March 9, 2012 —
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: (In progress) – town hall meeting right here. It’s pretty nice. Hope I’m not holding you all up from surfing lessons or hula lessons. I’m a little late, because we just changed command from Admiral Bob Willard to Admiral Sam Locklear as the commanding admiral now of Pacific Command. So you now have a new chain of command. And hopefully that’ll be invisible to you actually, because there’s a – there’s plenty – (audio break) – I’m going to – (audio break) – see if that helps.
OK. So because I’m running a little late and because I really mostly want to hear what you have on your mind – oh, thanks – make sure that $50 in the inside pocket stays – (laughter) – right the hell where it is – because I want to hear what’s on your mind, I’m going to – going to speak briefly. And I know you’ve heard that, yeah, four-star generals, I’m going to speak briefly. You know, 35 minutes later, you know, you’re taking No-Doz to get through the rest of the event. But I will. I actually will.
So you know that what’s kind of facing us right now is this kind of convergence of strategic challenges – some of which but not all of which are in the Pacific – with also a new fiscal reality. And I really mean a new fiscal reality. It’s not just about this year’s budget. It’s about an entirely different economic environment in our country. Now I’m going to test that theory. How many of you have mutual funds or a bank account that draws interest or the thrift savings plan? OK. Raise your hands. Good. OK now – no, leave them up. I want to make sure I know what I’m dealing with here. So OK, if your – if your account is actually going up, you know, you’re making more money on interest and dividends and all that, leave your hand up. If it’s going down, take your hand down. OK, I need to – get their names; I want to find out what they’re investing in. (Laughter.)
But you get the point. I mean, for the most part – you know, I don’t know about your mutual funds; mine have been like a rollercoaster. I mean, it’s been unbelievable. And I’m never – I’m not smart enough to know when to put it in and when to take it out or when to move it around. And so you know, my personal finances are kind of buffeted around, as I’m sure yours are. Well, that’s kind of where we are as a country actually. And in response to that, what we’re trying to do is trying to figure out how to make ourselves more affordable. And that’s fundamentally it. And in the process, we’re making sure that our strategy is linked in to the – to the way we spend our money.
So that’s kind of big idea number one is that what you hear and feel going on around you is not just the military’s problem, it’s actually the nation’s problem. But you know, what we’ve always done in our history is we’ve helped solve the nation’s problems, whatever they happen to be. So we’re doing our part.
The second thing, as we do that though, we’ve got to make sure we maintain this sense of balance. And what I mean by that is, you know, we could find ourselves, if we’re not careful, spending too much on manpower, which means not enough on training, maintenance and equipping, infrastructure, military construction, leader development – fill in the blanks. So what I mean by that is as we absorb this new fiscal reality, what we’ve got to do is, against the strategy, map it to a strategy. And then we got to – we got to make some hard decisions about what equipment, what manpower costs, what construction, what family programs and how we then pass those – you know, how we absorb those over the course of about the next five years. But we’re really looking to 2020 to try to figure out who we want to be.
And then we’ll use the next – I’m just – if I appear distracted, it’s that, you know, boats don’t pass my office very often. So – (laughter) – although I did live in – at Fort Monroe, Virginia. Some of you know that place. It sits right on the Chesapeake across from Norfolk. And so I did watch the fleet sortie in and out rather frequently. But this is spectacular. I think I’ve said that already.
So what you need to know is we got a challenge, but you also need to know we’re going to figure it out. And we’re going to figure it out because we’re not trying to do it ourselves inside the Pentagon. We’re going to do it because we’re enlisting the support and the – and we’re collaborating with combatant commander service chiefs, senior enlisted advisers. And we’re trying to do this in a collaborative way so that there’s not just one answer, but rather we twist and turn this Rubik’s Cube until we get all the sides lined up – (audio break) – been able to do, by the way.
OK. That’s the big picture. Now in the backdrop of all that, we’re trying to resolve our get out to 2014 in Afghanistan. We’ve got – we’re – as you heard folks talk about the challenges in Syria that we’re trying to deal with with a diplomatic and economic approach while preparing military options should they become necessary. Same with Iran. And I’m sure I’m forgetting six or seven other crises that we’re dealing with at any given time, but you know that.
