December 14, 2015
Gen. Dunford's Remarks and Q&A at the CNAS Inaugural National Security Forum
MICHELE FLOURNOY: Thanks, David, for bringing that footage to us. You know, this has been a wonderful day and a wonderful conference, and I want to thank all of you for coming and for staying. We’ve saved the best for last. I also want to thank the great staff at CNAS for putting this all together.
You know, it is hard to believe that CNAS is approaching its 10-year anniversary. We have dedicated ourselves to try to shape and elevate the national security debate, and to growing the next generation of national security leaders. And hopefully you’ve seen evidence of both of those aspects of our mission today.
A dominant pillar of our research and action agenda at CNAS is to prepare the intellectual capital for the next administration. And as you all know, less than a year from now there will be a president-elect, a new commander in chief preparing to take the oath of office. And from the fight against ISIL to a resurgent Russia to the rise of tensions with China, the next president will – the inheritance will be daunting, and there will be little time for introspection as he or she faces a plethora of challenges.
But thankfully, the next president will inherit also the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped military force in the world. Though the budget pressures that we have talked about today and the pace of operations will remain incredibly challenging, we are privileged to have the quality of men and women who serve, and who volunteer to bear the burdens of keeping us safe and secure here at home. And we’re incredibly lucky to have selfless, professional military leaders who have devoted their lives to shaping and sustaining our armed forces.
General Joe Dunford is one of those selfless military leaders. He spent decades leading U.S. Marines at every level of command, including in combat. He spent 22 months of his life in Iraq, where he earned the moniker of “Fighting Joe.” And then he subsequently, as you know, served as the NATO commander of the ISAF forces in Afghanistan. He was called back to Washington, D.C. to become the commandant of his beloved Marine Corps, and all too quickly the nation called him again to become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has a reputation as a no-nonsense leader, a straight shooter with no ego. If you were to look up the military professional, that term in the dictionary, Joe Dunford’s picture is what you would see. So I take a lot of solace from the fact that Joe Dunford will be the chairman through the coming transition, and will act as a key point of stability and continuity, vision and wisdom during that period.
So we are so thankful here that you made it back from the Pentagon and meeting with the president this morning to share your thoughts on how the U.S. military is confronting today’s challenges while preparing for a complex future. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford. (Applause.)
GENERAL JOSEPH F. DUNFORD JR.: Hey, thanks, Michele. Thanks for your flexibility.
Hey, thanks, Michele, and good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. You’d expect me to say it, but I really am honored to be here and glad to be here. One, I appreciate the flexibility on the scheduling. I think I was supposed to be on about an hour ago. But we did have an unexpected visitor at the White House this morning, and I’m probably about 10 minutes away from finishing that up and coming over here.
I’ve been the chairman for just about two months now. And you know, although I’ve had plenty of opportunities to excel on the Hill and a number of other venues, this actually is – and why I say I’m glad to do this – this actually is the first time that I’m going to share, in a venue like this, my thoughts about the current security environment, but probably perhaps more importantly what I think the implications of the current security environment are for the joint force. So I’ll share that with you, and spent a bit of time thinking through that yesterday in advance of coming here.
And as I look around, I see a bunch of familiar faces and friends that are here. And I think the process of being introspective and trying to put my thoughts together, you know, to come over here probably was useful to me. And when I look around the room, the question-and-answer period will probably be useful to me as well. So regardless of what you get out of my prepared remarks, I’ll get a lot out of being over here today. And it was very, very helpful.
I looked at the agenda, and I’d like to commend Michele and the team for what you’ve been talking about here today. To be honest with you, I wish I could have been here for the sessions this morning. The issues that you have been talking about, it won’t surprise you, is exactly the issues that we’re spending a lot of time speaking about on the Joint Staff. And I think I’ve got some plants out here someplace, at least I hope I do, and if so I’ll be able to – I’ll be able to get some feedback.
I was asked to give a few – you know, just spend a few minutes addressing what was described as my agenda and my priorities for my time as the chairman, and I’ll try to do that, and I’ll really do it in two parts. First, I’ll kind of talk about the current fight. That will – does consume my time and will consume much of my time, whether I serve two years or four years. I expect that the current fight – and by that I mean, of course, the counter-ISIL fight and more broadly the fight against violent extremism and the remaining fight in Afghanistan – and then shift a little bit to some other challenges we have and really use Russia, China, Iran and North Korea as a lens to look through to say, what are the implications for other challenges we may have in terms of capability development. So that’s kind of how I’ll lay out my remarks.
And then, at the end, I have probably what I think are two or three – there’s many, but two or three of the major implications. When I look at the current fight and I look at those future challenges, I’ve laid out what I think are probably two or three of the major implications, which really will reflect now in my priorities. There are certainly many more, and we can talk about that however you want to.
Let me start with a quick comment. And Michele talked about, you know, the fact that we have the most well-led, well-trained force in the world, and I really do believe that. I just came back from a trip on Thursday. I had a chance to go through European Command, AFRICOM, as well as United States Central Command, you know, saw a large number of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, great spirits. It probably won’t surprise you – surprise you to hear me say that the closer I got to the fight, the more spirited they were. They’re pretty focused on what they’re doing. They’re pretty proud of what they’re doing.
But I bring that up up front because I don’t actually take that for granted. The one thing I’m mindful of as I come into the job is we have been running pretty hard for a long period of time. And many of the young men and women that I spoke to over the past week are still deploying at what we call a one-to-one deployment to dwell. So they’re home and deployed about an equal amount of time. And quite frankly, what I said to them as I spoke to them is I actually can’t see a time in the near future where that dynamic is going to change. In other words, if our requirements continue to be what I believe they will be and the force structure stays about what it is today – and I think that’s probably a fair assumption – we’re going to be running pretty hard for some time to come.
And so joint readiness is very much on my mind. And I won’t go through that very – you know, with you today. I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about joint readiness. But I would tell you that I do view readiness slightly different than I did as a service chief. I still, as the chairman, look at the traditional metrics associated with train, organize, and equip, and unit readiness. But I also look at readiness through the lens of, do we have the right inventory of capabilities and capacities to do what must be done, you know, whether benchmarked against an old plan or other crises or contingencies. And then the third element of readiness that I look at from the perspective that I have today is our posture of the force to actually respond in a timely manner to crises and contingencies. So those are kind of, from my perspective, the three things I’m paying attention to. Again, Michele and I both spoke about the people piece of it, but those other two parts of it are important to me in terms of readiness.
And we’re actually in the process now of reframing what we call joint readiness. One combatant commander, as we had this discussion about a month ago, described it as comprehensive joint readiness. But whatever we end up calling it, actually after the first of the year we are reframing readiness a little bit just to make sure that our dialogue on a day-to-day basis captures what I think are all the elements. It isn’t just, again, the readiness of our individual units and the parts and pieces. It’s making sure that we have the right inventory, and also making sure that on a day-to-day basis we’re postured to be ready to respond in a – in a timely manner. So all those things are there.
