By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 7, 2013 – Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed events in the Middle East and U.S. troop issues during an interview broadcast today but recorded July 3 with Candy Crowley for CNN’s State of the Union news program.
Dempsey answered questions about recent events in Egypt, the ongoing civil war in Syria and the situation in Afghanistan.
Dempsey, who has served at length in the Middle East during his military career, called Egypt a great country and a cornerstone of the region.
“It’s got an incredible history and culture and the world needs Egypt to be stable,” the chairman said, adding that what the Egyptians want to do with their government “is for them to decide, and I mean that sincerely.”
He added, “As a student of that part of the world and someone who lived in the region for most of the last 10 years -- what we’re seeing is that democracy takes a while to stick.”
Turning to Syria, where civil war has raged since March 2011, killing tens of thousands and displacing millions, Dempsey said the United States is contributing hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance and working closely with partners in the region.
Dempsey said he tries to see the broader picture with regard to the situation in Syria.
“This is an issue that extends from Beirut to Damascus to Baghdad, and in fact over the last six months the levels of violence in both Lebanon and Baghdad have been alarmingly high,” he explained.
Events in Syria reflect a regional issue, Dempsey added, that’s related “to a competition at best and a conflict at worst between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam, and it’s been hijacked at some level on both sides by extremists -- al-Qaida on one side and Lebanese Hezbollah and others on the other side.”
It’s not a simple matter of stopping the fighting in Syria by introducing any particular U.S. capability, the chairman said, pointing out that “this is about a 10-year issue and if we fail to think about it as a 10-year regional issue we could make some mistakes.”
Dempsey said he’s not making predictions about how long President Bashar al-Assad will stay or not stay in Syria.
“I’m suggesting that the underlying causes of the conflict as I have just described them will persist for 10 years,” he said.
Turning to Afghanistan, Dempsey said the International Security Assistance Force has another 18 months to get Afghanistan’s security forces where they need to be to maintain a stable security platform.
The ISAF is slated to disband at the end of 2014 when its combat mission in Afghanistan ends. NATO will then train, advise and assist Afghanistan’s security forces.
“I think that we will get the Afghan security forces to a point where they will be able to provide security generally across the country. But there will be pockets of resistance,” Dempsey said.
“The problem,” he added, “is that I can’t speak with much optimism at this point about the other factors of governance, be they economic or political. They have to keep pace. And we will know because … there are elections scheduled for early ’14.”
Asked about whether it will be difficult to bring adversaries like the Taliban into the Afghanistan peace process, Dempsey answered with an example from another war.
“It is always difficult to think about the losses that we’ve suffered and the idea that at some point we would find reconciliation with [the Taliban], but I’m mindful of the fact that all wars end with some level of political reconciliation,” he said.
Dempsey recalled that his Vietnamese counterpart joined him for dinner in his quarters last week.
“Outside we flew their flag next to our flag. I was almost unnerved by it because I went into West Point during the Vietnam War preparing to go fight in Vietnam. And here we are now, some years later, and they are seeking to become much closer partners with us,” the chairman said.
“I think there are several flavors of Taliban,” he continued. “I think there are some who are reconcilable and undoubtedly some who are not. So long as we can have enough precision in the way we reach out to them, then I won’t have … concerns about whether our sacrifices would somehow be undermined.”
Turning to issues facing U.S. troops, Dempsey said the American people have been extraordinary in their appreciation of the military’s contribution to the nation over the past decade.
“After every conflict there’s a period of time when the nation decides what it will think of the veterans of that conflict,” the chairman said, adding that now is the time to start thinking about the image this generation’s men and women warriors deserve.
“If I do have a worry,” Dempsey said, “it’s that this generation of veterans may be seen as somehow victims because a great many things have manifested themselves -- post-traumatic stress syndrome, rising rates of suicide, rising divorce rates, sexual assault.
“So I don’t want to have this generation’s young men and women, the warriors, seen as victims somehow,” he continued. “This conflict has been a source of strength as well for many veterans.”
Dempsey also said he’d “like the American people to give veterans opportunities -- not as a handout but rather to recognize what they might bring to the workplace, what they might bring to their communities.”