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Gen. Dempsey's Remarks and Q&A at the Defense One Summit


By General Martin E. Dempsey
WASHINGTON —

Q:  Well, General Dempsey, thank you very much for being here as our headliner for the Defense One Summit.  I don't think you need an introduction, but the briefest of is that you are the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I think with our limited time -- we have about a half-an-hour -- the most important thing on your bio to me right now is all of your time in Iraq --

GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY:  Sure.

Q:  -- and in the Middle East.  The general was just there this weekend.  And so I'd like to start right with that.  Tell us, what did you see?  And what was it like going back?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  It was very familiar.  I mean, it was -- you know, I will tell you, first of all, the first engagement I had was with the young men and women -- the young American men and women who are over there, been sent over there to conduct the mission as it's been described for us.  And they are -- about a quarter of them had never been there before.  I took a little poll.  You know, how many of you have been here -- how many of you are here for the first time?  How many of you have been here?  And you go from, "This is my first time," to, "This is my seventh deployment."

And I'll tell you, they just continue to make me proud, you know?  They take whatever mission we give, and whether it's back in Iraq or in Liberia, and they get it done for the country.  So that's first.

Second, I did meet the new leaders, to include Prime Minister Abadi, Minister of Defense Obeidi, and then traveled up into the KRG to visit with President Barzani.  And I was encouraged.  But, look, I'm also pragmatic.  And the pragmatic part of me recognizes that these new leaders, who are more thoughtful, who have an instinct toward inclusivity, who are aware of the fact that they -- they're challenged a bit.  The military line of effort is actually progressing.  The reconstruction line of effort, that is to say as the Iraqi security forces reclaim territory, there's a gap in the plan in terms of helping the people who have been displaced, you know, about 1.4 million internally displaced persons, come back to their villages and have life restored. 

So -- but they're pragmatic about it.  They know they've got to get after that.  And I also pointed out that, you know, ISIL, or Daesh, is -- has actually contributed to the success of the ISF by discriminating themselves with such atrocity and brutality, and that one of the things the new leadership of Iraq needs to be mindful of is that as the -- as the ISF and some of these Shia militias reclaim territory, they can't -- they have to watch out for their own standards of behavior or they will be painted with the same paintbrush as ISIL.  And so we had that kind of conversation. 

Look, there are deep -- the new leaders inherited deep structural disadvantages.  And they're going to need a combination of courage, luck and leadership to manage their way through this. 

Q:  You say they're more thoughtful, they're more pragmatic, but what's the metric that they're -- that things are getting better?  Is it -- is it ISIS isn't advancing as much?  Is it we're killing -- the forces are killing more terrorists?  Is it the troops are -- the Iraqi forces are being -- are standing up, the commanders are coming back?  What are the metrics?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah, it's probably -- it's probably all-of-the-above, actually.  I mean, you know, the --

Q:  I hate when I do that.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah, well, it takes me off the hook, so -- (Laughter.)  So it's -- you know, as you probably read in the open press, the -- the prime minister, the minister of defense have sought the retirement of about 16 senior leaders, the replacement of another 10 or so, and they're not through with that reorganization yet.

The new leaders haven't been named or at least their names have not been made public, so we actually haven't had a chance to -- you know, to check their pedigree.  Look, even if these new leaders are incredibly competent and have the kind of character that we think is necessary in military leaders, it will take them time to -- you know, to establish leadership of these units.

So there's going to be -- you know, the good news is that they're establishing a new leadership paradigm.  The challenge is it's going to take some time to stick.  So that's part of it.  I mean, I think they're encouraged by the fact that they've been able to make some reforms.

Secondly, the ISF is having some tactical success, you know, pushing the defensive belt around Baghdad out.  And as you know, the Peshmerga have established a defensive belt along the southern edge of what they consider to be territory of interest to them.  They probably don't want to go much further than they've gone, because they enter into a part of Iraq that's kind of hostile to them.

And so, you know, there's this delicate balance being established.  And I think over the next few months, with the help of our advisers and the training effort that we've started, as well as the military campaign from the air, I think there will continue to be progress on the ground.

