One of the President’s most important appointments is his selection of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In a nation that spends as much on its annual military budget as the rest of the world’s defense budgets combined, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, even without command authority, wields immense power at home and around the globe. He (and one day, she!) is the highest ranking military officer in the uniformed military forces. Yet we hear surprisingly little about the Chairman’s responsibilities, his vision of the present and future, his skill set, or his qualities as a person. In fact, given that the US is still actively engaged in armed combat in Asia, and edging closer to potential conflicts, how many readers know the name of the Chair? Moreover, what is his philosophy of war?
Whether you are committed to world peace or the use of military force as blunt force diplomacy, whether you think the beret is a bad idea for head gear, or the new assault rifles are ineffective and poorly made, that military spouses are marginalized, that health care for returning veterans is criminally inadequate, the person with direct responsibility for shaping the plans that direct our forces is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
The new Chairman had only served for three months as the Army’s Chief. He had a Master’s degree in English from Duke. He taught English at West Point. His early combat and field assignments were in the modern cavalry; he served with armored divisions. Most recently, before becoming the Army’s Chief, he directed the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. His selection was something of a surprise. He was not on the early radar of those who create lists and speculate.
What I admire about the Chief is a unique transparent honesty, a clear, thoughtful speaking style that isn’t mired in technical terms or obscure military vocabulary, his accessibility (he has spoken to civilian audiences across the country), but the biggest impressions are his keen intelligence and honesty.
Honesty is one of the most difficult qualities of intelligence, because it requires a wide context and ability to see ideas in action, to weigh goals against results. An honest answer is seldom complete or absolute. An honest answer finds purpose in doubt. An honest answer defines a problem and measures its steps. An honest answer admits its biases. An honest answer makes clear its value base.
Honesty, more than billions spend on force, makes me feel secure. I think the new Chief is honest. He may prove to be Barack’s most important historical pick. Follow the Chairman’s blog, The Chairman’s Corner.
Below, the Chief talks about the US strategic vision at a lecture at Duke University.
The 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is General Martin Dempsey.