well how – what would you like me to do?
Q: Well, I’m just saying, if Congress is concerned about other options, you’re saying you cannot help persuade them that there are other options?
GEN. DEMPSEY: What I’m suggesting is, it’s not my role to find other options.
Q: So you would wait for instructions from – (inaudible) – to do that?
GEN. DEMPSEY: I will – as long as Guantanamo is open, we’ll secure it and provide a safe operating environment. And that’s really I can say about it.
MR. COOK: We’ve got about 19 minutes left; we’re going to go next to Howard LaFranchi under the eagle – and the table – (inaudible) – Jamie Weinstein, Tom Vanden Brook, and we’ll close with Karen DeYoung. Howard?
HOWARD LaFRANCHI (Christian Science Monitor): Yeah, General, thanks for doing this. The Iranian foreign minister said that Iran also considers use of chemical weapons a red line, and at least perhaps implied that they might get involved or more involved in Syria if there was some proven use of chemical weapons. I’m wondering, how does that change your calculation, or how does that affect your calculation of what measures you might recommend or what the U.S. might do if there is a chance of becoming embroiled or confronting Iranian military?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, first of all, I would like to see the Iranian proclamation turned into something tangible, because as far as I can tell, Iran’s interest in Syria is ensuring a safe passage of arms and ammunition into Lebanese Hezbollah and doing what it can do to prop up the Syrian regime. I’ve seen no indications that they’re putting any pressure on the Syrian regime to act responsibility. And I can’t answer your question about, have I considered confronting the Iranian military inside of Syria, because we’ve not yet been asked to look at options to place ourselves in Syria. But as I said, I don’t see any indication whatsoever that Iran is putting any pressure on Syria to act responsibly.
MR. COOK: (Off mic.)
SILKE HASSELMANN (Agence France-Presse): General, did the U.S. government receive a request or kind of a preliminary request by the German government in order to provide them with military drones. And generally speaking, if you would get such a request, what sort of process would the U.S. government set in motion in order to evaluate?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I’m afraid I missed the first part. If we got a request to do what?
Q: To be provided with military drones by the U.S. government?
GEN. DEMPSEY: If the German government asked us to provide drones, what would be my response?
Q: Yeah, did you receive such a request.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah – you know, I haven’t seen that. There are – there are plenty of nations that are considering acquisition of that technology, and that will enter into all of the systems of our government that determine whether – you know, whether we will provide any particular technology as a combination of our relationship, our confidence, end-use monitoring.
But I haven’t heard of any particular request on the part of the Germans. And at some point if that request were to come in, I probably would be asked about my military advice, and I’d provide it. But I haven’t thought about it for Germany in particular. They’re clearly one of our strongest allies, but I haven’t – I haven’t had to deal with that at this point.
MR. COOK: Do you want the next question to be a long one so you can have a bite of cake?
GEN. DEMPSEY: No.
MR. COOK: No. OK. (Laughter.) Jamie.
GEN. DEMPSEY: I don’t like long questions. They require long answers.
MR. COOK: Yeah. That’s right. (Chuckles.) Jamie.
JAMIE WEINSTEIN (CQ/Roll Call): General, the president has repeatedly said that al-Qaida has been decimated. Do you – is that your view and the military of not only the Afghan-Pakistan regime but looking the al-Qaida-bred and related groups around the world – do you view that – the al-Qaida threat as significant?
GEN. DEMPSEY: I – my understanding of what the president said is that al-Qaida core has been decimated. You know, the ideology or the movement has clearly spread to the Arab Peninsula, to the Horn of Africa to North Africa to West Africa, not – and that – and the president’s been very clear that he recognizes that the al-Qaida threat, among its affiliates, you know, persists. But al-Qaida core – that is to say, those responsible for the 9/11 attacks and the al-Qaida senior leadership that have heretofore provided their kind of ideological hierarchy – they have been – they have been decimated.
