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Gen. Dempsey's Interview on Today Show (NBC)

By General Martin E. Dempsey
Washington, D.C. — SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: And on this Memorial Day we are pleased to welcome General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Dempsey, good morning to you.

GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff): Good morning, Savannah.

GUTHRIE: Well, we want to talk to you, sir, of course, about the sacrifices of our troops but also some of the hot spots in foreign policy today. And to that end, let's start in Afghanistan. I'm sure you're well aware of the political debate that goes on in this issue. The NATO allies just met in Chicago, talking about wrapping up the combat mission by 2013. Let me put it to you plainly: Is it or is it not a tactical advantage for the enemy in Afghanistan to know when the US will wrap up its combat mission?

DEMPSEY: Well, first of all, in Chicago the allies decided that we would--in '13, as you discuss, we would ensure that the Afghan security forces were in the lead. But we were also very clear that wouldn't end our combat mission. That will occur in 2014 in accordance with the Lisbon agreement we made in 2010.

But to your point about a tactical advantage, it can be. But I think that that—the more important document that came out just before the summit was the strategic partnership agreement, which enters us into a long-term relationship with Afghanistan. And what that means in terms of forces and structure and purposes and missions has yet to be determined. But I think that should tell the Taliban that they can't wait us out.

GUTHRIE: On Pakistan, sir, I don't have to tell you the country has refused to reopen those military supply lines into Afghanistan. Of course, recently sentenced a doctor who had helped the US find bin Laden to 33 years. Let me just put it to you plainly. Have relationships with—our relationship with Pakistan, has it ever been worse than it is right now?

DEMPSEY: Well, not in my experience. And, of course, the things you just described continue to be a significant disappointment to us. But we're trying to work through that. Pakistan is an important country in the region and globally, and so we need to work through the relationship.

GUTHRIE: Do you support the Senate's decision last week to withdraw some funding from Pakistan? This is a country that gets billions from America.

DEMPSEY: Yeah, I support their--I think that choices should result in consequences, and I think the Senate acted appropriately.

GUTHRIE: I want to ask you about our troops, obviously wrapping up the war in Afghanistan as well as the war in Iraq. Yet we have 33 percent of veterans of those wars who, in a Pew Research survey, said they didn't think it was worth it. Does a statistic like that bother you?

DEMPSEY: Yeah, sure. I hadn't seen that particular one, but I have been in contact with some veterans who have expressed disappointment in the outcome. But, you know, they-- in fact, you probably saw that in Chicago. There were a number of them that gave back medals they had earned. By the way, they've earn—if anyone has earned the right to do that, it's them. and I think that it's incumbent on us to continue to articulate why what we're doing is important. But I remain committed to the path in Afghanistan.

GUTHRIE: There's no question that a very small percentage of Americans have borne this burden of these two wars. Most Americans haven't served, don't even know someone who have served. What would you want people to do to honor veterans on this day?

DEMPSEY: Well, you know, we often greet each other with "Happy Memorial Day," and that--I--there's a bit of cognitive dissonance in that expression for me. So I would ask people to take a moment of--to take a solemn moment at some point during the day to remember exactly what we are celebrating. And that is we're celebrating our freedom, the freedom that was purchased by more than two million men and women throughout the course of our history and, of course, more than 6400 or so in the past 10 years alone. Few families in America have had the tragic experience of being handed a folded flag, and so I would just encourage everyone to remember that those events are life-altering for those people and we owe them a great deal. In fact, as Vice President Biden said at West Point, we owe them a debt that we'll never truly be able to repay them.

GUTHRIE: And, sir, I know you write a letter to the families of every single fallen service member. It's a pleasure to have you on our show this morning with that perspective. Thank you.

DEMPSEY: Thank you.

GUTHRIE: All right.

PETER ALEXANDER: An important day to say thanks to a lot of soldiers that you see. Rolling Thunder through DC. Had a chance to meet some of those members. Important day across this country. We want to get a...

GUTHRIE: You get a lump in your throat for sure.

ALEXANDER: You do, indeed.