Let me – let me transition to the current fight. The fight against violent extremism is clearly our most prominent challenge, and that includes the current fight against ISIL, al-Qaida, and all of the associated movements. And while ISIL is clearly a transregional threat, our current focus for military operations is against core ISIL in Syria and Iraq. And I suspect most of you in this room are familiar with the nine lines of effort of our overall strategy, and it has things in it such as governance, intelligence, finance, messaging and foreign fighters. And I won’t spend a whole lot of time speaking about those. There is a military dimension to all nine lines of effort, but there are two lines of effort that are – that are focused specifically on the Department of Defense and military capabilities in particular. And that’s really what I’ll talk about.
The first of those is we conduct strikes to kill ISIL leadership and fighters, to interdict their lines of communication, and deny them their sources of revenue. And the second critical element to the military campaign is to develop and support effective partners on the ground to seize and secure ISIL-held terrain.
Conceptually, right now, the military campaign is designed to put pressure against ISIL across Syria and Iraq simultaneously. But there’s clearly differences on the ground as we execute, and I know you all appreciate that. But let me just say up front that I am not satisfied with our progress to date, and I won’t be until ISIL is defeated.
And I also want to say something because, you know, maybe the media would suggest otherwise from time to time. But I want to make it clear that within the framework of international and domestic law, our policies and our end state, I don’t personally feel at all inhibited in terms of making recommendations to the president, and we will continue to do that. And as Michele mentioned, we just came from a National Security Council meeting this morning. The president and the Cabinet were there, but we also had General Austin there, as well as – as well as General Votel. We provided a campaign update. And again, I’ve been in the job two months, but every meeting we’ve had on this particular issue has concluded by, OK, what more can we do? What other ideas do you have that you want to put on the table that we can have a discussion? So I can assure you I will – I will be as aggressive as I can be in making those recommendations, and that’s certainly what the president has led me to believe he expects, as well as – as well as Secretary Carter.
Let me shift a little bit to Syria. Without a partner on the ground, Syria obviously has presented the most difficult challenge over the past year. And success in Syria requires working with our Turkish partners to secure the northern border of Syria that has been a challenge. It requires us supporting vetted Syrian opposition groups that will actually do what I mentioned earlier – they will actually take the fight to ISIL and seize the ground that’s currently held by ISIL. And then conduct strikes not only against ISIL’s command-and-control infrastructure, but as well their sources of revenue. And you might have seen over the past several weeks we’ve had a fairly concerted effort – it has been ongoing for months, but a fairly concerted effort over the past several weeks because of the intelligence that we’ve developed to go after the oil infrastructure. But there are other elements of their revenue that we’ll continue to go after here in the coming weeks.
To be more effective, quite honestly, we need better human intelligence, and we need to better enable those vetted Syrian opposition groups that I mentioned – again, those groups that will take the fight to the enemy on the ground. And we’re in the process of doing that. And to be quite honest with you, I will not go into detail on how we’re doing that in this venue. But in terms of further developing our human intelligence and setting ourselves up – posturing ourselves, if you will – to provide better support to those groups that are on the ground fighting against ISIL, that actually is our focus here in Syria.
The political transition, clearly, in Syria is going to have a lot to do with our long-term success. But in the meantime, you know, we’re going to focus on getting after ISIL’s military capabilities, reducing the control of the terrain that they have, and also disrupting their ability to conduct external operations. So that’s actually what we’re trying to do.
In Iraq, we have a partner on the ground. But the relationship is obviously complicated by several factors, to include the political landscape, sectarianism, and Iranian influence. And success is going to require us to develop the capability of Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces, and also enable their operations with intelligence, advisers, logistics, and combined arms support. We’re doing all of that to some degree right now. I expect we’ll do more of that in the coming – in the coming weeks. And I think you’ve probably seen some of that unfolded in the secretary’s recent testimony, in the testimony that he and I did together in the House Armed Services Committee a couple weeks ago.
But very mindful of the complex challenges that we have right now. And certainly, as I mentioned earlier, not satisfied with where we are until we’re defeating. We are encouraged by recent operations in Baiji, recent operations with the Peshmerga in Sinjar. We’re encouraged by even what’s happened in Ramadi – after months and months of what seemed to be very little progress, there is some significant progress right now. So a number of things on the ground are developing opportunities.
Again, why do I highlight the positives? Because the theory to case in the campaign is that what we will do is we’ll do a large number of things as we pressure ISIL across Syria and Iraq. And where we find that we’re having some success, we’ll reinforce that success. And I think we have started to see that again in these recent operations that have been conducted. To me, those operations that I mentioned actually are indicative of what is actually possible in the future. And we’ll continue to try to reinforce those.
Moving forward, we’ll be aggressive in other ways to do that, look for opportunities, and more importantly to increase the tempo and the effectiveness of our – of our partners. And I know, again, looking around the room – and I looked at the list of folks that are here – there’s a lot of folks in the room who have a lot of ideas about the counter-ISIL campaign. There’s a lot of folks most everywhere that have ideas about the counter-ISIL campaign. And in all sincerity, I will tell you I’m at the point where I’m not confident we have all the – all the ideas, and so I do listen to that, and I read, and engage in the ongoing dialogue.
But if you have other questions – again, I didn’t – I didn’t want to come in and spend time giving you a campaign update; I want to get to the implications. But I did want to at least frame what we are trying to do in Iraq and Syria, and maybe that’ll help prompt – help prompt some questions.
And while the fight against ISIL dominates the headlines, we continue to face an enduring challenge of extremism in South Asia as well. And from my perspective, the constant pressure that we have put on al-Qaida since 9/11, operating from Afghanistan, is the reason – is one of the most important reasons why we haven’t had another 9/11. And I believe that the continued threat – we have – we have not eliminated the threat – actually requires us to maintain an effective counterterrorism partner and a platform in Afghanistan for some time to come. And while the focus has been on al-Qaida to date, I think you all know that’s it further complicated now by the growth of Islamic State Khorasan, which has declared itself in Afghanistan and Pakistan region. So it’s even become more complicated. There had already been, obviously, several extremist organizations operating in that area that enabled – provided a network for al-Qaida to leverage. But now most recent we also have the Islamic State there.
The president’s decision to leave 9,800 in Afghanistan into next year I think does provide us an opportunity. It provides us an opportunity to continue to grow Afghan security forces, Afghan national security defense forces, as well as demonstrate our continued commitment to the region. The Ghani administration is fully supportive of what we’re doing, to include the conversation I’m having with you in terms of what are we trying to do together. We’re trying to develop an effective counterterrorism partnership with Afghanistan, which is – which is what Ghani’s very supportive of, and then obviously from that partnership have a platform which – from which we can advance our own interests in the region. And I think we have common objectives with the Ghani administration. That’s a positive.
This summer highlighted, however, that the Afghan security forces have a ways to go. And that’s particularly in the areas of logistics, intelligence, aviation, special operations capability, and then what I have more broadly called ministerial capacity – just the ability of their Ministry of Interior, their Ministry of Defense to have the wherewithal to provide the support, the training, the sustainment of their security forces. So we certainly still have work to do.
And also, a critical part of the campaign moving forward is the continued commitment of the international community in terms of resources. Right now we’re reliant on commitments that were made in Chicago and Tokyo, and those all run out here in 2017. So very important, this summer there will be a meeting in Poland, and on the agenda will be to resource the Afghan campaign both from a development a security forces perspective through 2020. And so watching that development this summer is going to be very important in terms of how we move forward.
