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Dempsey: 'No magic bullet' in war against Islamic State

By SIG CHRISTENSON | San Antonio Express–News | Published: March 26, 2016

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Tribune News Service) — There are no short–term, quick–fix answers in the war on terrorism, said retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who stepped down last year as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and spoke at Trinity University this week.

Some approaches could make winning the war more difficult, he said when asked about Republican presidential contenders Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz repeating their calls for waterboarding terror suspects in the wake of the Brussels bombings. Cruz said the nation should police Muslim neighborhoods “before they become radicalized.”

Dempsey stressed that he wasn’t attacking either hopeful but said in an interview, “Surveilling any one particular group, I think, would — could, could — create a condition where those groups wouldn’t feel comfortable living in the United States. And we are a nation of immigrants (and) … the international standard bearer of diversity and inclusiveness.”

Dempsey spoke at the Flora Cameron Lecture on Politics and Public Affairs on Wednesday, one day after the bombings in Belgium, which left 31 people dead.

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In a short interview before the lecture, he said he didn’t believe that Washington and Moscow were locked in a new Cold War, despite Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its support of a rebellion in the Ukraine and confrontations involving Russian and NATO countries’ aircraft.

If some of the tactics resemble those of the Cold War, he said, Russia’s agenda is to shape events in Europe, not physically control it, as it had sought to do decades go.

“They want to be far more prominent both in the political arena, the military and the economic arena, and I think what they’re really seeking to do is trying to sever the trans–Atlantic link,” Dempsey said.

In addressing some of the ideas that have bubbled up during the presidential campaign, Dempsey said, “It’s important that the military remain apolitical,” but he took issue with Cruz’s often–voiced complaint that the United States cannot defeat the Islamic State and other groups until the government calls their attacks “radical Islamic terrorism.” Asked how such a label or definition would advance American strategy, Dempsey suggested that it would not.

“First of all, ‘Islamic’ means ‘of that faith’ and that’s not the issue. The issue is not with the Islamic faith, it’s not with Islam. It’s with radical Islamists,” he said, adding that the Islamic State, also called ISIS, cites 105 verses out of 6,300 in the Quran to justify its actions. “So I think it really is important to distinguish between those who practice the faith legitimately and those who pervert it, and our effort to keep those two separate is an important effort.”

Dempsey also said U.S. strategy to eliminate ISIS and other terrorist groups is premised on the belief that the war won’t end soon. A new generation of terrorists attacked Belgium nearly 15 years after 9/11, he noted.

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The military believes that the conflict will last a decade or more, he said, but “I personally think we’re probably 10 years into what will eventually be seen as a 30–year conflict.”

“There’s no magic bullet,” he said.

The U.S. is developing a coalition of regional partners that includes its most capable allies — mostly those in NATO — and is weaving economic, diplomatic and information capabilities together to augment military force, he said.

Asked about Trump’s willingness to use waterboarding on terrorist suspects, Dempsey said, “Instinctively? I don’t think it does (work) because it seems to me that under duress, someone’s liable to say whatever they have to do to relieve the pressure on themselves. But I’m not an expert in it.”

“This conflict only ends when the people of the Middle East reject the ideology, and if we reach a point where they don’t reject the ideology and they all decide that they will align themselves in this thing called the caliphate, then that’s a different issue, but we’re not there yet,” Dempsey said. “And we certainly do not want to be part of a catalyst that puts us in that position or that encourages these groups of people who may not feel they have any other choice at that point than to align themselves with these radical groups.”

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