Washington, D.C. —
JOSH ELLIOTT, ABC NEWS: And as we honor those servicemen and women lost on Memorial Day, there now is growing concern that the US may, in fact, be headed for another military showdown. To that end, we are joined now by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, from Washington this morning. And good morning to you, General. I do want to get to your thoughts about Memorial Day in just moments, but let's turn to some recent events, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who told ABC's Jake Tapper on Sunday, "We have plans to be able to implement any contingency we have in order to defend ourselves."
This occurs as another breakdown in negotiations has occurred with over Iran's over suspending its nuclear program. At what point, General, will a military solution be the only one available?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, you know, Josh, that's not my call to make. My job is to provide options on behalf of the Joint Chiefs and the combatant commander to the commander in chief who will then determine when the current track, which as you know, emphasizes political, diplomatic and economic sanctions. When that path is exhausted, then he may come to that, but that, that's really not my decision.
ELLIOTT: But when we speak of implementing any contingency, are we, in fact, ready to attack?
DEMPSEY: You know, I've got, we've got forces postured in the Gulf for any number of reason, some in support of Afghanistan, some in, in, that have, actually, are in the process of flowing out after our long war in Iraq. And those forces can be turned, but there are no, I would describe our current stance in the Gulf as defensive and deterrent in nature.
ELLIOTT: Meanwhile, I do wanna turn to the drawdown now in Afghanistan. According to the President, again, the combat mission will end December 31st.
Secretary Panetta did say that, in his view, the Taliban had been weakened. However, the chairs of the Senate and House intelligence committees, having returned from Afghanistan, said they were briefed, and they now believe that the Taliban is, in fact, stronger than it was before the surge.
And in two years' time, will the Afghanis be ready to go, go it alone?
DEMPSEY: Well, there's, you know, there's two questions here. One is, are the Taliban stronger today? And I, I would say absolutely not. Now that said, I think, from my own personal experience, I think the Taliban leadership remains confident. And some of their confidence is that they believe that, you know, that because of their ideological base, that they can wait out both the government of Afghanistan, the democratic government of Afghanistan and us. And that's why that strategic partnership agreement was so important.
ELLIOTT: General, we did not ask you to the program just to discuss recent events. Of course, this is also your first Memorial Day as chairman, and you recently visited with the children of fallen soldiers. How does it resonate with you?
DEMPSEY: It was just competing emotions. It was, it was incredibly uplifting to see them together sharing their experiences and, and supporting each other, and it's just tragic to see the, what, what they've gone through at such a very early age. You know, not, very few, thankfully, very few families in America have had the experience of being handed a folded flag because of the loss of a loved one in, in combat. And so, you know, some of us recall those sacrifices every day, but the nation on this day as a body should remember their sacrifice.
ELLIOTT: Certainly, today of all days. General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we do appreciate your time this morning.
DEMPSEY: Thank you.