Ultimately, from my perspective, the key variables that are going to affect the campaign are the Afghan-led reconciliation process, a strengthened relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then also the resilience of the – of the Afghan government. Again, you all I’m sure have seen in the media President Ghani has had some challenges with the government. He’s grinding through that. But the national unity government that’s been in place since last September, pretty difficult political environment inside of Afghanistan. We are certainly doing all we can to support the maturation of that government. But that’s – the resilience of that government is certainly going to be one of the indicators of success.
The threat from violent extremist networks is certainly, again, the one that has dominated much of my time over the past two months, and certainly dominates the news on a day-to-day basis. But we have a number of challenges from – in addition, we have a number of challenges from state threats as well, or state challenges I guess is probably a better way to say it.
Former Secretary of State – I think you all have heard the expression – Secretary of State Kissinger said this is the most dynamic and complex security environment that he has seen since World War II. And you know, I got to tell you, after about 60, 70 days in the job, I’d have a hard time arguing with him. I think I probably – I probably agree with that assessment. But what I would like to do is maybe just describe the behaviors and the capability development of those four actors, and again, then get into a little bit of a discussion on, as I look at that, what really is the “so what.”
Despite its declining population and shrinking economy, Russia has made significant investments in its military capabilities. And you know, on Saturday morning I picked up The Washington Post and I read The Washington Post, and in The Washington Post was a summary of Putin’s announcements last week: new intercontinental ballistic missiles, new submarines, new airplanes, new conventional capabilities, all fielded over the – over the past year. And we’re also obviously closely watching Russian developments in space, and in cyberspace as well. And I think you have to – when you look at Russian capability development, you have to look at it in the context of what they have done recently in Crimea and in the Ukraine, and what’s going on in Syria. So that kind of frames Russia from my perspective.
Moving on to China, you know, well, China – we emphasize in our China policy opportunities to cooperate, and I think that’s a – that’s a sincere – you know, sincere position that our government has. We also – and we get paid to do that – closely watch their developments of their military capabilities and their behavior in the South China Sea. And while the Chinese are typically fairly opaque about military capability development, it’s pretty clear to us that they’re continuing to invest in a large conventional capability – a growing navy, increasingly sophisticated air force. And we also see their advancements in space, in cyberspace in particular. And in the South China Sea, you know, we do view their activity as destabilizing right now. And while our exercise – we exercise freedom of navigation routinely – and that assures, from my perspective, our allies and partners – it certainly hasn’t done anything to turn back what Admiral Harris has called the Great Wall of Sand that’s being built by the – by the Chinese in the South China Sea.
In order to spend more time on the implications in question and answers, I’m going to quickly skip through, you know, my perspective on Iran and North Korea. I think you all are familiar with, certainly, their behavior. And I would just note that we see similar trends – ballistic missile development cyber capabilities – and then obviously North Korean aspirations for nuclear capability are all things that we kind of look at.
So when I look at all this in the aggregate – and that is, when I look at the current challenges associated with violent extremism and I look at those other challenges that I just – that I just referenced – I think there’s a number of implications. I’ll touch on a few.
The first implication, for me, is foundational. Probably self-evident, but we need a balanced inventory of joint capabilities that’s going to allow us to deter and defeat potential adversaries across the full range of military operations. We don’t have a luxury to have a choice between a force that can fight the current fight against violent extremism and one that can deal with that full range of challenges I spoke to earlier.
A second implication is the need for us to consider how to most effectively use the military instrument of national power to address today’s challenges in areas that have been characterized as the gray zone or perhaps even in cyberspace. I believe we need to develop more effective methods to deal with challenges like Russia’s little green men or Iranian malign influence. Our traditional approach kind of views things as we’re either at peace or at war. That may not necessarily be the case for our adversaries; they live somewhere in between. And from my perspective, we need to spend some time on that particular issue. And again, there’s a full range of instruments available to our nation to deal with these challenges. I necessarily now am just focused on our military instrument. But I do think we need to think more about how to wield the military instrument in these areas called a gray zone. And quite – and quite honestly, when you look at cyber, clearly we have challenges in cyber, not only to protect ourselves but also the development of offensive cyber capabilities. And cyber deterrence is an area where we probably need to spend some time on. And I know Admiral Mike Rogers is doing that, and I certainly will do that over time. We also need to develop a framework within which cyber threats – you know, the attribution issue, the managing escalation and hardening ourselves are all areas that I’d also mention.
But let me – let me get to what I think is probably one of the most significant implications of our – of our current challenges, and that’s the high likelihood that any conflict that we have will be transregional, you know, multi-domain and multifunctional. And I’ll explain a little bit about what that – what that means.
When I look at information operations, cyber capabilities, space and counter-space capabilities, ballistic missile technology, they have all affected the character of the modern battlefield. And we see such capabilities fielded by both state and non-state actors. And they’re going to look for ways to harness those so that they can avoid our strengths and exploit our vulnerabilities.
And the current fight against extremism is clearly an example of a transregional fight, but let me give you another example that maybe highlights what I’m trying to get at here. If you would have thought about the Korean Peninsula some years ago, you would have thought about a conflict that we would have hoped to isolate on the Korean Peninsula. And then, as the North Koreans developed ballistic missile capability, well, obviously that started to affect other regional actors, such a Japan. So no longer could you – could you hope to isolate a conflict on the peninsula. But as you start to look at intercontinental ballistic missile technology, cyber capabilities, space capabilities, information operations and so forth, it’s pretty hard to see how even a regional conflict on the peninsula would actually be anything other than transregional, multi-domain and multifunctional.
And from my perspective, our current planning, our organizational construct, and our command and control is not really optimized for that fight. So when I – when I look at how we’re going to fight, the character of the fight in the 21st century, and I look at how we have typically approached things, which is obviously through a regional approach – and quite honestly, it may surprise you or you just hadn’t thought about it this way – the lowest level of integration in the Department of Defense really is the Secretary of Defense. You know, we use collaboration and cooperation in support of supporting relationships between combatant commanders. But in terms of true integration – in other words, decision-making authority that integrates a fight across a region, across a domain, or across a function – it’s really the Secretary of Defense. And so that is an issue that actually – you know, in terms of what’s on the top of my inbox, that’s an issue that I’m really taking a look at hard, because if you believe what I believe and you do look at the nature of the fight today, even against violent extremism, and then look at the nature of what the fight might be against peer competitors in the future, I don’t think we’ll be able to be as responsive, I don’t think we’ll be able to generate the tempo, I don’t think we’ll be able to frame decisions and act in a timely manner as much as we should unless we make some fundamental changes, again, to our organizational construct – the way we plan, the way we develop strategy, and then as importantly our command and control. And we had a good discussion with the combatant commanders about that a few weeks ago, and we are doing some things now.
You know, I think this will be an issue, by the way, that will come up in the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings about Goldwater-Nichols. So I think we’ll see more of this issue come up in the – in the coming months. But in the meantime, we’re, within the authorities that we have today, doing some things to mitigate that challenge, because this isn’t a future challenge, this is now. So we need to do some things even today to mitigate that challenge. But I also think making some fundamental changes will better posture us for what I – what I have described as the character of war in the 21st century.
