The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff doesn’t entirely share his boss’s unbridled optimism about the future of Afghanistan.
President Obama last month vowed that Afghanistan never again will be a breeding ground for terrorist attacks against the U.S., reassuring troops that they accomplished their mission as official combat operations came to an end.
But Gen. Martin E. Dempsey on Sunday distanced himself from that statement.
“You’d have to ask the president how he could say that,” Gen. Dempsey said on “Fox News Sunday” when asked how the president could be sure Afghanistan won’t again become a safe haven for terrorist groups such as al Qaeda.
Mr. Obama made the remarks during a Christmas Day address to troops stationed in Hawaii. The president long has cast the Afghanistan War as a worthy fight and one critical to U.S. foreign policy moving forward, as opposed to the Iraq War, which he has characterized as a mistake.
“Because of the extraordinary service of the men and women in the armed forces, Afghanistan has a chance to rebuild its own country. We are safer. It’s not going to be a source of terrorist attacks again,” Mr. Obama told the troops.
Gen. Dempsey made clear that he believes the new government in Afghanistan will be a cooperative partner with the U.S. He also said he believes Afghan security forces have shown encouraging signs that they are willing to defend their country.
But he stopped short of endorsing Mr. Obama’s blanket vow.
“I personally think there will be pockets inside of Afghanistan that change hands from time to time because that’s the history of the country,” he said. “But I think that we’re in a very good place in Afghanistan in terms of giving them a chance to do exactly what the president said. But we’re going to have to keep an eye on it.”
In the wide-ranging interview, Gen. Dempsey also addressed accusations — some from numerous former Pentagon officials — that the White House micromanages the Defense Department.
The charges have come from, among others, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who unexpectedly resigned in November.
Gen. Dempsey said he believes the Pentagon’s relationship with the White House should be measured by whether he has access to the president and whether top administration officials listen to what he has to say.
“The metric we should be focused on is access and whether my advice influences decisions,” Gen. Dempsey said. “Whether someone wants to characterize the desire, the almost insatiable appetite for information about complex issues as micromanaging, they can have at it. But for me, the metric is access and advice.”
Still, he acknowledged the criticism in a tongue-in-cheek way when first asked the question.
“If you’re asking me if I’m being micromanaged, I don’t know. I’d better go check with the White House before I answer that question,” he said.