General Martin Dempsey, U.S. Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave a lengthy interview to Judy Woodruff
on Friday night's PBS News Hour and delivered a carefully balanced
picture of how the U.S. military is managing the unfolding
Ukraine crisis, both reassuring European NATO allies that treaty
obligations will be honored, while maintaining constant
communications with Russian counterparts, to assure there are no
miscalculations leading to conflict. Gen. Dempsey, clearly aware
of the boundaries between military advice and political
decision-making, did not attempt to under-play the danger of
conflict, particularly given the occupant of the White House.
Asked by an aggressive Woodruff what kind of message the
U.S. is trying to send to Russia, Gen. Dempsey calmly replied
that “We're clearly trying to send a message to Russia, almost
exclusively through diplomatic channels, so that I do have an
open line with my Russian counterpart that I have used twice the
last two days.
“But we're trying to tell them not to escalate this thing
further into Eastern Ukraine and allow the conditions to be set
for some kind of resolution in the Crimea. But the message we are
sending militarily is to our NATO allies.
“So, one of our responsibilities at times like this is to
reassure our allies. And so the deployments you mentioned into
the Baltic air policing mission, into the aviation detachment in
Poland, the deployment of the ship, are really intended to
reassure our allies… Well, don't forget, we have actually, we
have NATO treaty obligations under Article 5 for collective
defense. And, so, when they ask us for reassurance or they ask
us to for contingency planning, we respond, and we do have
obligations with NATO.''
Pressed again on the possibility of a direct military
conflict, Dempsey remained focused on the diplomacy: “Well,
that's why we're seeking aggressively to resolve this
diplomatically, before we would reach the point where there could
be a miscalculation.''
Asked again about the Russian claims that the present
government in Ukraine is illegal, Dempsey reiterated, “Of course
they are. And they're trying to roll back to the February 21
agreement, and we're trying to suggest that, really, the clock
started on February 24.
“Those are matters of diplomacy. Our role, as the military,
is to seek ways to influence this without it being escalatory.
And, by the way, I do have this open line with my Russian
counterpart. So, everything that we have done, I tell him, here's
what were doing. Here's why were doing it. We disagree
fundamentally about your claim of legitimacy, but, as militaries,
let's try to avoid escalating this thing.''
Dempsey concluded by acknowledging that there is a chance of
escalation to military conflict and that the U.S. is constantly
re-evaluating the changing status: “Well, that's a question
that I think deserves to be assessed and reassessed and refreshed
as this thing evolves. But, remember, we do have treaty
obligations with our NATO allies. And I have assured them that,
if that treaty obligation is triggered, we would respond.''
Military sources who carefully studied the Dempsey interview
emphasized that Dempsey went as far as any Chairman could go in
pressing for a diplomatic resolution and avoidance of conflict.
It is most fortunate that, at a time when the President of the United States repeatedly demonstrates his lack of diplomatic patience and experience, that there is a military chairman who has the diplomatic and military skills that the Commander-in-Chief so sorely lacks. This is reassuring, but is no guarantee that the President's continuing flight-foward, including his latest declaration of a National Emergency over the Ukraine crisis, is not going to land us in a senseless and potentially devastating strategic confrontation.