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Dempsey: Leaders Can Make a Difference in Challenging World

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Washington —

Now is the best time for leaders to make a difference in a challenging world, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told students and faculty at the National Defense University here Jan. 14.

“Our nation, and really our world, needs our leadership,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. “It needs every good idea you have and a thousand more because the challenges we face are legion.”

Dempsey spoke about a different kind of deficit than he normally does. Since he took office more than two years ago, the chairman has focused on budget issues. To the students, he spoke of a “deficit of understanding between those who serve in uniform and their fellow citizens.”

By this, the chairman said he does not mean he is worried about the military losing contact with America.

“The American people not only appreciate the military, but manifest their appreciation for us in very powerful ways,” he said. “They trust us as an institution more than any institution in America.”

Dempsey said he’s concerned about the public’s lack of understanding of the military’s role not only in war, but during “the everyday business of protecting our national interests and promoting our values.”

“I worry that the American people don’t really know what they are buying with the significant budget authority they grant us,” he said. “They mostly do it on faith that we are making the right decisions.”

Dempsey vowed to increase his commitment to have a conversation with the American people and national leaders about the role of the military in war and peace.

The conversation should also occur within the military, he said.

“There are young captains and ensigns and petty officers and staff sergeants out there who are also wondering, because all they’ve known for the past 12 years is conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Dempsey said. “They are wondering what’s next and we owe them an answer with that.”

Part of the reason Americans need to be more familiar with the military has to do with how the military fits within a whole-of-government strategy, the chairman said.

“And a part of that is the role of the United States in the world,” he said.

The realization of the power of the whole-of-government approach, Dempsey said, grew from the experiences following the 9/11 attacks.

“Angry, radical individuals, syndicates and affiliates don’t have embassies, they don’t have formal economies and they don’t present formal military targets,” he said.

Leaders called upon the military following 9/11, the chairman said.

“We have been militarily successful and our intelligence apparatus has been incredible,” Dempsey said. “But aggrieved individuals remain and continue to propagate and new, even more complex, threats are emerging.”

The fight today is less abut ideology than enemies attempting to overturn the status quo, and it makes for interesting bedfellows, Dempsey said. Rising powers, non-state actors, criminal groups and religious groups align for a long or short time to change the way the world does business.

“They don’t collectively agree on what they want, only on what they don’t want,” the chairman said. “As the architect of the status quo, the United States therefore responds when North Korea enters one of its provocation cycles. We surge when Iran makes threatening gestures. We anguish over Syria and South Sudan.”

All this means the military must become more agile in the future, the chairman said.

“We’ll have to embrace change or risk irrelevance,” Dempsey said.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneAFPS)