ABU DHABI — The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff has rejected the notion that the US is politically exhausted during his visit to the United Arab Emirates this week.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey also stated that if the diplomatic track with Iran fails, the military option remains and that the US is capable.
A delegation headed by Dempsey arrived here on Wednesday to take part in the Joint Strategic Military Dialogue with UAE Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Hamad Thani al Rumaithi and Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the deputy supreme commander of the UAE’s armed forces.
In an interview with Sky News Arabia, the Armed Forces Press Service reported that Dempsey denied the US is politically or militarily exhausted.
“In fact, it would be a mistake to decide that we are politically exhausted or weary militarily,” the chairman told Sky News.
Concern about political or military weariness has been growing in the gulf due to the 13-year engagement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the coming drawdown in Afghanistan are offered as proof of this weariness, Dempsey said, and extrapolated to predict a broad US withdrawal from the region.
But this is not the case, he stressed, citing what has happened to al-Qaida as an example.
Al-Qaida was a centralized organization based out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The United States and its allies — including the United Arab Emirates — put pressure on the terror organization. Central al-Qaida is a shadow of its former self, but the group has adapted, he said.
“They have taken advantage of unsettled and ungoverned spaces elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa,” the general said. “The terror group is a long-term problem and not one the United States is giving up on.”
Rather than being weary or wary, Dempsey said, the United States is “rebalancing our efforts to build partners, to enable others and to do certain things ourselves — but that should be our last resort.”
“For the most part,” he added, “we ought to address these challenges collaterally and collaboratively with partners.”
US forces do face fiscal challenges, the chairman said, but he doesn’t see that affecting the gulf region.
“We are going through a period of retraction in our budget, but it’s a matter of history,” he explained. “We go through this about every 20 years, and the United States still has the military capability to do many more than one thing at a time.”
The United States doesn’t face a choice to be either in the Atlantic or the Pacific, in Europe or the Middle East, or in Asia or Africa, Dempsey added.
“We have global responsibilities. We have global partnerships,” the chairman said. “One of the greatest strengths of the United States is its alliances, its partnerships, unlike some others who aspire to be great powers, but they don’t have friends, they don’t have partners. They try to go it alone. We, on the other hand, see our strength through our partners.”
On Iran, the chairman stated that although a diplomatic solution to the problems caused by the pursuit of nuclear weapons is infinitely preferable to a military operation, the military option remains available.
The United States maintains a “credible and capable amount of military force in the region so that if the diplomatic track fails, it is available to my leaders.”
President Obama has stated many times that the United States will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons. “If [Iran] takes the opportunity and comes to that conclusion diplomatically, everyone will be better off,” he said.
But ending Iran’s nuclear ambitions won’t solve the problem the country poses to the region, the chairman said.
“They exert malign influence in others ways, to include surrogates and proxies [such as] Lebanese Hezbollah [and] the IRGC Quds Force. They are the region’s biggest trafficker in weapons. They are very active in a malign way in cyber,” he said. “There are many things that cause me concern about Iran, both regionally and globally, that will not be solved even if the nuclear issue is solved.”
Unless they change their behavior, Dempsey said, Iranian leaders will be held accountable for other things, adding that the United States would like Iran to become a constructive influence in the world.
“But we’re not naive,” he said. “There’s a pretty significant distance to where we are today with Iran and where we might like to be.”
With its rich history and a culture that has influenced the world, Dempsey said, Iran can take a constructive turn.
“We certainly would hope Iran would take advantage of those things and stop its malign activities,” he added.
Earlier this week, Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the US military identified the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and Iran as the leading threats of a possible missile attack on the United States in the future.
Speaking at the annual global missile defense conference held at the Atlantic Council’s Center on International Security, Winnefeld said the assessment was based on the fact that both the DPRK and Iran boast nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Winnefeld echoed Dempsey’s statement, saying the US places an emphasis on building partnerships and cooperating with key partners in different regions to develop regional missile defense.
He warned that if either the DPRK or Iran launches a missile attack at the United States, it will be met with an “overwhelming response.”
Dempsey’s visit to the UAE is an effort to better integrate American capabilities with the United Arab Emirates.
The two countries work together on security cooperation, integrated air and missile defense, and command and control.
He said after a meeting with Al Rumaithi that the dialogue helps both countries improve capabilities, “so that the sum is greater than the parts, [and] also so we can make it clear to other actors in the region that our partnership is intended to produce greater stability.”
The better the United States and the UAE are able to cooperate, he added, the more secure this volatile region can be.
Such cooperation also benefits the Gulf Cooperation Council, of which the UAE is member, the chairman said. “It’s not about the US helping the GCC or the GCC helping the United States of America,” Dempsey said. “It’s building a better partnership.”
The United States has a long partnership with the United Arab Emirates and the rest of the nations of the GCC. “To the extent that we can refresh our partnership, refresh our understanding of threats, refresh our capabilities, [and] to not take each other for granted,” the chairman said, “I think we will be stronger bilaterally and cooperatively.” ■