What we have to watch, of course, is that -- that their enthusiasm doesn't overshadow their capability at this point.  I mean, they are doing much better, but they've still got some -- as I said, some deep structural vulnerabilities that we -- that we, but mostly they have to overcome.

Q:  You said you haven't had a chance to check the pedigree of these new commanders coming in.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Right.

Q:  How much is this -- is this -- is the U.S. vetting these commanders --

GEN. DEMPSEY:  No.

Q:  -- the way that the U.S. was involved in training up the forces before?  Or is this something that we handed --

GEN. DEMPSEY:  No, although -- we do have embedded advisers in the Ministry of Defense.  We're collocated with them in a joint operations center.  We have -- as I said, you know, how many -- how many tours do you have in Iraq?  We've got plenty of experience with these leaders when they were junior officers or mid-grade officers.  So we'll know a lot about them.  But we're not involved in selecting them.

Q:  So at this point, I mean, the narrative here is pretty grim back in Washington, when you hear about whether the United States will have success, whatever we want to define that as, in pushing back ISIS and reconstituting the Iraqi forces and the Iraqi government.

Why should the U.S. -- why should the American voters in this -- you know, after the election, going into the -- in the Congress, coming back in the lame-duck, why should everyone think that it's going to be different this time around?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, we think we're taking a different approach.  You know, there's two ways to deal with these fragile states, in some cases failed states, right?  You can gain control of it yourself and then over time give it back, transition it back.  And frankly, that's the model that we adopted in the first part -- by the way, I mean, I was thinking about this the other day.  This is my third shot at Iraq, and that's probably a really bad choice of words.  (Laughter.)

But -- but, you know, I mean, in 1991, I was a lieutenant colonel brigade executive officer during Desert Storm and, at the end of that, became part of the stay behind force in Kuwait that established what became an enduring presence.  And, of course, from 2003 to '04 and then '05 to '07, I was in Iraq.  And now here I am as the chairman going back to Iraq.

And this one -- this one is different.  Instead of grabbing a hold of it, owning it, and then gradually transitioning it back, we're telling them from the start, look, this is about you.  You -- this has to be your campaign plan.  We'll enable it.  We'll support it.  We'll build a coalition to lead it with you. 

But -- I'm going to give you an example, if I could, because this is an important point.  While I was there, the U.S. commander on the ground received a request to do an air drop at Sinjar Mountain.  Once again, there's -- the Yazidis in Sinjar are threatened, and there's about 1,300 Pesh on the mountain.  And so I just sat back and watched the way this request played out, because I was really curious if anything is different this time.

So the first thing that -- when the request came in, the commander said, what exactly are you looking for?  And they said, well, you know, we need -- you know, could you do an air drop at Sinjar Mountain?  And here's what we need.  And the commander said, OK, well, look, you know, you have C-130Js.  By the way, that's a tactical cargo aircraft.  It's the state-of-the-art.  They have it.  The Iraqis have it.  Their pilots have been trained.  They have the stuff they wanted to drop.

And as this -- as this unwound, what the commander on the ground did -- our commander -- said, OK, look, we'll provide you the expertise that you don't have, but you have what you need to accomplish this mission.  And so the only thing we provided at that point was the expertise to actually rig the parachute extraction system that would do the airdrop.  That's the right answer, by the way, so that they do what they can do, we fill in the gaps and continue to build their capability.

Q:  So, I mean, does this -- is this why you -- it seems you're reticent to endorse ground troops or the president is pushing for ground troops the way that the public seems at some point to be a little bit more ready to or anticipating or thinking needs to happen?  Is it because it's this formula this time around?  Or is it because of the real history of Iraq and not wanting to send, you know, another -- another one of our -- (inaudible)?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  No, that's a fair -- that's a fair question.  I can't speak to anyone else's motivation.  I can -- I can speak to mine.  And mine is not about the baggage, if you will, of Iraq.  It's about -- it's about assessing the current situation and -- and making -- and focusing on the mission I've been given.

