The president wants to take the successful winding down of the war in Afghanistan to the voters in 2012. It will be a tough sell for Dempsey to try and curtail future large cuts in combat forces with the White House switching to full re-election mode.
Perhaps his greatest challenge will be to protect vital defense priorities from the budget cutters on both sides of the aisle in congress. Defense Secretary Gates has already targeted $500 billion in Pentagon cuts over the next 10 years. But President Obama said in his speech at George Washington University that he was seeking an additional $400 billion in cuts to fight the federal deficit. Guiding the White House and Congress in their efforts to trim the deficit without gutting necessary programs will be a thankless task, and will affect the readiness and capabilities of our military for many years to come.
The president has made it clear with his plan to cut defense so drastically that he sees a reduced role in world affairs for the United States and that we don’t need a military with our current capabilities. As Baker Spring at the Heritage Foundation points out, the coming review of defense spending “will emphasize not how the U.S. will more effectively strengthen its role in world affairs but how to diminish the U.S. role.” Dempsey will be fighting a rear guard action for the most part, but he has impressed observers in the past with his common sense approach to problems, which should hold him in good stead as he faces these challenges.
Unlike General Cartwright, Dempsey is considered a “low tech” soldier, who believes in applying timeless principles of leadership to the battlefield. A graduate of both the Army War College and General Staff College, Dempsey replaced the sophisticated war gaming that was being used by the Army with a series of seminars devoted to “producing more flexible and free-thinking officers at all levels.”
Dempsey is “deeply skeptical” of technology being able to alter the basic nature of combat. He wrote recently in the introduction to the Army’s main operating concept, “We operate where our enemies, indigenous populations, culture, politics, and religion intersect and where the fog and friction of war persists.” In the end, it comes down to boots on the ground performing their jobs under competent command leadership.
His critics claim he doesn’t think as much as he should about future warfare and that he is too narrowly focused on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is significant that Dempsey was named to command the 7th Army in Europe, but never took the job because of an opening caused by the retirement of Central Command chief Admiral Fallon in March of 2008. He became acting commander of CENTCOM before sliding into the deputy slot in October. Clearly, the Pentagon believes his knowledge of other theaters is not deficient.
President Obama said upon introducing Dempsey in the Rose Garden on Monday, “Marty, your tenure as chief may go down as one of the shortest in army history. But it is your lifetime of accomplishment that brings us here today.”
General Dempsey will need every bit of his experience and wisdom gleaned from a “lifetime of accomplishment” if he is to guide the president and the military through some contentious and dangerous times.
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