But here’s why we’re going to get through it. First and foremost, it’s because of you. You have no idea how much confidence we all have in you, really. And so when we’re back there being asked all these questions about can you do this, can you do that, what about this, what about that, because we have such – because we know that the other end of these decisions that four-stars like me and General North and the chief of naval operations and the chief of – the staff of the Air Force make. What we know is that we’re – it’ll get done. And it’ll get done because of you. So you just need to know how much confidence we have in you.
Secondly, you also need to know that as we – as we face these kind of financial challenges and these strategic challenges, we always approach them with – first and foremost with what is the effect on you. We do. And then the third piece of that is as we – as we start to do things, we come out and talk to you about them. That’s why I’m here.
So that’s the preamble to what I hope will be a conversation among us today. And I will do my best to answer any question you ask. There – if any of them bang into any particular security classification, I will artfully dance backwards. You’ll see me do it. And – because of course we don’t want to – we don’t want to have certain conversations in public about classified matters, but I’ll give any – almost any question you can think of a shot.
So let me open it up for questions. Who’s the first one?
Are you a plant? I don’t mean that physically. I mean – (laughter) –
Q: No, sir.
GEN. DEMPSEY: You don’t have much grass on your head. I know that.
Q: Yes, sir. Tech Sgt Sterling Magby, 8th IS. With the cuts in defense and the supercommittee not meeting their objectives and we’re looking at that more cuts, how do we face these objectives with, you know, Afghanistan still going on, with the threat of Syria, Iran and the military cuts that we’re looking at –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah.
Q: -- how do we meet those objectives?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, congressman, I’ll tell you. (Laughter.) No, I mean, that’s my life now, by the way. I’ve been – I’ve set a world’s record for appearances before the Congress of the United States in my first six months as the chairman. That’s a true story. The average has been about – and by the way, the chairman always changes on one October forever. That’s – it’s by law. And you’re either chairman for two years or four. But you always change on the first of October. And in my first six months, I’ve been over there 10 times. Now that’s OK. I mean, part of our responsibility is to articulate and answer – articulate what we’re trying to do and get their feedback and guidance so that they can resource, you know, the force.
But to your point about – you – there’s – you asked about three questions; you just very cleverly blended them together into one. So I’ll give you short answers on all three. Sequestration is the law. We acknowledge that. We have not done any work on trying to figure it out for two reasons, principally. One is bandwidth. You know, we just finally figured out – a month ago, we finally figured out how to absorb the – you know, the $487 billion cut. And we wanted to make sure we had a strategy that made sense given that reduction. So to turn around and do it immediately, it’s just – it’s unreasonable. Now at some point, we’ll be given guidance to work toward that. And once we’re given the guidance, we’ll begin to think about it.
The second thing though is the way I would describe the potential impact – we’re – we will – this first – I say first, that’s a mistake actually – this $487 billion cut, we’ve been able to absorb it and remain the same force we are. We’re not giving up any capabilities. Some things are being stretched or contracted. We lose capacity, but not capability. So I’ll use the Army as an example – about 11 percent fewer brigade combat teams, which means you can push and pull and push and place them 11 percent fewer places. That may not be the case if sequestration kicks in. We may not be able to hold that – we may not be able to hold on to every capability. But we haven’t done the analysis yet. But you can be sure that if that – if we reach that point, we’ll do it.
Our – what we’ve said to Congress at this point is that in the interest of national security they really ought to find some other way than sequestration to balance this budget. It can’t all be balanced on our backs. But we’ll see. I don’t know.
The second thing you had in there was how does that – you know, isn’t it somewhat ironic – I’ll use my words – that you’re asking us to become smaller when the world actually appears to be – to be more dangerous? I’ve actually said that. I do think that the world is – it feels to me – I’ve been in the service almost 38 years, and it feels to me like it’s more dangerous today than it’s ever been. I’ve been challenged on that. Somebody said to me: Look, come on, what about when you were hiding under your desk doing nuclear drills, you know, waiting for the – waiting for the Soviet Union to start lobbing nuclear weapons at you? OK, that might have been a little more dangerous, I acknowledge.