The mission I've been given is ISIL.  It's not nation-building.  It's not overthrow the Syrian regime.  I'm sure you'll get to that at some point in this questioning.  (Laughter.)  The mission I've been given is ISIL.  And one of the things I learned as a -- as a young captain, as my -- as I was doing a miserable job of prioritizing the efforts of my cavalry troop, and the first sergeant came to me and he said, hey, sir, you're killing us, you know?  You have never seen an idea that you don't like, and you're just jumping us around from priority to priority.

And I said, OK, First Sergeant, what do you want me to do?  He said, tell us what the main thing is and then keep the main thing the main thing.  I said, OK, I'll try.  And, yeah, I probably didn't do it nearly as well as he would have liked, but, look, that's not all that different than being chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

By keeping the main thing the main thing, which is to say, what do we need to do to get ISIL -- to defeat ISIL?  And by the way, the defeat mechanism is when the Sunni population rejects it.  That's the defeat mechanism.  So we get asked a lot about, you know, the military lines of effort -- train, advise, assist, air campaign, building partner capacity -- and we don't talk enough, frankly, about the other lines of effort, which include counter-financing, counter-messaging, to strip away that religious legitimacy that they've grabbed for themselves, about the formation of the government and watching its -- to see if it's truly going to be inclusive or not, managing the -- the coalition is quite remarkable.  You know, frankly, if you'd have told me we'd have brought some of these countries into the coalition, I'd say probably not. 

And, look, any coalition is going to have, you know, a little sand in the gears from time to time, as you've seen.  Right now, down in Tampa, 190 planners from 30 countries are working on the campaign plan.  So by, with and through, as my special operation forces brethren say.

Q:  I have about eight follow-up questions from what you just said.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  I'm sure you do.  (Laughter.)  But the clock is ticking here.

Q:  That's right.  That's right.  Don't talk as much.  So the -- (Laughter.)  Well, let's start -- again, with the coalition, I mean, what you just said, I think there's a lot of harsh criticism of here we are, the United States, with a coalition that really is more of a paper coalition than it should be, when this is yet another crisis in the Middle East, and where is Saudi Arabia?  Where are the countries there that we've been -- we've been -- the United States has been selling arms to, training, developing forces for decades?  You spent time in Saudi Arabia, as well.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  I did.

Q:  Are you happy with their level of participation?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Actually, I'm surprised that we've got them where they are, and I think there's -- there's room to expand it even further.  In fact, the minister of the Saudi Arabian National Guard will be here this week, and I'll be spending time with him.  And, you know --

Q:  And asking him --

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yes.  (Laughter.)  I will be asking him.  (Laughter.)  And my preference is to ask him, not ask you, so -- (Laughter.)

Q:  Well, that's fine by me. 

GEN. DEMPSEY:  No, look -- (Applause.)

Q:  You know -- I look forward to the exclusive readout.  (Laughter.)

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah. 

Q:  So one of the things you also said was mentioning, you know, the other -- the non-military side of what it would take to destroy, defeat ISIL.  Does that mean that the -- is the U.S. strategy right-sized beyond -- you know, not just military, but beyond, if -- if we're still talking train and equip?  And as our conversation will shift into Syria, where ground fighters want to do a lot more than that.  They want to fight.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Right.

Q:  And they want to be armed, and armed much better than the U.S. has been able to do so far.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah, well, you're kind of getting at the point of -- you know, the counter-ISIL strategy has to exist both in Iraq and in Syria.  And -- but it's very -- militarily now -- look, you can tell how I'm dressed, that when I speak, I speak in terms of the military strategy.  And the military strategy is Iraq first, but not Iraq only, and keep the main thing the main thing.

Q:  Why?  Why is that?  Why is that?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Because we have a credible partner inside of Iraq that can provide both the structure that has a potential to form an inclusive governance with Kurds, Shia and Sunni, Christians and Yazidis, and we've got a credible ground partner becoming more credible with our help that can run the ground campaign, while we enable it.  So we've got the conditions set in Iraq that lead to a coherent military strategy.  Some of the conditions in Syria are not yet set.

