Foreign and Defense Policy

General Dempsey retreats

Writing today in the Wall Street Journal’s “Washington Wire,” Adam Entous noted that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, had “raised eyebrows earlier this year with a dire warning to Congress about the consequences of imposing automatic across the board budget cuts on the Pentagon: ‘We would no longer be a global power.’”

But now, when faced with that statement being quoted by AEI’s Arthur Brooks, Heritage’s Ed Feulner, and the Foreign Policy Initiative’s Bill Kristol in a Journal op-ed yesterday praising Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposed budget for saving the defense department and the military from such devastating cuts and the consequences that would result to America’s strategic position in the world, the general has decided that discretion would be the better part of valor. “The idea that I really wanted to get across was that we wouldn’t be the global power that we know ourselves to be today.” “Will we remain a global power? Yea, of course… But we’re going to be providing a lot fewer options and a lot less capacity.”

Well, of course, by General Dempsey’s new standard, Chile could be a world power, placing one ship, one plane, and one platoon on each of the six continents. I suppose we’ll now get into a debate about just what it means to be a global power—the strategic equivalent of Bill Clinton’s famous line of “it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Moreover, the timing of General Dempsey’s retraction is just a bit suspicious. He’s had plenty of time to walk back from that statement, made well more than a month ago, but only did so when leaders in the conservative think tank community used it to challenge the White House’s Russian roulette strategy of holding military spending hostage in exchange for higher taxes.

The general prides himself on being above politics, but yesterday’s “retraction” or, if you prefer, “amendment” to his congressional testimony will have the opposite effect; and undoubtedly, members of Congress will want to know why he had a belated change of heart. If, as the “Washington Wire” put it, his previous statement “raised eyebrows,” then yesterday’s “correction” should arch them considerably higher.

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