And again, I don’t suggest – in fact, would argue to the contrary – the nature of war I wouldn’t argue has changed, but the character of war – highlighted by those capabilities and functions that I spoke about earlier and what our peer competitors as well as – as well as non-state actors would have – the character of war is actually pretty dynamic. And I think our organizational construct, command and control needs to be changed in order to respond to that. And I’m not going to suggest a solution today, but merely to frame the problem.
I’ll stop there to allow for time to question. I think I was – I was on for about 15 minutes. Again, what I – what I hoped to do is just kind of seed the ground for the Q&A session, the issues that you want to speak about. Again, as I divide my time and I start thinking about my priorities, I can’t help but be immersed in the – in the close fight. But at the same time, one of the things that we really want to have a mind towards is capability development for the future.
And balancing that – to be honest with you, if you ask me, well, what’s your number-one challenge that you expect to confront in your time in the job, the number-one challenge is balancing the requirements of the current fight with what we need to do to make sure we’re ready for tomorrow, you know, in the context of a fiscally constrained environment – trying to – trying to make sure that we’re doing that, and in the meantime making sure that we’re not only adapting for today, but we’re actually innovating for tomorrow. And I suspect I didn’t – I don’t know what Secretary Work spoke about this morning, but I suspect he talked a little bit about innovation this morning. And again, I draw a distinction between those two words. The adaptation is the things we’re doing right now with the wherewithal that we have, and to me innovation is when you’re – when you’re looking really for a fundamentally different way to do things in the future – disruptive, if you will. And so we’ve got to be able to do both of those things.
So, with that, I’ll stop.
MS. FLOURNOY: Thank you, General. I’m going to ask you to join me in the chairs here and we’ll have a few Q&A back and forth, and then we’ll open it up to the audience. Thank you again for sharing your insights, and I’m very glad you were able to escape from the Pentagon and come over and join us after all.
I wanted to pick up where you left off, which is talking about how the nature of warfare is changing, how in the future we’re going to see transregional scenarios, multidimensional, multi-domain, and raising the question about, you know, are we organized, is the C2 right. And I don’t – I don’t want to try to push you towards premature answers, but can you give us a little bit of your thinking about what kinds of alternatives and options, or what kinds of questions should we be asking ourselves? You know, we – as we – as we look at this issue, what kinds of avenues of exploration –
GEN. DUNFORD: Before getting into execution, I think – I think the first thing I’m seized with is the planning. And so today, our planning construct, we actually – we develop regional plans. And when you were the secretary, you aggregated those regional plans. We don’t start with necessarily, for example, a strategy to take a look at Russia. If we are involved in a conflict with Russia, it’s not – it’s not going to unfold like the old plans that we develop – the old plans that we necessarily develop to get after the physics of war. I mean, there is a science of our business, and the old plans help inform the science. But if you’re going to look at a challenge like Russia, it’s not going to be isolated to whatever old plan that you would think about.
And so, from the very beginning, when you – when you think about challenges, I think our old plans need to be – need to be born with the – with the view that it will be a transregional, it will be a multi-domain, it will be a multifunctional – again, domain: sea, air, space, cyberspace; functional could be ballistic missile defense and, you know, actual capabilities, just to make sure that we’re clear on how I’m using the words. So the first thing is, in terms of strategy development, I think it needs to be informed by the assumption I just made. And that is certainly an assumption that I’m willing to have people challenge, but it’s my assumption today that it would be very difficult for any conflict to be isolated to a region. So when we think about potential adversaries in the future, I think we need to think about a strategy right up front that takes into account that it is, in all likelihood, going to be fought in that way.
And then – and then, in execution, if you think about – if you think about any scenario where there’s ballistic missiles involved, you’ve got the COCOM from which they originate, you have the COCOM through which is passes, and you have the combatant commander of the United States Northern Command who would be responsible for the consequences. Now, we – I don’t want – I don’t want for a second to leave you thinking that today we can’t make all that work. It absolutely works. But that’s one thing that’s going on in a series of a hundred things that are affecting multiple combatant commanders simultaneously.
And so from my perspective there is probably an organization – it isn’t so much authorities, by the way. Some people have suggested – this is not the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff saying we need a general staff and I need more authority, all right? That’s not – that’s not actually what this is about. But I do believe that there needs to be a staff that has a perspective of all the combatant commanders, that can actually provide the Secretary of Defense with a common operational picture, that can actually frame decisions for the Secretary of Defense that do involve multiple regions simultaneously, and can do that in a timely manner. And of course, that’s not – as you well know, that’s not currently what the Joint Staff is designed to do. So I do think – in other words, this is all about the Secretary of Defense. It’s all about the national command authority. It’s all about making decisions in a timely manner.
And by the way, I do think, if you look back at nuclear command and control, it’s instructive because we do – we did get it right with nuclear command and control. I mean, nuclear command and control is a very effective way for the president to make decisions in a timely manner. And I think that now – you know, the complexity of nuclear command and control in the ’60s was not replicated by traditional conventional fights. But now I think you see some of the same complexity that we saw in nuclear command and control in other fights, and so we need a – we need a better way to get after it.
If that – if that touches on some of the –
MS. FLOURNOY: No, that’s very helpful, very helpful.
We spent a lot of this morning talking about the secretary’s innovation agenda, and I think there’s a lot of, you know, support for the intent and the desire to move forward, the need. But we were really wrestling with some of the, you know, how do you actually do this. And one of the things that really struck me when I was in the Pentagon is what I’ve come to call the tyranny of consensus – you know, that sometimes the overarching objective becomes what can we all agree on as opposed to how do we come up with the best options or alternatives to solve a given problem. And I’m wondering, you know, from your perspective, do we have enough space or have we created a space to really have the competition of ideas that’s going to be necessary to innovating, you know, our concepts, or how we approach different warfighting challenges? And if not, what more can we do to do that?
GEN. DUNFORD: What you say resonates a lot with me. And the worst thing we can do for innovation is centralize innovation. (Laughter.) That’s the worst thing we can do.
And so, as I’ve been involved in the conversations, the thing that I’ve argued for is what you want to do is you want to incentivize – you want to incentivize innovation. And one way you incentivize in our department is resources, right? So resources can help incentivize innovation.
And I do think that there needs to be an overarching view of what we’re going to need in the future in terms of – I’ll talk now from a joint capabilities perspective – you need kind of an overarching vision that’s laid out there to inform innovation. It doesn’t limit it, but it informs it. I mean, there are – there are problems that we can see, and you want to solve those problems. There might be other things that find out along the way that allow you develop a disruptive technology or do things in a fundamentally different way, but there’s a combination of, you know, testing things and then finding out what’s in the art of the possible, and also going after a process that’s specifically designed to solve certain problems.
But I really do believe that one of the things we need to be careful of – and I think, you know, some people think the more that we bring the services together to work on this, the better off we’d be. I’m exactly in the opposite place. And I think that allowing the services, and particularly their laboratories, their organizations, and then some of the other even non-department think tanks and so forth – MIT, the universities that we have relationships with – but if we could incentivize innovation and then figure out a way in the front end to kind of cast a net over it so we know where it all is and we can leverage it, and then on the back end actually be in a position to harvest it, we’d be in good shape.
