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Dempsey's Reconfirmation Will Shine Spotlight on Foreign Policy

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Dempsey’s confirmation hearing this week before the Senate Armed Services Committee will likely be a bumpy ride with senators grilling the four-star Army officer on his track record, as well as the administration’s plans and priorities.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the military’s top officer, is up for confirmation for another two-year term at an awkward time for the Obama administration, as it wrestles with its response to unrest abroad and steep cuts to defense spending at home.

Dempsey, a largely noncontroversial figure, will almost certainly be rewarded with another two years as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But his confirmation hearing this week before the Senate Armed Services Committee will likely be a bumpy ride with senators grilling the four-star Army officer on his track record, as well as the administration’s plans and priorities.

The hearing will, in short, give members of the committee — particularly Republicans — an opportunity to challenge the White House’s national security strategy and grill the officer that has the president’s ear.

“Any chief of staff when they’re renominated, you sort of have to go back through the process, now they have a track record,” said Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, a senior member of the Armed Services panel. “There have been some obviously very difficult decisions that have been made during his tenure. There have been some that I agree with, some that I disagree with.”

The civil war in Syria — and the cautious response Dempsey has advocated — will undoubtedly take center stage during the Thursday hearing.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a vocal Republican on both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, has already said he has many questions about what he considers to be Dempsey’s “flawed leadership,” particularly on advice he’s given to the president and statements he has made before Congress.

McCain, who has pushed the administration to be more aggressive in aiding the Syrian rebels to oust strongman Bashar al-Assad, listed Syria as a top concern.

Unlike McCain, Dempsey has steadfastly resisted pressure to take action against Assad, cautioning that military options will not necessarily resolve the conflict and could ultimately prove too risky. For instance, he has noted that establishing a no-fly zone, as some on Capitol Hill have urged the White House to seriously consider, would be difficult and amount to an act of war.

“I’d like to understand the plan to make peace before we start a war,” Dempsey told reporters on June 26.

President Barack Obama’s secret plan to send small arms to carefully vetted Syrian rebels has divided Capitol Hill, and lawmakers have been demanding more details. Some, like McCain, have been pushing publicly for this kind of support for the Syrian rebels for months. Others, however, are worried the weapons could end up in the wrong hands.

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