By the way, to your point, is it right-sized, the one thing I always -- when I talk to the combatant commanders about any mission, there's a -- there's a single principle we follow, and that is a squad's worth of work for a squad.  You know, don't ask a squad to do a company's worth of work.  Or, in other words, don't ask 12 men to do the work of 150.  So when you say right-sizing, for the mission that I've been given, I've got the right forces in place to do it.

Q:  And so the U.S. has the right forces, but are there enough fighters on the ground in Syria to do what the U.S. is hoping for, to destroy ISIS?  Or even beyond that, to get rid of Assad and create the conditions for a free Syria?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah, I -- I think that in Syria, the issue is far more complicated and the answer -- the simple answer is not yet, which is why we want to take onboard a Title 10, which is to say overt train-and-equip program, to build that force up to where it can do that.

Q:  So on the other side of Syria is Turkey, and they have been clamoring for a no-fly zone.  Where are you on that now?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Where am I on the Turkish request?

Q:  On the -- yeah, on no-fly.  We heard a lot of noes last year, and it seemed to be a lot more, well, maybe we'll consider it now.  So are we still considering?  Are you still considering it?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, look, I mean, we've got a coalition of -- on the military side of about 22 nations.  Turkey's one of them.  Turkey's also a NATO ally.  I would be -- you know, wouldn't -- it wouldn't speak much to me as the chairman if I wouldn't take the request of an ally and give it the due diligence that it deserves.  So we've got a team in Turkey, have had a team in Turkey.  We've got teams in NATO, because they're a NATO ally.  And we've got, of course, CENTCOM working on that.

And if -- if a decision were made that that were the next step in the campaign, we'd have the -- we'd have the planning done to do it, but we're not there yet.

Q:  So overall, are you -- do you think U.S. -- I -- let me ask this.  Do you think the troops that you just visited with, the military writ large, is confident that Washington has this right, this mission that the military's being asked to do again?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Do I think who?

Q:  Going back to Iraq, going back to this region.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Do I think who's confident?

Q:  The troops.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Oh, the young men and women out there doing the job?  Yeah, I do, actually.  In fact, you get -- you know, you go out there and you explain what you're doing to them, and you get a lot of head nods.  Again, some of them have been there, you know, six times.  And so, you know --

Q:  Well, I mean, I ask this given the post-election conversation of -- and the -- and the continual criticism of the administration for not having a strategy or not a good enough strategy or rethinking the strategy.  And that's -- that's one thing for Washington to say, and that's one thing for the American public to say, but in the military, what's their sense, the troops?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Did you say there was an election?  (Laughter.)  You know, the -- I have --

Q:  This is your last term, though, so speak away.  You know, you're locked in.  (Laughter.)

GEN. DEMPSEY:  It is my last term, but I've learned some things over the course of time.  (Laughter.)

Q:  Notice I didn't say lame-duck.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, you also didn't say "your last day," but depending on -- (Laughter.)  You know, look, let me -- this is probably a good point -- you asked me earlier, is there anything I wanted to -- I wanted to talk about?  Which was refreshing, by the way.  But --

Q:  I did.  I'm a nice guy.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  I know.

Q:  (inaudible)

GEN. DEMPSEY:  So when I think about the use of the military instrument of power, really what you're asking me is, how do I conceive of the use of the military instrument of power in the formation of, you know -- and contributing to national security strategy?  So if you think about the world we're facing now, it wasn't too long ago that we kind of discounted the possibility of state-on-state conflict, with the exception probably of, you know, Iran under certain circumstances, North Korea under certain circumstances.

But we've got a very different world today than I did even six months ago, to tell you the truth.  And when you think about the use of military power state-on-state, you're actually -- there's a good book by Moises Naim called "The End of Power," where he says the real challenge for the United States in the current security environment is that we're trying to apply strength on weakness.  Now, he's talking about non-state actors.

But when you apply the military instrument against state actors, it's actually quite knowable.  You know, it's familiar to us.  You can frame it.  You can understand it.  And in so doing, you can apply the military instrument strength on strength, and you generally differentiate yourself as a military by capacity -- that is to say, size -- and technology.  OK, you've got a tank.  My tank's going to be bigger, more impregnable, and have a bigger gun on it.  You have aircraft that flies at a certain speed, mine's going to fly faster.  You can shoot me from this distance, I can shoot you from this distance plus one.  So you differentiate yourselves in state-on-state conflict by size and by technology, OK? 