So there’s two areas where I think we need to centralize it. One, lay out a vision, what is it we’re trying to do. And then, on the back end, you try to figure out a way you can harvest all those good ideas. And what happens in between ought to be to the max extent possible decentralized.
MS. FLOURNOY: The human capital dimension of this is important. And you know, we heard some ideas this morning about, you know, Force of the Future – which, I think, again, people are interested in hearing more about, don’t fully understand exactly what it is yet, not sure what problems it’s trying to solve. And yet, I think there’s a general sense that the all-volunteer force needs a new iteration if we’re going to be able to recruit and develop and develop the leaders and have the retention that we need for the future. So how are you thinking about the human capital dimension of the future force?
GEN. DUNFORD: I’m going to answer that from a – from a service-chief perspective because, you know, that was something I grappled with even before coming into this job.
First of all, one point that I make is the current force, from my perspective, is not broken. And that was not a gratuitous remark I made in the beginning of my remarks. I fundamentally believe we are recruiting and retaining an incredibly high-quality force. And when you think about young Americans, I think it’s somewhere between two and three young men and women in the United States of America are actually qualified for military service, you know, amongst the demographic. So we’re getting a good cut of people.
But when I looked at – you know, when I looked at the organization of the Marine Corps from a service chief perspective, you know, 67 percent of the United States Marine Corps, for example, is on their first enlistment, and about 49 percent of the Marine Corps is lance corporals and below. So it’s a very young force, and designed to be such. But then I looked at, you know, F-35 mechanics, cyber capabilities, some of the things that really do require years and years. And I call it – for those of you who read the “Outliers,” I called it 10,000 hours of repetitions, right? So you want to say, you know, what is it – what is it you need to have to achieve excellence in an – in an occupational field like cyber, or to be someone that can actually handle equipment that’s as complicated as an F-35 or some of the other technology that we have today. So some of that takes a combination of training, education – so training, you know, how to do something; education, how to think – and then experience to 10,000 hours of repetition.
That causes me to move the needle in the force in some select areas to the right. And currently we kind of have a pyramid structure across the department. So in my mind it isn’t – it isn’t just Force of the Future slapped onto the entire department, it’s looking at what is it that we need to have in each one of our occupational fields at each grade, both in the civilian force and in the military force. How I defined it is I said let’s look at the – let’s look at the force next, let’s look at each individual requirement, let’s define what 10,000 hours are for that particular position, let’s go out and recruit to that 10,000 hours, and let’s develop now a training and education and an experience path that will allow you to get to that point in time where that person has the wherewithal to do the job, achieving excellence – in other words, a plan that’s optimized for it. So, to me, what Force of the Future ought to be is it ought to be a plan that optimizes the human capital for challenges that we’re going to face in the future.
And it shouldn’t start with an overall approach where we say, OK, here’s all the rules we want to have in the department. It ought to start with a clear-sight picture of what it is that we need individuals to look like if they’re performing certain functions and then go out, starting with the recruiting, to get the right people.
And there’s a – there’s some other things that I think we can do in terms of – you know, we’ve always measured physical fitness. We’ve always measured mental aptitude. I think measuring psychological resilience and so forth is another area that probably is something we ought to have a discussion within when we think about the force next.
So I guess I’d summarize it all up by saying, number one, to me Force of the Future is about being very specific about the requirements we need and the young men and women we’re going to have in the future, identify those requirements, and start from cradle to grave to grow the force that needs to be. And I do think there’s a certain amount of maturation in the force, and I consider maturation a combination of those three things I spoke earlier – about training, education and experience equals maturity. And so I think the force will be a little bit more mature simply because some of the things that we are doing today – you know, 10,000 hours of what might have been a fight – conventional fight 20 years ago is different than the 10,000 hours we’ll need for that transregional, multi-domain, multifunctional fight of the future.
MS. FLOURNOY: Mmm hmm, yeah.
So another, obviously, human capital issue that’s been in the news of late is the secretary’s decision to open up all career specialties in the military to women. Obviously, he had the benefit of hearing a wide range of views as he made that decision, including some dissent. It wasn’t without controversy. You’ve stated, look, the secretary’s made a decision, now it’s time to implement. Can you say something about how that implementation happens in a way that’s most productive and most constructive?
GEN. DUNFORD: Oh, absolutely.
First of all, what happened over the past couple of years was, in areas where we didn’t have standards, we now have those. And that wasn’t – you know, I want to make a quick comment about that. It wasn’t because the organizations, you know, were so inept that they didn’t have standards. It’s because we made certain assumptions when it was an all-male population and occupational field. We trained people and we didn’t have to necessarily screen them beforehand because about 98 percent of them could do it. And so that’s kind of how we did business.
But in terms of implementation – and I have, you know, provided some input to the secretary that he’s alluded to for implementation – I would frame it along these lines. Number one, we got to look at – we have to look at combat effectiveness. And so that – and I don’t think anyone’s suggesting anything other than that. But we’ve got to make sure we’re clear on the standards in each occupational field and we have a path to have people that meet those standards filling those fields.
I do think we also needed to take a look at the health and welfare of our people. I realize that some people, including some people in this room, were dismissive of some of the issues brought up about injury, physical injury. But, in my mind, there’s a – there is a real issue there with the physiology, and so we need to – we need to figure out exactly how we can go about mitigating that. I mean, I think it would be irresponsible for me as a leader to know that right now, given what we do, we have twice the likelihood of having an injury in one part of the population than another and just say that’s the price of doing business. I don’t think – I don’t think we’d want to do that.
And then the other thing we want to do is make sure that – you know, back to the theme of the – of the Force of the Future – this at the end of the day is about talent management. And so we have to be a lot more, in my mind, precise about taking the universe of people that we have available to us and putting them in occupational fields where their specific talents can best be leveraged, and that they have a high probability not only of successfully completing their first enlistment, but a high probability of being available for that pool from which we will draw, competitively, for the future.
So, you know, I think the secretary’s guidance is pretty clear on implementation. You know, he certainly has tasked me with sitting with him as we do that. And I – and I think doing that in a deliberate, responsible way is going to be a way that we actually can do what he wants to do, which is make the force better.
MS. FLOURNOY: Mmm hmm, great.
Switching gears a little bit, one of the panels we had this morning spent a lot of time talking – thinking about deterrence in this new context of greater, you know, competition between the U.S. and Russia and China and so forth, a kind of period of great power competition. You talked a little bit about posture. As you think about our posture in Europe, our posture in the rebalance in Asia, you know, are there things that you think we need to be looking at that maybe haven’t been on the table in the past 10 years in terms of deterrence in particular and reassurance of allies?
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure. So I’ll oversimplify the dialogue that’s taking place, maybe even a debate that’s taking place, in various parts of the department, and frankly, probably in the journals as well. And that is some people think that the most effective way that you can deter an adversary is to have a capable force that episodically exercises and demonstrates its capability, but it largely builds up readiness back at home. And then there are others who would argue that, no, that wouldn’t be effective – that in order to not only to deter potential adversaries, but to assure our partners and allies, you need to have an effective presence that’s forward.