But the point that there – (audio break) – always this kind of rational state-on-state mechanism that had the effect of reducing the likelihood of that. The world we live in today is one where you’ve got not only state actors but nonstate actors. And because of the way technology has just proliferated, you’ve got capabilities in those hands of those nonstate actors that are as good as those capabilities in the hands of state actors. And 10 years ago we wouldn’t have had a conversation about cyber, but I’m personally – (audio break) – concerned – (audio break) – so yeah, it is a more dangerous world, I think. And we do have to figure out how to both do what’s right for the country in terms of its economic well-being while not forfeiting our responsibility to protect and defend the nation.
Now just to give you a glimpse of some of the things we’re looking at, if we’d had – if we’d had a conversation about this 10 years ago, we wouldn’t include in the conversation ISR, because that’s a recent – I mean, the development was ongoing for a long time, but look what we’ve done with it. I mean, goodness gracious. Special operating forces, they’ve grown four times as big, and they’re still growing. And they’ve grown – I don’t know – ten times more capable.
And we wouldn’t have had a conversation about cyber. I mean, if somebody – if a chairman would have stood before you 10 years ago and talked about cyber, you’d have been – you’d have wondered if he’d lost his mind. I mean, you know, you’d say: What are you talking about cyber? Now I say cyber and everybody nods their head – yeah, cyber. And how many of you got iPhones or Androids? Right. Now if I’ve had that conversation 18 months ago, the answer would – I – there’d have been three or four that were out there tinkering with it. How many of you are going to – next week are going to stand in line and try to get the next-generation iPad? Go ahead, admit it. You’re going to do it. I know you are.
And you know what that brings is an enormous – it’s not only content, but it’s access. I mean, it’s a – it’s a different world in terms of technology, and I think we’re just scratching the surface. So it’s – and I’m not suggesting we’re going to trade manpower for technology. We always do that at some point to some – to some degree. But there’s a balance to be struck. And that’s our challenge. Our challenge is to figure out that balance.
What else? Yeah.
Q: Lieutenant – (name inaudible) – from 61st NOS (Network Operations Squadron). Just going off with the cyber – what you were mentioning, with the budget cuts, how do you see that affecting basically our capability to respond to newer cyber threats and basically to take care of the cyber mission?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, for one thing, in the – in the budget submission that we just made, we not only protected the investment in cyber that we had intended, but when went back and looked at our strategy, we actually realized we probably – not probably – we needed to make a deeper investment into cyber.
So there’s a couple of things we’re doing in cyber right now. We’re looking at our – how do we command and control it. You know, right now CYBERCOM reports to STRATCOM. And then as a – and as you know, the National Security Agency and CYBERCOM are dual-hatted. We’re trying to figure if that makes sense. We’re trying to – and we’ll likely make a – take a decision to put a theater-level PACOM, EUCOM, CENTCOM, AFRICOM cyber headquarters at each of those combatant commands, so that you’ve got kind of this – the CYBERCOM with global responsibilities and then each combatant commander with the ability to manager cyber activities inside of his own battle space. And we’re also – we’re seeking to add – I don’t have the number committed to memory – but it’s several thousand spaces – people into that line of work over the next five years. So we’re – we are investing in cyber. We are growing the size of the three things I mentioned – “cyberize” our special forces.
Now you might say, well, you didn’t renew the Global Hawk Block 30, and therefore you’re not investing as you said you would in ISR. But the fact is, as the guy sitting here to my right when we used to work together in CENTCOM will tell you, you know, we – we’re investing in the other variants of Global Hawk. The Block 30 though was not so much better than the U-2 that it made sense to keep investing in Block 30. By the way, I’ve been attacked on this already. And we’ve doing a little, you know, sabering back and forth. But you know, the – if you think about the difference between U-2 and ISR Block 30 – or Global Hawk Block 30, you might be buying 10 percent more capability at 40 percent greater cost. And back to my point, we have to find ways to become more affordable.
So if you look inside the budget, I think you’ll see cyber is well cared for. And I’m a huge champion. I went over to Capitol Hill the day before yesterday for a table top exercise – top secret table top exercise, where we showed what could potentially happen to the critical infrastructure of the United States in a collaborative environment with the Senate, so that we can make sure we’ve got the right policies, procedures and command – and architectures in place. But I tell you – so as we sit here today, though, I’ll tell you, I am not comfortable where we are in cyber. But I can tell you we’re pushing it.