Now, carry that logic over to use of the military instrument of power against non-state actors, where there is far less known than there is unknown.  In fact, it's mostly unknown.  It's complex, in the sense that when you touch it, you change it and you have to figure out what you've done to it.  In that environment, it seems to me you differentiate yourself not by size and technology, but by the rate of innovation, the rate at which you can innovate faster than the adversary that you face. 

So when you say to me, you know, do we have a strategy?  I say, yes, we have a strategy.  I've got a 10-page document from the National Security Council.  I've got a 503-page document from U.S. Central Command.  I've got 190 planners down there in Tampa from 30 nations.  We have a strategy.

But here's what I'll tell you about that strategy.  It's going to change.  It's going to change often.  The objective is not going to change, but I'm not obsessing so much about what's in the middle, because the middle is going to change.

Q:  I'm going to let the reporters write that down for a minute.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  What, the obsessing part?  (Laughter.)

Q:  The "we have a strategy" part.  Well, that's a good -- that's a good segue.  I want to, you know, move away from the Middle East, and we do want to talk about --

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Thank you.  (Laughter.)

Q:  Everything has to do with the Middle East, it seems.  What I wanted to talk about is the difference between last year and this year, where, you know, on this stage, as I said earlier, we -- nobody here predicted Russia was going to invade Ukraine and, as much as we were watching what was going on with this group ISIS, nobody predicted what we'd be doing right now.

And if you're talking about this being an age of needing a faster rate of innovation, I think structurally and organizationally, is the U.S. military properly suited for these fights we're doing right now today?  If not, what needs to change, and how fast, to be able to handle a Russia and a threat to NATO, to be able to handle two states side by side in a crucial region collapsing or being -- losing control of their population, to be able to handle Ebola and the next Ebola and the next hurricane season, and everything the military's asked to do globally?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, first of all, the -- you know, the purpose of the military is to -- in my view -- and I actually stole this phrase from General Creighton Abrams, when he was chief of staff of the Army back in the early '70s.  He said the purpose of the United States military is to keep the nation immune from coercion.

OK?  So, you know, the kind of things you're talking about, there's state -- there's states who are coercing or could coerce us, and you know -- you noted Russia as increasingly assertive, investing deeply in technologies, asymmetries, space, undersea, cyber, cruise missiles, things of that nature.  And, yeah, we've got -- we've got to take -- we've got to sit up and be alert.  We are, by the way, but can we do more?  I think we can.

And then on the non-state side, of course, you get coerced in other ways by the threat of terrorism coming to our shores.  And we have actually learned a great deal over 10 years in that regard and have what I think is a remarkable level of coordination and collaboration within the interagency, other agencies of government.

But you asked me what -- if I'm -- I think you asked me there at some point, am I concerned about it?  And I am.  And now this is going to sound like, you know --

Q:  Well, I'm asking about organization, structural.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah.

Q:  You know, we have lots of doctrines, lots of documents, QDRs, Joint Force 2020 all comes out.  But in one year, everything changes.  So what -- what does the U.S. need to do differently -- if they to, I mean, I don't want to put the answer in your mouth -- but what needs to happen next to be the right-sized force, the right-funded force, the right-trained force to do what the U.S. is being asked to, which seems to be almost everything when it comes to global security?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah.  So we're -- if you were to ask me, is the military different today than it was just 10 years ago?  I'd say completely.  It's unbelievably different.  I mean, every service has bent a lot of metal to change its organizational structures, change its training paradigms, its leader development models, and we continually do that.

In my view, you should organize, train and equip the force principally for that which could cause the country to be coerced.  And that means you generally build the force against the state-on-state, near-peer, or peer competitors.  And then you challenge it to adapt itself for these other missions.

