General Dempsey’s nomination places Afghanistan at risk. Dempsey is part of the new breed of consensus Generals. They lead from behind only when it is safe to do so. They will likely go along with whatever is currently popular in America regarding Afghanistan regardless of the best interests of the Afghan people. Dempsey will not quickly correct errors in strategy or tactics; he will not remove incompetent officers and no one should expect anything bold or daring from him.
On June 26, 2006, then Lt. General Dempsey, as Commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command Iraq (MNSTC-I), told The New York Times, that the Iraqi Army “will be built by the end of this calendar year.” That never happened. A year later Dempsey told The San Francisco Chronicle (on July 8, 2007), that the Iraqi Army would be “fully capable of taking control (of the entire country) by the end of 2007.” Again that never happened. The Bush White House wanted to show progress in Iraq so Dempsey obliged it by issuing false and inflated projections of success. The fear is that he will do the same in Afghanistan.
Part of the problem was that Dempsey was overseeing over 700 contractors who were performing the actual training of the Iraqis. Many of these contractors were politically connected to the Bush Administration and were hired by the Army due to their connections rather than their competence. One scandal that emerged during Dempsey’s tenure concerned Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions. It was reportedly paid over $20 million to keep track of how many Iraqi soldiers actually reported for duty on a given day. A Pentagon audit was harshly critical of Torres’ performance but it was never fired. Torres then went on to obtain a contract to protect Forward Operating Base Shield in Baghdad. According to the Congressional Commission on Wartime Contracting, Torres hired hundreds of unvetted Sierra Leonian armed security guards to perform the work. Torres was to be questioned about this but its President failed to appear at a Congressional hearing on June 23, 2010. See the 6/23/10, article by Pratap Chatterjee for CorpWatch. Torres continues to work for under numerous Pentagon and State Department contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another Dempsey deficiency was that his Command would pay Iraqi soldiers even if they never showed up for work, which had the effect of encouraging absenteeism. During his tenure some Iraqi units of 1,000 men only had 300 soldiers reporting for duty on any given day. Other security units reportedly had large numbers of “phantom’ soldiers. Dempsey simply went along with these outrages and this waste of U.S. taxpayer funds.
During Dempsey’s appearance on March 3, 2011, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senators Inhofe and Ayotte raised concern that billions of dollars were being wasted each year on programs that were later canceled. [An internal Army study found that at least $32 billion had been wasted since 1995] They asked Dempsey “how are you going to keep that from happening again?” Dempsey, true to form, would not give either Senator a straight answer. In essence, his response was that the Pentagon needed to further review the current report and then further assess and study what it may want to do.
In his May 2011, interview with National Defense Magazine, Dempsey was asked what military weapons systems “might be on the chopping block” and he responded “it’s too early to say.” He would not admit that any weapon system was even a possible candidate for termination.
In his May 2011 interview with the Army Times, General Dempsey was questioned about the U.S. military’s almost automatic promotion policy for all Captains and Majors (regardless of merit). All he would vaguely say is that the promotion percentages are “infeasible” and that some of those promoted do not deserve to be promoted. Dempsey is a four star general. Why did he not demand that the improper promotions be rescinded? Why did he not criticize those who are directing these outrageous promotions? Dempsey’s style is to never offend anyone and never shown any leadership on any controversial issue until it is safe to do so after a consensus has been reached.
Dempsey is not alone in his lack of leadership qualities. On May 27, 2011, Marine Corps Commandant James Amos, another consensus bureaucrat, appeared at a Brookings Institution forum. He gave an amazingly disappointing performance. Amos stated that the U.S. budget crisis and the spiraling personnel costs and expenses “had (now) caught our attention.” He meant the attention of the Pentagon’s service chiefs. Personnel costs are somewhere near 60% of the budget and the chiefs suddenly are now aware that there is a problem! When asked what the Pentagon planned to do about the rising costs, all Amos would say is that it is “time to take a healthy look” at them. He would give no specifics nor was he willing to give his recommendations, if he even had any. It is not clear if he even understood the issues. Likewise Amos lacks the courage to cancel the Marines’ troubled F-35B fighter plane. After years of development the aircraft still has major design deficiencies. It is more than 45% over budget and has been described as “slow, heavy and sluggish.” It may cost ten times as much as the airplane it is designed to replace, while adding only minor improvements in capabilities.
None of these politician-generals would have existed during the Second World War. That was a time where senior officers put the country, the mission and their troops first and worried about their careers second or third. Dempsey has a history of timidity, inaction and failure. The Senate should reject Dempsey’s nomination. The United States and the U.S. military can do much better than General Dempsey.
For further reading see the following:
“U.S. General Says Iraqi Army Will Be Built by End of Year,” The New York Times, June 28, 2006.
“A Failure in Generalship,” by Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, Armed Forces Journal, May 2007.
“We Can’t Wait for the Iraqi Army to Stand Up,” The San Francisco Chronicle, July 8, 2007.
“Bad Leadership Drives Soldiers to Leave” by Michelle Tan, Army Times, May 21, 2011.
“Iraqi Army Headcount Still Unclear Despite Millions Paid to Private Contractor” by T. Christian Miller for ProPublica, October 24, 2008.