What General Dempsey would ask the Ayatollah

If he had the chance to sit with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he woud ask: What are you thinking?

“If I had a chance to sit with the ayatollah, I would ask him what exactly you are hoping to achieve,” Dempsey said, during an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in Washington.

“I’d like to hear it from him,” Dempsey said. “What it is that they believe the future holds for the region?”

Dempsey, two days before the 10-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, was the featured guest at CSIS for a talk about the Persian Gulf, a region on which the general focused nearly 20 years of his career.

Dempsey has previously defended the Iraq war and today once again suggested that the invasion and occupation were worth the cost.

The chairman, who served in the Gulf War and later was 1st Armored Division commander in Baghdad in 2003, noted the importance of ousting a dictator and “threat to the region” in Saddam Hussein.

“First of all there is no strongman,” he said. As for the Iraq war, Dempsey said the U.S. gave a strategically important country an opportunity -- and left it at that.

“Say what you will whether it was kind of a clean path to that opportunity or one fraught with missteps…. Of course it was. But the point was, we really did give them an opportunity.”

“In Iraq, we have a partner, not an adversary,” he said.

Looking ahead in the region, and with American efforts to achieve energy independence, Dempsey said that shared security interests are the reason the U.S. military will stay engaged in the Middle East for years to come  -- not oil.

“I went to the gulf in 1991, spent almost the next 20 years there on and off and didn’t do it for oil,” he said, with conviction.