Joseph Dunford: The New Chairman in Town
More impressive, though, is the fact that Dunford earned the president’s respect and trust even when they vehemently disagreed on one of the biggest issues regarding Afghanistan: the drawdown. In a letter to the SASC, Dunford thought that the United States “should continue to validate the assumption and assess the conditions on the ground as the drawdown [took] place.” He would go even further when testifying to the SASC: “A withdrawal, in my mind, means abandoning the people of Afghanistan, abandoning the endeavor that we’ve been here on for the last decade, and then providing al-Qaeda the space within which to begin again to plan and conduct operations against the West.”
This stance conflicted with the Obama administration’s troop withdrawal policy, one that the president has subsequently slowed down. Despite the differences, Obama reportedly “admired how General Dunford delicately made the case to keep as large a force as possible in Afghanistan for as long as possible,” while still managing to “leave everyone with the impression that he respected the president,” according to a U.S. official who spoke to the New York Times.
Even in this singular case, one gets a sense that Dunford will give his unvarnished military advice, regardless of the president’s stance or initial thoughts on the matter. Dunford will ensure that he is ready to give the necessary council so that this president, and likely the next, can implement effective foreign, defense, and military policies. He will do this with a keen sense of the politics and in a way that will still earn him the ear of the Commander-in-Chief and those around him. Should he be confirmed, Dunford’s skills and expertise may make him a very powerful chairman over the next four years.
Ready America’s troops: Dunford says that “readiness remains our number one priority to meet our national security responsibilities,” so he believes that “the United States must maintain a force-in-readiness.” While he was referring to the Marine Corps, there is no reason to assume that he would drop readiness as his top issue as chairman. His sense of “readiness,” though, seems to be more expansive than the normal definition of how capable troops are in a fight. For example, Dunford supports having women in combat positions so that anyone who can serve in that tough role is able to do so. He also cares that current Marines stay in the ranks and continue to build their leadership potential, which would not only benefit the individual Marine but also increase much-needed leadership in the Corps. Similarly, he highlights the need to fix barracks and the imperative to improve the deployment-to-home-assignment ratio. Dunford believes that these poor conditions are part of the reason why many Marines leave the service and why the Corps now has a leadership and expertise crisis in the non-commissioned officer cadre.
Dunford also made the case that the Marines will not be as ready to fight if they do not have a modern arsenal. Newer equipment would help the United States deal with conflict in the littoral areas, where he thinks much of future conflict will take place. He emphasized the need for, among other systems, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle and Joint Strike Fighters. Ensuring the acquisition and consistent upkeep of these systems allows Marines to be ready to fight with (in theory) the most advanced equipment available. Taking these points into account, it is evident that his desire to help Marines at the individual, familial, and professional levels shows Dunford’s commitment to readiness in more than just the traditional metric.