And I think that’s obviously a theory of the case in terms of the Pacific rebalance. We’ve said that in order to advance our national interests in the Pacific, in order to support our economic – or in order to provide the security within which our economic interests can be advanced, we want to be present in the Pacific. I feel the same way about other regions, and particularly in Europe, where I believe that not only do we have to have the capability to respond with whatever the contingency requires, but on a day-to-day basis we need to be visible, we need to be seen, we need to be there where the enemy knows that our response time provides us with a competitive advantage. And so I fall probably closer to the we need to be forward.
And to the specific point that you asked is, that’s why I do support increased rotational forces into Europe so we have on a day-to-day basis more physical presence that’s there. Again, I think it’s really two things. It’s not only deterrence, but it’s assurance as well. And then also clearly making sure – back to my theme of joint readiness – that the reservoir of joint capabilities in the aggregate is sufficient not only to be out there on a day-to-day basis deterring, but you actually can provide the capability necessary to fight and win.
MS. FLOURNOY: I’m going to ask one more question and then we’re going to turn to the audience, so please be thinking of your questions for General Dunford.
One of the issues that’s come up in the reform hearings on the Hill has been the sort of growth of the staffs, the headquarters staffs. I think OSD is now about 5,000 people. Joint Staff is about 4,000. COCOM staffs total about 38,000. You add in the defense agencies and you get to a total of nearly 240,000 people. Now, there’s a lot of good and important and essential work that’s going on there, but there’s also a sense that the level of duplication and bureaucracy has grown.
You’re two months in. You’ve spent most of your career in the field. Coming into – back into the Pentagon, what’s your sense of the headquarters, whether there is an opportunity for de-layering, streamlining, adding some additional agility back into the system?
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure. So I was raised with, you know, if you have a problem, you should start solving it in ever-increasing concentric circles around your own desk, right? (Laughter.) So I’ll probably maybe just talk about the Joint Staff initially.
I do think that some of the discussion about the Joint Staff is probably – is probably fair. Now, the 4,000, by the way, that represents what used to be the Joint Forces Command and is now an extension of the J7 and the Joint Staff. So in all – in all honesty, there hasn’t been a huge growth of the Joint Staff over time.
Having said that, the Joint Staff over time, for a variety of reasons, has begun to do things that I think we can probably walk away from. I will tell you, my priority for the Joint Staff is to focus on the strategy, is to focus on supporting the combatant commander. So it’s force development, capability development, joint force readiness, those core areas. And some of the things that need to be done, I hesitate to say those right now because there’s people that are actually sitting in jobs and I want to do this right. And probably we’ll do this sometime after the first of the year where I can actually look at people and say, look, it isn’t what you’re doing – you’re doing a great job – but we’re going to divest ourselves of these functions because – well, I guess I can say this: to date, I have not had a Tank, a meeting with the Joint Chiefs, on what I would describe as a Title 10 issue, and I don’t intend on doing that except in very extraordinary cases.
So I’ll give you an example: you know, the pay raise. The pay raise came up and I provided my input as to what I thought the pay raise would be. And I talked to the Chiefs and I say, look, if you all think we need a Joint Chiefs position on the pay raise, that’s fine, but you have a vehicle to provide your input through your service chief – through your service secretary that then goes to the secretary of defense. So, you know, unless there’s an extraordinary reason for what I call a Title 10 issue, we won’t have Joint Chiefs positions. In my mind, we’ll spend our time establishing positions on the current fight against ISIL, what our way ahead ought to be in Afghanistan, what our strategy ought to be in dealing with some of those other challenges we spoke about.
But over time – again, I won’t be critical – but the demands of the Joint Chiefs have been driven by others. And so they’ve said, well, we want a Joint Chiefs position on this or that. Well, that requires a staff to actually help the chairman to form a position. And those are some of the things that have happened over time. But I am – despite the fact that people will say the organization isn’t capable of making changes itself, in terms of using the principle of alignment in divesting ourselves of things that we don’t think we need to do that are then, you know, either duplicated up in OSD or down in the service secretaries, I’m all in favor of doing that.
With regard to the COCOMs, I think we need to be careful in the discussion that says the COCOMs aren’t warfighters that’s been laid out there. What I don’t want us to do – and I’m willing to take a hard look at this, wargame it, and be critical – be critical in our thinking about it, but I don’t want us to take the last 14 years of what we have described as war – and it has been war – and then project that out for the next 15 or 20 years. We need to think about some of those challenges I spoke about in my remarks and make sure that, when we talk about what the combatant commanders do or don’t do, we talk about what they will do or don’t do across the range of military operations and not just narrowly focused in the fight against ISIL, where we – where we have concluded that joint task forces, of which I commanded one – joint task forces solve all the problems for the combatant commander. I don’t believe that’s the case.
And if you think about what I said a minute ago about multi – about transregional, multi-domain and multifunctional, I don’t know how you – I don’t know how we’ll call somebody at the four-star level that’s responsible for a geographic command anything other than a warfighter. That doesn’t mean we can’t make some changes in our Unified Command Plan. It doesn’t mean all the combatant commanders have to – commands have to exist in their current form. It doesn’t mean the Joint Staff has to exist in its current form. I just want to make sure that we have the right framework within which to make recommendations and to have a debate, and we don’t just take the last 14 years and say, well, a-ha, this is what they’ve been doing for the last 14 years, so automatically that’s what they’ll be doing over the next 15 to 20 years.
So I guess – I have read what you’ve written, Michele, and I read so many of your testimony. And I do think the numbers are out there and we need to take a hard look at it. In personal experience, a bigger staff isn’t always necessarily a better staff.
I am now growing into the staff that I have. You know, I was much happier as a colonel, where I actually knew everybody on my staff. (Laughter.) And you – I mean, honestly, you have a personal relationship with them and you move at the speed of heat. And when you have a larger staff, it takes – it’s much more difficult to convey your intent. It’s much more difficult to come up with a process within which you can make decisions – frame decisions and make decisions – and much harder to have a big staff. So I think most of us would instinctively want to have a smaller staff; it’s just got to be aligned to the functions that have to be performed.
And I think that’s the work that we have to do really pretty quickly because Senator McCain’s running pretty hard. (Laughter.) And no, and I think I have an obligation – honestly, I have an obligation to provide best military advice and inform that dialogue. It doesn’t mean, as in the case of Goldwater-Nichols, the – you know, the department’s position at that time wasn’t accepted. I’d like to think right now that we’re willing to be as innovative as anybody else is. It doesn’t mean that we’ll have all the good ideas, but I certainly will be receptive to those. And I’m not fighting – I’m not fighting to hang onto what we have today; I just want to make sure that we spend 80 percent of our time trying to solve the problem for tomorrow and then 20 percent of our time developing the wire diagram and talking about how big we ought to be. That would be my only – that would be my only appeal, really, in this debate, is to – is to do that.
MS. FLOURNOY: Yeah. Great.
OK, right here. The lady with her hand up in the center. Microphone’s coming. If you’d just briefly introduce yourself and ask a question. No speeches, please.
