Gen. Martin Dempsey On Leadership And 'Radical Inclusion' NPR's Steve Inskeep talks with former Army Gen. Martin Dempsey about his new book Radical Inclusion, in which he argues that the demands of leadership have changed since Sept. 11.

Gen. Martin Dempsey On Leadership And 'Radical Inclusion'

Gen. Martin Dempsey On Leadership And 'Radical Inclusion'

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NPR's Steve Inskeep talks with former Army Gen. Martin Dempsey about his new book Radical Inclusion, in which he argues that the demands of leadership have changed since Sept. 11.


Retired generals played a high-profile role in the 2016 presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton had a general speak up for her. Donald Trump had Michael Flynn, who chanted lock her up at the Republican convention and then came under criminal investigation himself. One former general said then it was a bad idea for generals to get involved. Martin Dempsey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke up for a non-political military. Now, Dempsey is trying to talk about leadership in a non-political way, although it is hard not to hear political implications in what he says. Dempsey coauthored a book on leadership called "Radical Inclusion: What The Post-9/11 World Should Have Taught Us About Leadership."

MARTIN DEMPSEY: If you're a leader, you must commit yourself to learning. And if you're - if you really commit yourself to that, you can't simply be satisfied with reinforcing what you already know. You have to stretch yourself out in order to truly learn, which allows you to do what's most important as a leader today and that is you must be a sense-maker for those who follow you. And I say that because it's - leaders in the environment I've been describing have an obligation to help you make sense of things, to clarify, not confuse.

INSKEEP: Let me see if I can get you to walk what may be a tricky line for you - I know you don't want to comment specifically on politics - but you're talking about leadership. And there are three retired generals that I can think of in key positions in the Trump administration - John Kelly the Chief of Staff, Defense Secretary Mattis and, of course, H. R. McMaster, the National Security Adviser. Knowing them as you do, how do you think they're doing?

DEMPSEY: Well, first of all, I think they're terrific individuals. And I - yeah, I have no reason to give them a report card, in particular because, you know, they have migrated from being nonpartisan and part of the military profession into being partisan. But - makes me uncomfortable, mostly because I think the American people expect our military to be nonpartisan - not apolitical. We do have political beliefs, but we try to remain nonpartisan so that the American people never wonder whether we're serving one particular individual or one particular party or another. And I just hope that if in the future the parties change, the White House changes, that someone doesn't come to the conclusion that the military can't be trusted because they've all gone one way or another.

INSKEEP: Some people will know that you criticized generals speaking at the presidential nominating conventions in 2016, but now we're talking about this additional step of actually serving in very senior positions in an administration. As a general rule, would you disapprove of that?

DEMPSEY: No, not as a general rule. But I will say that if you're the chairman of the Joint Chiefs now - you've got a retired general as a secretary of defense and a retired general as the White House chief of staff - and I'm sure they have managed that relationship. But, again, what I worry about is not how they interact but rather what impression we're sending to the American people on the nature of the military and its relationship with society.

INSKEEP: How do you think it's affected the country that we have been continuously at war since 9/11?

DEMPSEY: It's affected the military in both some very positive ways and some very negative ways. In the positive sense, it has demonstrated our resilience. I mean, if you had asked me in 2003 - when I went to Baghdad with the 1st Armored Division - you know, could the all-volunteer force sustain repeated deployments into combat for 15 or 16 years, I probably would have predicted that it could not. And yet it has. And that's a great credit to those who serve - but also their families, by the way.

And let me segue from there into the - where the effect has been difficult, which is we've asked a lot of these families in terms of family separation and all the sacrifices that come. But I will also tell you I've been very impressed with the way the American people have been able to separate their feelings about the conflicts from their feelings about the military. And that's something we should never take for granted.

INSKEEP: Is it wise for a country to be at war for decades at a time?

DEMPSEY: It won't surprise you to know that the more senior a military officer becomes, the more he is cautious about the use of force because of the, you know, the reality that, you know, warfare is the most unpredictable of all human endeavors. And so we would certainly rather not be at war for decades at a time. And democracy doesn't do extended warfare that well because we continue to change our political system - not our system, but we continue to change those who are charged with implementing our system. And so that makes it tough to sustain.

INSKEEP: Does the war in Afghanistan still make sense for the United States?

DEMPSEY: It does. But one of the other realities of warfare is that the objectives at the beginning of a conflict almost never match the objectives at the end of a conflict. And so as we've gone, we've tried to ensure that we were articulating our objectives both internally to ourselves - that is the military - but also to the American people.

And, you know, Afghanistan is important both because we never want it again to become a safe haven but also because of its geostrategic location in South Asia - you know, right next door to Pakistan, which is next door to India. And the potential for conflict in those - in South Asia is real. And so we have national interest and should be there. The question is with what kind of footprint.

INSKEEP: How do you view - I was going to say a rising China but maybe I should say - China, which has declared itself to have risen?

DEMPSEY: Right. You know, in my time as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we considered that to be a good thing, provided we can find a way to accommodate each other's interests and - as you know, years ago now, there was - there have been head-of-state meetings where they've committed and we've committed to a new power relationship or a new great power relationship. But we have to stay at it because there are points of friction between us as are well-documented in issues like cyber, trade obviously - which is out of the military lane of effort but clearly is a point of friction - their expansion into the South China Sea.

So it seems to me that we're not predetermined to have an adversarial relationship with China but it takes constant vigilance. It takes constant communication, interaction, diplomacy and military engagement and - to both make it clear to China that we have national security interests in the Western Pacific and also to make sure our allies know that we're good allies.

INSKEEP: Martin Dempsey is a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and co-author of "Radical Inclusion." General, thanks very much.

DEMPSEY: Thank you, Steve. Good talking with you.


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