President Obama said last week that he plans to reappoint Dempsey for another two-year term. That makes it worthwhile to take another look at this career Army officer who likes to quote Yeats, is a straight talker on tough issues — including to Congress — and enjoys singing in public, as he did Memorial Day weekend with a silly song about unicorns for hundreds of children whose fathers or mothers had died in combat.
A 1974 West Point graduate and an armored cavalry officer who commanded forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dempsey has a master’s degree in English from Duke University. He taught English at West Point, fought in Operation Desert Storm, was a special assistant to Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Hugh Shelton, and for two years trained and advised the Saudi Arabian national guard. He did the same recently for Iraq’s army and other security forces.
Four appearances during the past five weeks give some insights into Dempsey’s character.
At the NDU event, he raised questions for the military: “Winning our nation’s wars is no longer enough. How we win is becoming as important as the fact that we win,” Dempsey said. He didn’t mention torture, killing innocent civilians, corruption in contracting or even sexual harassment of U.S. service personnel. He didn’t have to; it’s on everyone’s mind.
Dempsey recalled a 1991 talk when Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf told West Point cadets, “I wish I could say that our profession of arms has always exuded high character and competence, but it hasn’t.”
Dempsey not so subtly drew a parallel between the past and Iraq/Afghanistan, saying, “As with Vietnam, negative impressions about our character eclipsed the courage and sacrifices of many of the men and women who served honorably.” He added, “As we emerge from more than 10 years of war, we’ve got some rebuilding to do,” which Dempsey compared to Yeats’s famous quote about “the struggle between the swordsman and the saint.”
A day earlier, on June 12, Dempsey appeared with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in sessions with the Senate and House budget committees.
Senate Republicans brought up Benghazi, the attacks last Sept. 11 against a U.S. consulate and CIA annex building in Libya that left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Some GOP legislators have kept the issue alive hoping to use it politically against the Obama administration and/or as a failure of then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton should she run for president in 2016.
Sen. Ronald H. Johnson (R-Wis.) mentioned the testimony of a “whistleblower” who said that a special forces rapid response unit could have been on the scene within four to six hours after the first attack.