Now, are we doing that?  We are.  Is there a limiting factor?  Yes.  It's called the budget.  I'm telling you, I've run out of adjectives to describe what the -- this budgetary uncertainty, lack of flexibility -- that is to say, where can I put the money that comes through us in the budget -- and the fact that we're doing this one year at a time?  I can't describe to you what effect -- the negative effect, the adverse effect that's having on the United States military and, therefore, on the security of the nation.  But we'd better -- we'd better get over it.

Q:  Well, on budget, I think last year, in the FYDP, the projection for next year was that DOD was already asking for another $35 billion over budget caps, I think was the right number.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  I forget the number, but -- yeah.

Q:  Do you need more?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yes.

Q:  How much more?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  None of your business.  (Laughter.)  No, look, here's what I've said --

Q:  By saying more, you already (inaudible)

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah.  I actually don't have the number committed to memory.  And at some level, it's still moving, because we don't have the -- we don't have the '15 budget back yet after conference over on the Hill. 

What I will tell you is, it's clear to me we need additional top line for the emerging and new requirements.  You know, I mean, again, six months ago, we weren't talking about a European reassurance initiative.  We weren't talking about spending 18 months or so in West Africa combatting ISIL.  We weren't talking about -- ISIL?  Ebola.  And we weren't talking about a protracted probably three- or four-year campaign in the Middle East again.

And so we do have some new requirements.  The SECDEF rolled out a Nuclear Posture Review that has a price tag.  We know we've got some gaps to fill in space.  And so there are just some new requirements.  And then the other thing we need is we need support to make the reforms that actually the Joint Chiefs linked arms and said, OK, we got it, we got to get our manpower costs under control to make the all-volunteer force sustainable.

But we're not getting any of them.  You know, we submit them, but we didn't get them.  And then when we book them, as part of the budget, and they come back to you, you know, are you going to find it someplace else in your budget?  It's getting a little more tricky.

Q:  But you've done that multiple years in a row now, you know, BRAC, the A-10, health care, personnel --

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah.

Q:  You know, I start to get the sense you're beating your head against the wall.  I mean, was there a Plan B?  Is it time to try to find a way to work with this -- this new Congress --

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah, the plan is to beat your head against the wall.  Because --

Q:  Well, this new Congress isn't going to give you any of those -- either, are they?  I mean --

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, look, it's the right thing to do.  I mean, we can't do anything other than the right thing to do.  So if you're going to make the military sustainable, you got to -- you got to wring it out, make it as efficient as you can.  And are there still efficiencies out there?  Of course there are.  And second thing you got to do is you got to -- manpower consumes 50 -- depending on what service you are, you know, let's just say, for sake of debate, 52 percent of the budget -- so when you look at budget constraints, you've got to find a way to slow the growth -- at least slow the growth of manpower costs in order to make the force sustainable over time.  And we're going to do it again, because it's the right thing to do.

And then the last thing we've got to do is we've got to get the support of Congress to de-trigger this thing called sequestration, both because the magnitude of it is, in our view, excessive, but the mechanism is especially excessive.

Q:  Well, we say support of Congress and that leads me to what I wanted to ask you about, the support of the American people, and this idea of a national conversation that some leaders in Washington have come out with, including -- I did a panel with Michele Flournoy and others that said, you know, this is the time now -- after this election, new Congress, new -- everyone seems to want a new conversation about how much the U.S. should be involved or responsible for global security and whether the United States public really wants that, if they really understand what it takes and what kind of budget, what kind of force.  What do you think about that?  Is that kind of conversation needed?  And if so, what -- how do you get the American public onboard, if those are the ones who are going to give you the Congress that will give you the budget you want?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  I do think that's a conversation that is needed so that we can break the cycle of renegotiating with ourselves one year at a time.  And I also think -- I'll accept some of the responsibility here for failing on two counts.  One is -- and I've been the chairman for three years.  In my first year or two, if you recall, we would go over to Capitol Hill and we would try to articulate risk.  What risk are we taking because of our inability to build a sustainable budget over time?

And I swung and missed.  I mean, some of it is because risk is -- it's such an elusive, ephemeral word, almost.  But, anyway, I swung and missed.  Nobody really took notice that I was talking about risk.  And then the last year, we said that didn't work.  Maybe we ought to talk about readiness.  You know, we can articulate the fact that, you know, of the -- of the X number of ships, only so many are ready.  Of the X number of brigade combat teams, the X number of amphibious ready groups, the X number of fighter squadrons, only X number are ready.  And everybody said, that's interesting.  And I swung and missed.