Q: Thank you. My name is Genie Nguyen with Voice of Vietnamese Americans. Thank you, General, for your service.
May I ask you to share your vision about the South China Sea situation? Have we been successful with our strategic deterrence against China’s action in that area? What options do you think we have with all the militarized man-made islands that China has built up there? Thank you.
MS. FLOURNOY: OK. Thank you.
GEN. DUNFORD: Yeah, I mean, I think the vision has been pretty clearly laid out by our leadership, and that is the global commons, so to speak, should be accessible to all, and that within the framework of international law that’s kind of where we ought to be. So that’s the vision. That’s what it ought to be, is that the South China Sea ought to be accessible to all within the framework of international law.
In terms of what – you mentioned the word “militarization.” I think that’s important because I think we’re not seeking to militarize the South China Sea. Quite the contrary, we’re trying to make sure it’s available.
The “in order to” of our efforts there is to make sure that the Pacific as a whole, and the South China Sea in particular, is available for trade and the economic prosperity that we’ve enjoyed for the last 70 years because we have had freedom of navigation, freedom of the seas, freedom of the skies. And so that’s kind of where we’re trying to go in the future, and I think it will require a combination – you know, I hate to use the trite phrase – but it is a whole-of-government approach: it is a diplomatic issue, it is an economic issue, and there is a military dimension to the challenge as well. And putting all those things together is going to be necessary to make sure that we don’t escalate the challenge that’s there right now.
But I think if you – if you say, well, what’s the military dimension, I think our freedom of navigation is a piece of the military dimension. Our military-to-military engagement is a piece of it. Our exercise program is a piece of it. Transparency is a piece of it. And then obviously, from an economic and diplomatic, it has to be clear to everybody that that’s the right regime to have, it’s in everybody’s interest to do that.
MS. FLOURNOY: All right, thank you.
Yes, right here. You can stand up. The mic will come your way. Thanks, Anna (sp).
Q: Hey, sir. Good to see you again. We had a nice chat at the Reagan Forum a year ago. I’m Major General Tom Carter, retired, and I just wanted to first of all say thank you for robusting-up some of the CSAR for those aviators going deep into Raqqa and northern Iraq and stuff right now, so thank you.
But my one question is, I know your experience in Iraq was a lot like mine. If I had a dollar for every Iraqi who thanked me for what we did over there, we could both retire tomorrow. Of course, they’d always ask for more water and more electricity after that. But the thing that is most bothersome was the performance of the Iraqi army, obviously, after we left. I frequently would get questions after speeches, what keeps you up at night? And I would say, will they do the right thing when no one’s looking? And so I would implore you – and I know your staff is listening to these questions – that when the chairman gets assessments of the status of Iraqi forces, which you obviously recommended the president to support in various forms, make sure that he gets, you know, terrific assessments of their real combat capabilities, because it really is a gray – you have to have a certain amount of confidence before you employ our own boots on the ground to support those people.
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure.
Q: And so thank you.
GEN. DUNFORD: And I’ll do that based on personal assessments as well.
MS. FLOURNOY: OK, right here. Over here.
Q: Thank you very much. Can you hear me all right?
GEN. DUNFORD: Sure. Yes, sir, sure can.
Q: OK, fine.
Years ago, when I was a student of –
MS. FLOURNOY: Why don’t you tell us who you are, please.
Q: Oh. My name is Paul Johnson (sp). I live in Washington, D.C. in the Dupont Circle area and I’m a Persianist.
In the early ’70s I attended the University of Tehran. They have an excellent Persian program for foreigners who have an advanced knowledge of the language, which I had by that time, having studied with a British scholar for four years in Arabic and Persian. And at that time I used to take a lot of tours to Mashhad and staying in these funky hotels that the pilgrims would stay in. and I knew at that time that there was a – or, no – a contingent of U.S. Army people arresting drug traffickers from the poppy fields in Afghanistan. And I was told by a Marine who had just left the service after six years who had served in a Marine battalion on the Afghani side of the Iran border, working with the Iranian army to arrest drug traffickers. Now, Iran and the United States have – Iran and the United States have a very personal problem with drugs, right here in Washington, D.C.
MS. FLOURNOY: Can we get to the question soon? We’re running out of time.
Q: And – well, OK. All right. Let’s – I guess I don’t really have a question.
MS. FLOURNOY: OK.
GEN. DUNFORD: Well, good. (Laughter.)
Q: But –
MS. FLOURNOY: Thank you very much, though.
GEN. DUNFORD: If you do, I’d be happy to see you on the way out.
MS. FLOURNOY: I’m sure – it sounds like you have a very interesting experience background, but we will – we only have the chairman here for a limited time so we’re going to focus on some questions. Yes, over here.
Q: Thank you. Sean Lyngaas with FCW, Federal Computer Week Magazine.
I’m wondering if – General, if you can tell us what you key takeaway from the joint chief’s – hack on the joint chief’s unclassified network? It occurred before you arrived, but no doubt was on your mind and has been since. I’m wondering what you’ve done then, since – I know it’s only been two months – but what you have done or plan to do to make sure that will never happen again, and what that experience may have taught you that you didn’t know about cyberspace before.
GEN. DUNFORD: Yeah, first of all, I didn’t mention it in my remarks because I actually had to cut some place yesterday as I was thinking about it. But one of the areas that I’m taking a hard look at is the whole idea of resiliency. When we think about providing options to the president in terms of the conflict – and I’m going to get – I’m going to work my way back to the vulnerability that you addressed – it has to be informed by our resilience to whatever actions the enemy may take.
And so one of the things that just jumps out at you is when you have that kind of a vulnerability, whether it be in the civilian sector or it be from a military perspective, you really don’t have the kind of resilience you need to provide the president with options in the event of a contingency, you know, to advance our interests. So it clearly highlighted for me the resilience issue. That thought’s connected to the broader warfighting piece. But also, clearly, that whatever investments we’ve made in cyber defense to date have not got us to where we need to be. And that needs to be an area of continued investment as we move forward.
So I don’t know if that’s anything profound. You know, not good enough was the number-one takeaway. But then more broadly, when you think about – I think the United States as the platform from which we deploy the joint force. And so the resilience of the United States has to be such that we actually do have options to horizontally escalate, for example, in the event of a crisis, and know that what we’re not doing is really exposing one of our vulnerabilities to the enemy, if that makes sense.
MS. FLOURNOY: Mitzi.
Q: You are a very exciting leader. I am so thrilled – I’m Mitzi Wertheim with the Naval Postgraduate School. I’ve been with defense –
GEN. DUNFORD: I thought you were going to say you’re my mom. (Laughter.) But you’re so young-looking it’s impossible, but –
Q: I’m old enough – no, no, I’m old enough to be your mother. I came to defense 37 or 38 years ago. My concern, and I expressed this earlier, is understanding the other. And this is related to the whole intelligence world. What are our expectations about all these people we’re dealing with and how do we educate our troops to try to understand how these other people think? Because the assumption that they have the same views as we do clearly is wrong. I mean, one of the interesting stories coming out in the economist now is how these countries now want democracy, but not like ours. And so how do we learn about them, because it’s certainly not built into the general education of our military troops, except for a very small number of people.