The challenge we’ve got, of course, is these – is recognizing, as these affiliates spring up – you know, how many of them have local aspirations, how many of them have regional aspirations, and which one of them may have global aspirations? And then to address those, primarily, principally and preferably through partners so that we don’t have to do what we’ve had to do in places like Afghanistan. I mean, that’s where the president is coming from, and I agree with that as a strategy.
MR. COOK: Tom? Right. There you are, Tom.
TOM VANDEN BROOK (USA Today): Thanks. Sir, I have a question for you that relates to sequestration and Syria.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah.
Q: You have mentioned how sequestration –
GEN. DEMPSEY: That’s an interesting combination. (Laughter.)
Q: Yeah – has consumed readiness. Do you have the ability to train to enforce a no-fly zone and a combat search and rescue that you’ll need to accompany that? And if you do have that, are you doing it?
GEN. DEMPSEY: It’s a – it actually is a good question. I teased you about it, but I – look, we’ve got – as you know, we’ve invested in the readiness of those that are deployed, and we’re very well-postured in CENTCOM and very well-postured in the Pacific. We’re very well-postured in Afghanistan. And we’ve maintained a global response force. Think of that as kind of the strategic reserve.
And so if we were asked to do something in Syria, your question is do I have the capability and the capacity to do it? The answer’s yes. But I’ve also said in testimony, actually, that we would require supplemental funding because the issue would be, I can certainly get what I need to do something immediately, but to sustain it over time would require additional funding.
Q: But are those skills perishable for maintaining a no-fly zone? Or are pilots in fact getting that kind of training now?
GEN. DEMPSEY: They are. But – and it’s – yes and yes. They are getting the training they need, and it is perishable. And as you know, the Air Force in testimony recounted that they’ve got about 12 squadrons of aircraft that are right now grounded. So over time, and unless we get our budget house in order, and I mean both us internally but also the government writ large, I will be concerned about atrophying skills and reduced readiness.
MR. COOK: Karen?
KAREN DEYOUNG (Washington Post): Thank you. General, in the wake of the Benghazi attack last September, there were a number of hearings in which State Department officials and also Pentagon military officials testified and spoke about whether there would have been an opportunity to send some kind of assistance mission there, and General Ham spoke about it a lot. There was also testimony saying that plans were going to be made, that assessments were going to be made as to whether response time could be improved for military assistance to those diplomatic installations that are under particular threat. Could you tell us what plans have been made, if any changes have been made, or what the status of those assessments are?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. Sure.
Right after the Benghazi incident, Secretary Clinton actually approached me at a White House meeting and asked if we could collaborate on a survey of diplomatic facilities globally and to identify those that we considered more vulnerable.
This is kind of in response to, let’s call – I think you may have heard the phrase “a new normal.” You know, what is – the question was, is there a new normal, in particular in North Africa, West Africa, but also taking a look at other parts of the world to see if we were more vulnerable than we have been in the past. And as a result of that – I won’t give you the exact numbers because they’re classified, but we identified a number of diplomatic posts, consulates and embassies, where we thought it would be prudent to increase our military presence. And we’re in the process of building that out in order to do that. And some of it included hardening facilities, and we’re in the process of – State Department’s in the process of building that out as well.
Now, in the interim, we’ve looked at response time for FAST teams, Fleet Antiterrorism Support Teams, Commander’s In-Extremis Forces. You know, we have several of these, let’s call them quick-response forces, that are positioned in places in the Med, in the Gulf. And we looked at placing additional lift with those forces, which would increase their response time, and we looked at changing their alert status. So there’s two things to think about. One is the alert status. Normally you think of it as an N-hour sequence, N plus two, N plus four, N plus six. And then the other is response time, which is really a function of N sequence plus travel time. And to the extent we could, we increased the alert status. It has to be sustainable over time. So some of this, we dial up and dial back based on threat. And then we improved response time to the greatest extent possible.
