Open Letter: General Dempsey

Dear General Dempsey,

I address this to you in the context of great respect for your service. But, General Dempsey, you’re looking very uncomfortable these days; perhaps even conflicted. I’m sure you’re telling the truth, I’m also sure you’re not telling the whole truth relying on narrow, careful answers to the questions that have been put to you. You seem caught between a rock and a White House.

I appreciate and value you’re sense of loyalty to the President, I also value your clear commitment to civilian authority over the military; a cornerstone of our democracy and a significant part of what has made us great. I am left with a sense of your absolute loyalty to that idea. I also sense great frustration.

You and your commanders have been overruled at least five times, that we know of, by a man with no military experience, a man guided not by strategic imperatives and an understanding of tactics but by the politics of the moment. General, you and I both know that the single most significant frustration of the American fighting man or woman is politicians. It’s hard to imagine you don’t share the frustration.

Seems like every time you speak to or hint at the truth the White House rolls it back. On August 21st at a press briefing you and Secretary Hagel spoke candidly about the ISIS threat and the White House spin began, this week it was a Congressional hearing; they’re still spinning your testimony as well as General Odierno’s comments.

Did you cringe when Secretary of State Kerry suggested that Iran play a role in the ISIS situation? Does the political spin have you spinning as well?

General, I believe you know better than most that a tepid beginning to a serious conflict, a beginning that is not about military imperatives and cohesive strategy but about politics always limits options and always costs more lives in the end. Perhaps you are a fan of Churchill; you may recall his missive;

“One ought never to turn ones back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half.”

The President failed to execute a Status of Forces agreement, failed to accept recommendations for the Afghan surge while announcing a departure date, insisted on highly restrictive rules of engagement, now he, once again, tells the enemy what he will and won’t do. Surly you know such a consistently weak approach will be paid for in the future. It will be paid with the lives of your solders. The lives of the men and women you lead! Does that lesson of history keep you awake at night?

The question is how do you view your ultimate point of loyalty? Is it the President, the Constitution or is it the men and women you lead? Is it to us? You must know that you have the power to stop this madness; to slap your stars down on the President’s desk and resign in protest. Tell us the full truth as you view it. Yes, it would create a crisis for the President, no doubt, but it would also answer the question of where you’re ultimate loyalties reside. It would also illuminate realities that outside of the White House bubble appears to be the truth.

You are being asked to conduct a mission that you likely know is doomed to degrees of failure. You are being directed by the President to receive approval for mission details that are better left to lifelong professionals. We have a lesson of history with Lyndon Johnson micro managing in Vietnam, it didn’t work out so well.

I ask a lot of you because I’m desperate for a leader to emerge from this administration. I ask for a measure of devotion beyond the scope of what the average American would be prepared to offer. But general, isn’t that what our military has always given us; you sir, are their leader and bear the responsibility of example that falls to all true leaders.

I’ve heard you speak with passion and eloquence of the fallen; I look to you to speak eloquently of the living and your responsibility to them.