You guys are asking really strategic-level questions, you know. What about, like, who are you – who’s going to win the National – the NCAA tournament? (Laughter.) That – (audio break.)
Q: Sir, Sergeant Hayes, 747 Comm Squadron. What is the reality of our current 20-years military service retirement plan, being reduced from 50 percent or may even be going away?
GEN. DEMPSEY: No, I – well, I mean, I never – I’ve learned in my 38 years – I’m a very wise guy – so I never say never. But I will tell you is that the commission on retirement that we – where’d you go? Oh, right there. The commission on retirement that we will stand up, the going-in assumption will be that anyone currently serving will have their retirement benefits grandfathered. And what – you know what that means. It means that any changes we make to retirement will be made to the next generations who choose to join.
Now – and by the way, preserving the status quo, even for them, is an option, because what we have – what we want to figure out is what will the effect be on recruiting and retention. And until somebody shows me kind of analytically, this is what we think will happen with recruiting, this is what we think will happen with retention, then I’m not going to sign up for it.
You know, if the – but, look, if the bottom fell out of our economy – and that’s not likely, by the way. Maybe it’s more likely overseas, but it’s not likely for us. But if the bottom ever fell out – that’s why I’d never say never to you, because if the bottom fell out I think – you know, we’d have to go back to the drawing board and figure out how do we provide the defense of the nation at an affordable cost?
But I can tell you that Secretary Panetta and I have been – and by the way, not just us. Even – I mean, I’ve heard the most senior leaders of our nation say, you know, we want you to look at retirement to see if we can make it more affordable, but we want to make sure that those currently serving will retain their benefits. So that’s our position right now. And I believe it’ll remain our position.
Now, we are – but truth in lending, we are looking at changes in pay which – you know, they’ve been kind of modest. And we’re looking at changes in TRICARE for retirees. And just so you know, we’re – you know, we’re doing that because we have to. Our – the health care costs for our military in the last 10 years have gone from 19 billion (dollars) a year to 48 billion (dollars).
We just can’t – if – on that path, on that trajectory we will eventually – we’ll put the volunteer force at risk. So we got to get after the costs, but we’re not – we’re not looking to do so with retirement yet. And if we do, we’ll – we have every intention of grandfathering.
What else? This side’s been very quiet. How are you, sir? You have a question? Did you want to ask me a question? Can I say hello to you? How are you, sir? Next? God, let’s give him a round of applause – World War II. (Applause.)
Yeah, and you know what’s – you know what’s great about having you hear, is to remind us that every generation gets its chance to live up to its responsibility. Your generation did, these kids are, and our next generations will as well. And the other thing is we ought to be reminded that we’ve been through tough times before. You know, back to your point about how can we possibly figure out how to become more affordable and still worry about the whole world?
I don’t know, but somehow Americans figure it out, don’t they? And we’ll – we will figure that out. And the other thing is that after every conflict, there is always – I mean, it’s a historical fact, that the defense budget always goes like this. It goes out, it goes in, it goes out – it’s like an accordion. And after World War II it went down, after the – after Korea, down, after the Vietnam War, down, after Desert Storm, down, and after these two conflicts it’s going to go down.
Now, you might say, oh yeah, but that means you’re stupid. You wouldn’t say that to me personally, but you’re thinking it, aren’t you? Because every time we go down, we’ve got to go back up because we get the future wrong and we realize we don’t have enough of something. That’s also true. But that’s – as I said, you can either fight history or you can try to adapt to it, learn the lessons and get it less wrong.
Q: EM1 McGuire from Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah.
Q: My question – I guess first off I’d like to say Happy Birthday for next week.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Wow. See, what’d I tell you about technology? You Googled that, didn’t you? (Laughter.)
Q: Yeah, yeah. It’s from Wikipedia. But – (laughter) –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Wikipedia, yeah. I hope you didn’t edit my biography, did you?
Q: I didn’t – I didn’t. But kind of back to cyberwar and access to information, I was wondering about accused WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning and the treatment he’s received. The United Nations seems to think that the treatment he’s gotten constitutes torture. And I was just wondering what you thought about that and whether he should be regarded as a political prisoner or a whistleblower or a traitor or what the deal is.