GEN. DUNFORD: No, I agree. And I tell you, many of you probably read – one of the best articles I read was in The Atlantic, maybe, I don’t know, three or four months ago. And I wish I remembered the author right now. Yeah, no, it was a – it was a great article. I mean, it really – it framed honestly what—how they think, what they believe in, what they’re trying to do. And I think many of us knew parts and pieces of that, but that was probably about as comprehensive and coherent an outline of what we’re dealing with as anything that I’ve read.
Unfortunately, it hadn’t resonated very much. I mean, it’s not only just our troops – because I think our troops actually have a sufficient understanding of what we’re dealing with to do what they – to do what must be done. But what baffles me more are the 15- or 16-year old girls and boys who romanticize what ISIL is all about and decide to go join the fight. What confuses me is – my daughter went to West Potomac High here in Alexandria. She had two of her classmates make their way over to Pakistan and say, hey, we’d like to join al-Qaida. And they get arrested. It was in The Washington Post. You know, these are – these are two young guys who went to West Potomac High, grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, you know, had a job.
I mean, so what’s concerning to me is that the narrative – we spent a lot of time talking about this, exploring it. We always do. Every meeting we have is that the narrative that ISIL has is getting traction. And we need to take that part of it serious. You know, we can – we can look at the absurdity of the ideas and immediately be dismissive. It’s easy to do. But those ideas actually are resonating. They’re resonating with people who don’t have access to the universe of information that we have. They’re resonating to people who have grievances in areas where they’ve been subjected to oppressive leadership. And amazingly enough, they’re resonating with young people in the United States who are either disaffected, dislocated, or, you know, just not fully integrated into our society.
So I wish I had a glib answer for how to solve it, but I think you absolutely highlight one of the challenges we have right now. And to be successful, you know, dealing with the narrative, countering the narrative, countering the aura of invincibility, the legitimacy of ISIL is going to be critical to our success. And I think we probably do get a C-minus or a D in terms of doing that right now. It’s certainly one of the areas that – although it’s not our lead – we need to be a part of it, “we” being the Department of Defense.
MS. FLOURNOY: Thank you. Yes, right here.
GEN. DUNFORD: Hey, John.
Q: Hey, Joe – General. John Luddy with Aerospace Industries Association.
My question kind of pivots on that last one, and it’s about radicalization. And this may be more appropriate to you as your premier experience on the ground in that part of the world. How much do our actions – military actions – do you think bear on the question of radicalization? Most recently in the news it’s been the question of our dropping leaflets, for example, on the convoy before we blew it up. There’s the question of our – the debate about our policies on immigration at the moment. What does what we do or say bear on that turning point of radicalization?
GEN. DUNFORD: Yeah. I’ll give you my own personal assessment. One, I think it bears a lot on it. And I’d say two things. One, and something I’ve said now publicly a couple of times, I don’t think we ought to apologize for our values when we go to war. We ought to bring our values with us. And if we’re looking at this as a long fight – and I do look at it as a long fight – we can’t let the immediacy of whatever challenge we have inform our actions. And I do think that over time when we – when we have unnecessary civilian casualties, when we were abusive to people – if we were, you know, and again I don’t suggest that we have been in any wide manner.
In fact, let me make it clear, because it’s true: I’m incredibly proud of the discipline of our force since 9/11 – incredibly proud. And the record speaks for itself. Have there been – have there been exceptions? There certainly have. And no one grabs those exceptions more quickly and deals with it more than we do. But I absolutely believe with the thesis that you’re outlining there, and that is that this is a war at the end of the day of values, this is a war of ideas. We actually have something to sell as Americans. The experiment that we have here in the United States of America is actually something that can be and should be sold and we should sell it.
And I think when our forces go – and this is the argument I make to our young men and women – when we go someplace we are a reflection of the United States of America. I think our day-to-day behavior and our engagement with people, whether it be in Afghanistan, Iraq, or elsewhere, may be the only part of America they ever see. And so I do think on a day-to-day basis our actions in a positive way can help us win the war of ideas over time.
MS. FLOURNOY: So we have about the last five minutes here. One or two questions. Young lady back here.
Q: Hi, General. I just wanted to follow – I’m Anna Mulrine with the Christian Science Monitor.
And just to follow-up on Michele’s question about women in combat, you know, I guess throughout this process there have been a number of women who got the message that, you know, as a Marine Corps we don’t want you in these jobs. You know, you’re going to ruin everything. You’re going to ruin the camaraderie, the fun of fighting, you know, the effectiveness of the force.
And so now that you are the top officer in the military, I’m just wondering – do you feel like this is – you know, how are you going to heal this rift? Do you feel like it’s a rift that needs to be healed? And then also, you know, I’m just curious, as you were going through this data and these studies and then see the women go through Ranger School as well, you know, was there ever a point in which you were pleasantly surprised and kind of looked at this and said, wow, well, here’s a way in which women could make these forces, you know, more effective?
GEN. DUNFORD: OK, first of all, you know, I had hoped to move forward from implementation and get on with it, but you asked the question and I’ll answer it. Let me just tell you what my criteria was and make a recommendation. For the last year, what I focused on was my ability to stand in front of a room with 2,000 Marines and sailors in it and say, Marines, sailors, this is what I recommended and this is why I recommended it, and then walk through the logic of my recommendation and have them say, OK, I agree with that, or, I disagree with it, but I understand how he got to where he is.
I don’t actually believe that there’s some huge rift. And to be honest with you, it would break my heart if I thought that was true. Even in the recommendation that I made we were going to – we were going to open up all but a very few MOSs where the data indicated that there were some challenges we had to overcome. The secretary has determined we’ll overcome those in implementation. And that’s where I’m at right now. But in terms of the value of women in the Marine Corps, I think the record speaks for itself over the past 10 or 12 years. And we’ve certainly trumpeted that.
So you know, there may be in Washington, D.C., you know, some perception that women in the Marine Corps don’t feel valued. I’ve spent a hell of a lot of time with Marines. And I think I can sniff out BS when I see it. And I don’t actually think that’s true. I think Marines are proud to be Marines. And the women who’ve had different opinions than me have been quite vocal in sharing those with me in a very professional way when I do, you know, groups like we’re doing right now.
So I don’t think there’s a rift to heal. I think treating every Marine with dignity and respect, valuing the contribution of every Marine, and putting them someplace where they have a high probability of succeeding and contributing to the team is what we’re all about, and we’re going to do that. So that’s where I’m at. And I will personally make sure that that message is conveyed in every audience that I speak to during my time in office.
You know, if there were groups of women that felt somehow because I made a recommendation that I didn’t value their service, then I will close those one by one if it takes that to make sure that that’s not the case, because it’s not the case. And I would resent it if someone suggested it was. You know, I provide the best military advice with candor, you know, made a recommendation. But made a recommendation with a full willingness to then implement whatever decision was made like it was my idea, because I’ve been doing that since I was a second lieutenant.
MS. FLOURNOY: General, thank you. We are unfortunately out of time. The General’s been incredibly generous with his time. We are so honored to have been able to host you for your first think tank address. Please join me in thanking General Dunford. (Applause.)