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Gulf Remains Critical to U.S. Interests, Dempsey Says

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 18, 2013 – The U.S. commitment to security in the Persian Gulf remains firm, the nation’s senior military officer said here today.

Speaking as part of a recurring Persian Gulf forum hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed how budget pressures and a force drawdown will affect U.S. military engagement in the Gulf region.

Countries bordering the Persian Gulf include Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Dempsey noted he lived and worked in Iraq and Saudi Arabia for many years. “I came here today with a message of assurance -- a little peace of mind in the context of uncertainty,” the general told the audience.

Nations and people share an interest in a common future, he said, “and that will always be the case, and always factor into the decisions we make about distribution of forces, partnering, engaging -- all the things we’ve done, really, for the past 25 or 30 years -- to make sure that the Middle East, in particular, is on a path for greater security and stability.”

The U.S. presence in the Gulf since 1991 was originally because of Saddam Hussein’s aggression, Dempsey said. “But we stayed there because, I think, we came to a realization that the future of the region was tied to our future … [through] shared interests in a common future where people would be able to build a better life, and where threats could be managed collaboratively -- not by the United States uniquely, but by the relationships we would build,” he added.

Dempsey said his view is that while the number of U.S. boots on the ground or airplanes in the sky varies over time, that’s not a good measure of regional commitment. He said multinational training and military school exchanges, for example, offer U.S. and allied forces opportunities to build commitment and partnerships in the Gulf region.

Dempsey noted the 10-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War serves as an occasion to reflect on U.S. actions there.

“I spent three years in Iraq. … We’re all aware that tomorrow is the 10-year anniversary, and the debate goes on about whether we should have, whether it was worth it -- and that debate will go on,” he said.

Dempsey said his personal belief is the United States achieved two significant results in Iraq.

“First of all, there is no longer the strongman, the dictator, and the threat to the region … that there was,” he said, referring to the fall from power and subsequent execution of Saddam Hussein.

“Secondly, and I think importantly, we’ve given the Iraqi people an incredible opportunity,” the chairman said. While he acknowledged the Iraq War included missteps and opportunities gained and lost, he noted that, in the end, the nation gained a partner and lost an adversary.

“It remains to be seen, still, about how strong a partner they are willing [to] and can become,” he said. “But we have a partner.”

Dempsey said he seeks to build relationships in the Gulf, as in other regions, that are not measured simply in terms of air wings or carrier battle groups. Where allied and partner nations are willing to build their capabilities, he said, the United States is eager to help. He noted a recent counter-mine exercise involving some 24 nations.

“That’s the future,” he said. “Not necessarily the United States of America sitting there with half of the United States Navy positioned in the Gulf, but rather … a long-term strategy that’s feasible given the resources available.”

The United States has strong Gulf allies in countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Dempsey said.

“We just have to figure out, ‘How do we help you do more, so we can do less?” he said. “But that doesn’t mean less well.”

From September 2001 to June 2003, Dempsey served in Saudi Arabia, training and advising the Saudi Arabian National Guard. In June 2003, he took command of the Army’s 1st Armored Division in Baghdad, where he led the division for 14 months. In August 2005, he returned to Iraq for two years to train and equip the Iraqi security forces. From August 2007 through October 2008, Dempsey served as the deputy commander and then acting commander of U.S. Central Command. 

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Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

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