So, frankly, I'm trying to decide for myself, you know, how to adapt my narrative to explain to the American people that there's two things happening that they ought to take interest in.  One is, we are going to be able to provide fewer options.  What makes us who we are, by the way, the United States military, is we can provide multiple options to the national command authority, to our elected leaders, to the American people.  We can deal with a variety of threats.  We have -- look, I'm not bashful to say that we're incredible.

And I think the American people expect that of us.  And so we've got to do as much as we can internally to stay incredible.  And we've got to make sure we get some help.

And then the other thing is, besides the -- you know, talking about risk and readiness and options is the effect on the all-volunteer force.  I personally -- you know, you'll hear a lot of people say, eh, let's go back to, you know, universal service and we'll -- the military will be cheaper and -- and as a result, we'll be able to afford a bigger military at reduced -- look.  You've seen the speed at which reaction is required on the part of the military, even just taking the Ebola issue.  You know, we got the word, OK, it's time for you to organize this thing and provide your particular unique capabilities to allow other government agencies to get organized for this thing, and we were there within about two weeks.

We could have been there sooner, but the African infrastructure is actually -- is actually quite fragile and you could do more harm by rushing in there too quickly.  But the point is, we are incredibly responsive, because that's what the world requires.  So if you could tell me that, you know, at some point in time six -- a six-month time horizon would be acceptable, yeah, we could probably go back to a conscript Army and I could generate it in about six months and get it to do what the nation needs us to do, but that's not the world I see.

So the all-volunteer -- we ought to have a conversation about what it's going to take -- the all-volunteer force is a little more expensive, by the way.  We can make it more efficient, less expensive, but it's more expensive than a conscript Army.

Q:  But does it -- does it play into the problems that you have with Congress, are there enough members of Congress who -- whether they have military experience -- understand not just the military, but national security issues, foreign policy issues, because they come from a population that is less versed in those -- as previously they may have been?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Look, it's a great question.  By the way, I'm not blaming anyone for the situation in which I find myself.  I mean, I'm not -- you know, it's not Congress.  I told you.  At some level, it's got to be -- I've been introspective about this, and at some level, I haven't been persuasive enough.

Q:  We'll talk about that in our last couple minutes, as we -- before we came onstage, you said that -- you know -- you recognize the change since you've started this chairmanship until now, this your third, into your fourth year.  Tell us about -- what makes things -- what is different in your mind?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, you know, I think, you know, being a bit reflective on who I was when I started, when you wrote an article and called me "The Quiet American," which at the time I thought, "I don't know if that's good or bad."  You know, now I know it was good, but I couldn't stay there. 

Q:  It wasn't about your singing.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  No, it wasn't about my singing.  But -- but I think when you grow into a job like this, you begin to gain a greater appreciation about the responsibility you have not just to provide best military advice to our elected leaders, but also to stay in touch with the American people and allow them to understand the challenges we face.

Now, there's a fine line there, you know, because, you know, we have said some things that have been interpreted as manipulative.  You know, oh, they're saying they can't send the Truman carrier over to the Gulf because they're trying to pressurize the budget debate.  And I understand why people made that connection, but we couldn't send -- this was two years ago now -- we couldn't send the Truman because we couldn't send the Truman.  It just wasn't ready to go, nor was the air wing that was supposed to deploy with it.  But we probably didn't do as good as we should have or as well as we should have to articulate that.

So, you know, I do -- I do much more now today than three years ago recognize my responsibility to help the American people understand the choices they face, and then they make them, and we live with them, right?

Q:  That's right.  So our last minute -- I think the last question is, you know, the big event coming up.  That's the Army-Navy game.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah.

Q:  Army-Navy?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  I thought I was uncomfortable talking about Syria.  (Laughter.) 

Q:  General, thank you very much for your time.  (Laughter.)  Thank you for coming to the Defense One Summit.  Ladies and gentlemen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.