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 News Article

People Fuel Military Cooperation, Dempsey Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Aug. 22, 2012 – The “software” of personal relationships is more important than hardware in building military-to-military ties between nations, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today while returning from a visit to Afghanistan and Iraq.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, left, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, right, in Baghdad, Aug. 21, 2012. DOD photo by D. Myles Cullen

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

After two days of talks with U.S. and Afghan officials in Kabul, Afghanistan, the chairman met yesterday in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Gen. Zebari Babakir, Iraq’s defense chief.

“It’s about the software. It’s about relationships,” he told reporters traveling with him aboard a C-17 en route to Joint Base Andrews, Md. “We almost always talk about the hardware – the F-16s, the radar, the tanks. We went through that [with Iraq]. It’s part of the conversation. But we managed to talk about software – the human dimension of this thing.”

The various U.S. defense and service war colleges now have 154 Iraqi officers as students. The program, funded via the State Department, provides a world-class professional military education experience for foreign officers. Dempsey said he is passionate about this program, and it has results. Dempsey and his Pakistani counterpart, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, first met when they were Command and General Staff College students, the chairman noted.

“I’m a passionate proponent of that,” he said. “I can go around the world where we are having some of our most significant challenges and find someone who has been to one of our schools. It’s a great foundation on which to build.”

But this takes time, he acknowledged, and Americans have never been particularly noted for being patient.

“I’ve invested half a decade in my relationships in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Dempsey said. “It’s time. You can’t blow into a room in any culture, but particularly Arab culture and South Asia,” and expect to understand what is going on or be even remotely effective, he added.

This will grow even more important as the U.S. strategy emphasizes the Asia-Pacific region, Dempsey said.

“Touch-and-go landings are antithetical to relationships,” he said, employing an aviation analogy to make his point that leaders cannot simply land and take off somewhere and expect awareness of a culture or an understanding of problems, conditions and challenges.

“I think you only develop a feel for a relationship and sense when it is genuine over time,” he said.

This was why the U.S. military has tried to return service members and units to areas in Afghanistan where they have served before, Dempsey said. “We deliberately started rotating people back to the same battle space so they could fall in to some extent on existing relationships,” he explained.

This must be done consciously, he said, adding that rebalancing the U.S. military focus to the Asia-Pacific region never was intended to be a light switch that’s off today and on tomorrow. “I’ve said early and often that this will take us some time – six, seven or eight years,” the chairman said. “The reason I said it would take time is exactly because I know what we’ve still got to do and the issues that confront us.”

Dempsey said the military must “start shifting our intellectual bandwidth” to get in tune with Asia-Pacific nations. The military needs to develop the people who have the necessary levels of cultural awareness and linguistic ability now for the force the nation needs in 2020, he said.

“I call it the three mores: we’ve got to pay more attention, [have] more engagement, and then we’ll send more of our better quality people,” he added.

Though some people have said the U.S. shift would provoke China, Dempsey said, he disagrees. “I’m of the exact opposite opinion,” he said. “I think the chance of miscalculation increases in our absence, not in our presence.”

Dempsey also discussed some standards of his leadership. He said he is currently reading “Beautiful Souls” by Eyal Press, a book that examines the nature of dissent.

“I often think about how I provide my advice and on what basis,” he said. “I talk about my moral compass, and how I make sure I stay true north – or, to use that phrase out of ‘The Marine Corps Hymn,’ how I keep my honor clean. So I’m always thinking about how do I balance the competing priorities and make the best recommendations.”

And, Dempsey said, he is not afraid of criticism.

“It’s how you react to it,” he said. “If someone comes in and tell me I stunk at a particular speech or I gave bad advice or I was dismissive of a particular idea, if I react badly to that, the chances of them coming back are pretty slim. On the other hand, I don’t have to agree, but I need to listen. It’s really how I react to it.”


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Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

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