Dempsey's War-Avoidance Includes Both Middle East & China
February 20, 2012 • 9:37AM

The war-avoidence policies being urged and carried out by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, includes China as well as Southwest Asia, as shown in his full CNN interview.

In addition to calling for restraint with respect to the flash points around Syria and Iran — in stark contrast to Obama's British-scripted bellicosity — Dempsey stated that the U.S. military's strategic shift to the Pacific region provides an opportunity to improve U.S.-China relations. "I think this is more opportunity than liability to improve our relationship with China," Dempsey told CNN's Fareed Zakaria, "and I am personally committed to having that as the outcome, rather than get into an arms race or into some kind of confrontation with China."

With regard to Syria, as earlier reported, Dempsey said that "it's premature to take a decision to arm the opposition movement in Syria, because I would challenge anyone to clearly identify for me the opposition movement in Syria at this point." After pointing out the involvement of powers such as Turkey, Russia, and Iran, Dempsey said some also see this as "a Sunni-Shia competition for regional control, referring to the Iranians and the Saudis, and he added importantly that "there's indications that Al Qaeda is involved, and that they're interested in supporting the opposition." And until we are a lot clearer as to who the opposition is, Dempsey repeated, "it would be premature to talk about arming them."

The Joint Chiefs Chairman also emphasized that Syria is very different from Libya; for example, the Syrian military's capabilities are quite different: "They are very capable. They have a very sophisticated, integrated air-defense system, for example. They have chemical and biological weapons. Now, they haven't demonstrated any interest or any intent to use those, but it is a very different military problem... I think intervening in Syria would be very difficult."

When questioned about Iran and Israel, Dempsey stressed, as have other U.S. military officials, that "it's not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran," and that this has been the U.S. military's counsel to the Israelis. Also, Dempsey emphasized that "we also know — or believe we know — that the Iranian regime has not decided that they will embark on the effort to weaponize their nuclear capability."

When asked by Zakaria whether the Israelis understand that the United States is urging them not to strike Iran, and whether he thinks that Israel will be deterred from striking in the near future, Dempsey responded:

"I'm confident that they understand our concerns, that a strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn't achieve their long-term objectives. But, I also understand that Israel has national interests that are unique to them. And, of course, they consider Iran to be an existential threat, in a way that we have not concluded that Iran is an existential threat. So I wouldn't suggest, sitting here today, that we've persuaded them that our view is the correct view, and that they are acting in an ill-advised fashion, but we've had a very candid, collaborative conversation. We've shared intelligence. And I was in Israel about three weeks ago and spent two days there with the senior leaders, and so we are continuing that dialogue."

Zakaria asked, " If you were a betting man, would you bet that Israel won't strike?" Dempsey deftly answered: "Well, fortunately, I'm not a betting man."