And second question about Syria –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Remember what I told you – remember I tell you about – no, I’ll give you a partial answer on that one, because I’ll give – because I was the chief of staff of the Army when we – when we eventually incarcerated him out at Fort Leavenworth. And I’ll tell you about that. But what was the second part?
Q: What triggers military option in Syria? Is it getting a coalition or is it if the situation declines even worse or what? Because it looks pretty bad to me. I don’t know.
GEN. DEMPSEY: No, I’m telling you, you guys ask great questions. And you’re also reading the blogs, aren’t you, because that just came out – I just had to answer one on a – on a National Journal blog site.
OK, so here’s the answer on Bradley Manning. For one thing, we’re a nation of laws. He did violate the law and he will be – whatever he eventually is accused of and tried for by a trial of his peers, it will be in the context of the law of the United States. And I don’t really have a – (audio break) – you know what, how about handing me a remote just as a backup. Is it back on now?
So, you know, I haven’t thought much, to be honest, about what – how to label him. You know, you threw out a couple of terms, I think, that probably you’ve read or heard about – (audio break) – let me get that mic from you. And you know, if I were to contribute to that conversation now, it actually could affect the trial. So that’s why sometimes I try not to – I try not to insert myself so, the – (audio break). And – (audio break) – I am going to – (audio break) – sixth – (audio break) – maybe I’m becoming – (audio break). (Laughter.)
(Audio break) – spamming me here. OK, we’re going to try this one? (Laughter.) Testing. All right, I’ll try this. OK.
But it – as far as his treatment, before we moved him out to – remember I was the chief of staff for the Army for about 150 days. And part of it was when this occurred. Before we moved him out to Fort Leavenworth, which is where he remains, I actually went and – I went out there personally, because I knew this would come up. You know, somebody would say he’s in a – you know, we’ve got him in CONEX container, and he’s being, you know, fed stuff through a little slit in the door.
Ain’t the case. I know exactly where he is, what cell, what his conditions are. He is constantly monitored – believe, me, you know, the one thing we don’t want to do is make him a hero because of mistreatment. And he is not being mistreated. I mean, I can assure you of that. OK.
Now, to the other part of your question, which is on what basis does the United States military apply force on behalf of the nation. That’s really what you’ve asked. So there is always – 100 percent of the time, domestic law allows the president of the United States, as the commander in chief, allows him to use military force in defense of the nation – period. We don’t have to ask anybody. We don’t have to – if the president declares that the nation is threatened, the – that the vital nation interests of the nation are at risk, he can apply military force using domestic law – period. OK.
Now, my own personal belief, after 38 years, is we generally get the best outcome and the most enduring outcome when we act as part of a coalition. It just – it gives it a – it gives it a greater collective understanding. And it usually – not usually, it always has a better outcome. In order to do that, if you’re going to have a coalition, generally the other nations that will join you want some legal basis. And that either comes through consent or it comes through a United Nations Security Council resolution.
So this isn’t as hard as it might – you know, the other day at a congressional hearing we were accused of, you know, always feeling like we had to ask someone else’s permission to use our military in defense of the nation. That just – that conversation just got off track. It’s not the case. The president, as the commander in chief, can use force if he deems that the national interests of the United States and the protection of the United States are at risk.
When you try to form a coalition, however, it gets more complicated because then they’ve got to find their own legal basis. And generally, that’s best tied together with some kind of United States – or United Nations Security Council resolution.
OK, what else? And I don’t know – you know, you ought to go get your master’s degree in political science.
Q: Good afternoon, sir. I’m – (name inaudible) – Pearl Harbor Navy Shipyard and IMF. My question is, with the economy and the budget, how is this affecting new commissioning, new construction, decommissioning and deployment length of our naval vessels. And specifically I’m curious about submarines.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Submarines in our – well, in the – what we call the emerging defense strategy, you’ve heard it also referred to as strategic guidance. But in our new strategy – I’ll call it what it is – in our new strategy what we identified, as you’ve heard it described as a rebalancing to the Pacific.