But two important points to make and to continue to make. One is that the limitation in North Africa and West Africa is really basing. We don’t have bases in those places, and when you don’t have bases there, it should probably be fairly obvious that it increases the response time because you’re flying from places like Sigonella or Rota or Bahrain or someplace else. The second point is it is always the host nation’s responsibility to protect our diplomatic facilities; it’s not ours. We tend to thicken the defenses if necessary, and we can do that if we get a pre-emptive decision.
So if a – if we get an indicator or warning and if the – if the RSO, the regional security officer from an embassy, says, we could – we think we might need additional protection here, we can get it in there. But it’s very, very difficult if – once a crisis is in situ, if you will, it’s very difficult to force your way into a sovereign nation over those distances and make a difference on the timelines you’d need to make them. So the real key to this is a closer collaboration between the departments and pre-emptive decision-making.
MR. COOK: Is there anybody who hasn’t had one who wants one? Mr. Bedard.
PAUL BEDARD (Washington Examiner): General, what are your thoughts on the Boston Marathon attack, kind of what that means for our security? And have you and your assets been used in any way in the investigation? And thirdly, to raise new questions about Russia and what’s going on in Russia with terrorism?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I – you know, my thoughts – my thoughts – first of all, my thoughts and prayers go to those affected. And we did – mostly our National Guard, who were there initially, as you know, to support the race itself and who took immediate action based on their training, lifesaving skills and so forth – we’ve provided anything that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has asked for. I know that the intel communities are very tightly aligned with the analysis of it, and that will continue to be the case. But this is very clearly the law enforcement in the lead, with military capability in support – appropriately, by the way.
You ask about the Russians. I – you know, I’ve been – I’ve been out of the country for the last 10 days. So I actually don’t know the degree to which we’re in contact or in collaboration with the Russians, although I’m sure that we are.
MR. COOK: Bryan, you want a quick Boston follow-up?
BRYAN BENDER: I was just going to mention that the FBI apparently has made some – could you talk more specifically (off mic) –
GEN. DEMPSEY: I don’t know that they have. I know that the intel communities, the DOD intel community, the FBI’s intel arm and others have been closely collaborating. Initially there was some talk about EOD [explosive ordnance disposal], experts on demolitions, to make sure that there was nothing else around the – around the site. But beyond that, I haven’t – I’m not aware of any additional requests. If we got them, we’d provide them.
Q: Overall, over time, what’s – are there worries that Chechnya is a hotbed or becoming a hotbed – or is this just a one-off?
GEN. DEMPSEY: I don’t – I think – I think that Chechnya has been a concern for some time, actually. It certainly has been to the Russians. And I think that, you know, if this is an indication – if – this is a big “if” – if this is an indication of them exporting that to the United States, then certainly we would – we would have do the analysis necessary to understand it better than we probably have.
But I will say the real issue, I think, is if it doesn’t turn out to be that and does turn out to be self-radicalization, then we go back, I think, to, you know, some of our internal actions for – in the military, in the wake of the Hasan case, for example, you might remember that we applied far more resources to recruiting, to counterintelligence, to understanding the insider threat that could occur over time because of self-radicalization over the Internet.
By the way, I’m not sure it’s self-radicalization. If the information weren’t sitting on the Internet, this wouldn’t – this wouldn’t be self-initiated. So there is this, I think, global effort to take some of our more vulnerable, notably Muslim, young men and women in a – in a direction counter to our values. And I – it bears increased interest, it seems to me, in the aftermath of the Boston tragedy.
MR. COOK: In the interests of having you come back sometime, we’ll end on time today. Thank you. Thank you very much for coming, sir. We really appreciate it.
GEN. DEMPSEY: No, it’s good to see you all outside the Pentagon.
MR. : Thanks, General.
MR. : Thank you.
GEN. DEMPSEY: There is life outside the Pentagon.
MR. : Nice to have you here.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Thank you.
MR. : (Off mic) – very much. Appreciate it.