Dempsey, whom President Obama will nominate on Monday to be chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff, killed the war game in 2009. He replaced it the next year with a series of seminars devoted to producing more flexible and free-thinking officers at all levels.
“Marty believed a good leader could succeed and rise above concepts [of war] and military doctrine,” said retired Maj. Gen. David Fastabend, who served with Dempsey in Iraq. “For him it is all about leadership.”
Dempsey was sworn in as Army chief of staff only last month, but will give up that position in the fall when Adm. Mike Mullen, the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retires. Gen. Ray Odierno, who commanded troops in Iraq from 2008 to 2010, is expected to take over as Army chief. Both positions require Senate confirmation.
In choosing Dempsey for the military’s top job, Obama has selected an officer who in many ways is the polar opposite of Gen. James E. Cartwright, a favorite of the president who was long presumed to be the front-runner for the position. Obama decided on Dempsey only in the past two weeks.
Cartwright, a Marine fighter pilot, is known inside the Pentagon as a tech-savvy introvert who has spent much of the last decade working to ensure that the military is prepared for the next big war. He’s made himself into an expert in cyber and nuclear warfare.
Dempsey has spent much of the last decade leading troops in a messy, low-tech war in Iraq and is deeply skeptical of technology’s ability to alter the basic nature of combat.
“We operate where our enemies, indigenous populations, culture, politics, and religion intersect and where the fog and friction of war persists,” he wrote recently in the introduction to the Army’s main operating concept.
Critics complain that Dempsey has not pushed the Army to think hard enough about how future wars might differ from Iraq and Afghanistan. His outlook, however, reflects the dominant thinking within the Army’s officer corps and the viewpoint of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who has complained that the Pentagon tends to focus on preparing for the next war, a condition he termed “nexwaritis.”
Among his fellow generals, Dempsey is well respected and known as an extrovert, prone to grabbing the microphone and belting out Frank Sinatra standards at formal Army social events.
Dempsey’s convivial nature and close relationships with fellow generals will be tested as the Pentagon confronts a future that likely includes big defense spending cuts and a contentious debate over how best to end the war in Afghanistan.