You know, we never left the Pacific, so we’re not pivoting to go back – a rebalancing to the Pacific. And of course, when you – when you start to establish your priority in that theater in particular, this theater, it becomes a maritime and aviation-heavy theater, I mean, just because of the tyranny of distance and water. I mean, want do I have to tell you that for?
The other thing about submarines in particular are – is they really are our asymmetric advantage. They are – they are one of, I would say, five or six of the truly asymmetric – that is to say, we are so much better than everybody else in the world at this, that it’s a huge advantage for us. And so we did make some production line, you know, shifts to the right, but the submarine – the commitment to the submarine, not only as part of the triad – the nuclear triad – but also as part of surveillance, reconnaissance, attack – (audio break) – it’s there, and will remain there.
Q: Sir, Ensign William Tessmann, USS Chung-Hoon. Branching off on the funding side, has there been any consideration in taking a second look at how equipment, like research and development and procurement is done, and then maybe towards the accountability side for the people that we’re procuring from, look at like the F-35 project or the DDG-1000 project?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. Well, kind of two separate – you limping, what happened there?
GEN. DEMPSEY: How come you’re limping? (Laughter.) No answer, huh? There’s two questions there. One is our – research and development is kind of near term; science and technology is the commitment of resources for longer term. So both research and development and S&T, science and technology, in our budget we retain and maintain our commitment at historic levels. So we did not take any – we didn’t change the historic commitment to R&D and S&T.
The other part of your question is a lot harder, because you’re asking me a question I ask myself almost every day, which is: How can we make our acquisition program better, more affordable, faster? And I got to tell you, we have – we’ve been banging our heads on that wall for, I’d say, at least the last seven or eight years. And if you want my assessment of where we are, I think we got to keep banging our heads against the wall for another three or four years.
And we got to learn the lessons of the last 10 years. You know, how did we get certain things fast, that actually benefited us and were enduring. And where did we let things slip off the rails? And we’ve let a lot of things slip off the rail. I mean, I can speak for the Army in particular, we – you know, we had the Future Combat System, we lost the Crusader artillery piece, we lost the Comanche attack helicopter – in my view, all because we didn’t manage those programs correctly. And it’s – and as a result, we’ve lost credibility. So I don’t – I can’t tell you the answer. I can tell you we got to figure it out.
Q: Sergeant Littledale from the 792nd Intel Support Squadron. I was wondering with the change in leadership in Korea, is there going to be any type of change in the relationship that we have with them? Is it going to start to, you know, subside or if you have any information on what is happening with that now.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I – again, let me compliment you on the – on the depth and degree of understanding that your questions – all of you – exhibit here. I don’t know. I mean, you know, it’s probably too soon to tell. You know that right now the Republic of Korea, our allies, are taking a stance that is trying to maintain stability while also trying to understand where Kim Jong Un is going to take his country. And we’re – because they’re our allies and because that’s their approach, we are committed to following suit. And so that’s kind of our process now. You’ve probably read there’s a new round of talks that appear to be – you know, appear to be a good positive step, but we’ve taken this step in the past. And in some cases – and in fact, in every previous case, it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to. So you know, I think we need to – we need to do that.
Now the rest of the story is we got to – we got to remain prepared. And that is – that’s – that means staying closely aligned with our South Korean partners and continuing to exercise with them, continuing to refine our planning, continuing to commit, you know, to the things that will make us militarily prepared should those negotiations fail.
So you know, I just – I think it’s too soon to tell. And here comes a really big ship. I don’t have any idea what kind it is – kind of rusty. Somebody’s got to get on the side of that ship with a scrub brush.
Well now, I think have time for one more. Yeah. You get it. This better be good.
Q: Sir, Captain Saxton, 613th AOC ISR Division.
I wanted to piggyback on one of the earlier questions. I had the privilege of watching both your testimony and the testimony of Secretary Panetta at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that you were referring to earlier on Wednesday. In that hearing, there was some debate over the question of whether the approval of Congress would actually be sought or required prior to taking military action in Syria. On a number of occasions, Secretary Panetta seemed to be saying that international law was sufficient alone to provide legal basis for such action.
