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February 24, 2012

What's the Matter With Martin Dempsey?
Posted by Michael Cohen

ScreamOver at Foreign Affairs, Micah Zenko and I have a new piece that makes the somewhat obvious and yet counter-intuitive point that for all the doom-saying and threat-mongering of foreign policy elites . . . the world today (and the United States) is actually pretty safe:

The world that the United States inhabits today is a remarkably safe and secure place. It is a world with fewer violent conflicts and greater political freedom than at virtually any other point in human history. All over the world, people enjoy longer life expectancy and greater economic opportunity than ever before. The United States faces no plausible existential threats, no great-power rival, and no near-term competition for the role of global hegemon. The U.S. military is the world’s most powerful, andeven in the middle of a sustained downturn, the U.S. economy remains among one of the world’s most vibrant and adaptive. Although the United States faces a host of international challenges, they pose little risk to the overwhelming majority of American citizens and can be managed with existing diplomatic, economic, and, to a much lesser extent, military tools. 

And yet for a variety of reasons this singular reality of global affairs in the 21st century is pretty much not reflected in our foreign policy and national security decision-making. If you want a good explanation as to why this is - I present to you the words of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, who in testifying before Congress earlier this month said this“I can’t impress upon you that in my personal military judgment, formed over thirty-eight years, we are living in the most dangerous time in my lifetime, right now.”   

Now keep in mind, Martin Dempsey wasn't born yesterday. While this might seem obvious it's also relevant. You see, Martin Dempsey was born in 1952 and lived through 39 years of the Cold War. He lived through the end of the Korean War, the Berlin crisis of 1961, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the Yom Kippur War (which almost sparked a superpower conflict) the first few years of the Reagan Administration etc and yet in Martin Dempsey's personal judgment the most dangerous moment in his lifetime . . was February 15th, 2012.

Not only is this quite clearly and empirically incorrect - it's also completely insane. To believe that February 15th, 2012 is the most dangerous moment in Martin Dempsey's lifetime is to have a stunningly poor grasp of international relations, history and common sense.

Someone who holds such views would barely be qualified to teach undergrad IR no less be the highest ranking officer in the American military. To be sure, I don't know if Martin Dempsey actually believes what he is saying here. It may be that he is engaging in the endless bureaucratic activity of protecting his budget (i.e. if the world is really dangerous then the military needs even more advanced toys that blow s**t up) or perhaps he simply skipped over the Cold War in his academic training. (And in fairness to Dempsey he certainly has some positive attributes, like believing that an Israeli attack on Iran would be  "destabilizing.")

Whatever the rationale, however, the far bigger problem is that such statements can be made and not be dismissed as complete balderdash and gobsmackingly uninformed about the world we live in. Either way it's a problem - and that's a big part of the reason Micah and I wrote this piece (and why you should read it!)

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