And while I think most of us agree that international support and approval are extremely important, I also know that many Americans are concerned about the erosion of congressional authority, as defined in Article I, Section 8 and the War Powers Resolution of 1973, particularly in cases, as you mentioned where –
GEN. DEMPSEY: This isn’t a – like a master’s thesis – (laughter) – and you’re trying to – you’re not trying to get me to help you write your master’s thesis –
Q: No, sir.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Go ahead.
Q: Just want to make sure I frame the question well – but particularly in cases such as Syria where military actions are not necessarily easy to tie directly to defense of the United States – interests, yes, but defense of the United States, more questionable.
So sir, I guess my question to you is, A, do you perceive any risk to the constitutional checks and balances? And B, recognizing the growing challenges and complexities inherent in a modern world with regard to the role of international relations as well as the types of threats that we face, what do you see as the best answer and the best way to balance the requirements of international law with the requirements of the United States Constitution in order to both preserve our own national sovereignty while still remaining combat effective? Thank you, sir. (Applause.)
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. So you’re going to – you’re going to applaud his question? Then I better get a damn standing O when I’m done – (laughter) – because I’m the one who has to answer the question.
You know, this is not the first time in recent history that – this gets at war powers – and this is not the first time that this has come up. In fact, as a colonel on the joint staff in the Kosovo campaign, we went through a very, very similar discussion, and really it was a legal argument when you come right down to it. And I’m not sure it was ever resolved to anyone’s satisfaction to tell you the truth.
But you know, I mean, that’s OK. I mean, the one thing nobody disagrees with is that the president as the commander in chief, when the nation is threatened, can act. Nobody disputes that. The question gets – you said it yourself – the question gets a little hazier when there’s not a direct linkage to vital national security interests, when you might be acting on – in a – in a sense for humanitarian purposes or acting on behalf of another nation. And the Congress has rightly – in my view, rightly said when you – you know, when that happens, you need to be in consultation with us.
They’ve got a – here’s the best part about being the chairman is I wear the uniform, I’m apolitical and I am responsible for one thing and that is I provide options – military options – and I provide advice. And when I provide options, I articulate risk. And so what I’ll say is here’s what we can do. And by the way, we can do almost anything. That actually makes the – that makes the – actually that’s what makes the conversation so tough, politically – not for me, but for them – because we can do almost anything. The question is not can we, most of the time, it’s should we? And it’s in the should we part that they go back and forth. But the best thing for me is that that is very clearly a question that has to be answered by the two branches of the government, the executive branch and the legislative branch.
So I – and I have studied it and tried to understand it in the same way that you are. At this point in time and in my position, I’m able to give that advice with what I believe to be a fairly sophisticated understanding of that. And in – and when I articulate risk, generally part of the risk assessment that I provide is, you know, we need to make sure we understand on what basis we’re doing this, because it’s a matter of keeping faith with the American people. But that’s out of my lane actually – thankfully out of my lane.
OK. Thanks very much. But look, let me tell you – let me tell you how much – I just – there is – and I’m getting yanked out of here, by the way – there’s another storm coming in, and if I don’t get out ahead of it, I don’t know where you live, but I’m coming over for dinner. (Laughter.) So on that small chance that you w(END)
ouldn’t like to have me over for dinner, I probably need to get out of your hair.
But I want to thank you for your service. I can’t – I’m telling you – you know, 38 years and the one thing I – every morning – I’m not making this up – every morning I get up, I know exactly when I will end my service because it’s legislated. And every day I get up and realize it’s one day less that I have the opportunity to put on this uniform. And I – it’s a really strange feeling actually to know that there’ll be a point at which I can’t serve, and it’s all I’ve ever done. And putting on the uniform every day, I always – every day as I cinch up my tie and get ready to go to the battles that I fight, I always think about what you’re doing out here. And I – and it’s what allows me to have a bit of a spring in my step when I walk up into the Pentagon – is that I’m trying to do what’s right for you and for this nation. So thanks for what you do.
And if you – if you do one other thing for me, pass on to your – if you’re married, to your spouse; if you’re not married, to your parents – and thank them for their support, because, you know, things at – with the very question today, pointed out the obvious: the world ain’t getting any safer and the challenges are getting greater. We’re going to ask – we’re going to ask you to do a lot. And we have great confidence you’ll do it. Thanks very much. (Applause.)