Saturday, October 17, 2015

Quotable: General Joseph Dunford on openness to professional debate

Friday, October 16th 2015
The importance of robust and frank debate and discussion within a profession – and a professional journal to provide a forum – were emphasized by the then-Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Joseph Dunford, at the annual Ground Awards Dinner of the Marine Corps Association and Foundation on May 14, 2015.  (He has since become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)  The body of his talk addressed coming challenges for the Marine Corps, but he opened with remarks that can well apply to the Foreign Service.  Substitute “diplomatic” for “military” – and “Foreign Service” for “Marine Corps” -- in his remarks:

We need a forum to exchange ideas about military art and science.  We want to do some things that will help grow the profession – the professionalism of the United States Marine Corps. . . . Frankly, for over a hundred years that’s exactly what the Marine Corps Association has done. . . .

The Association is only as strong as its members.  How we meet that mission of exchanging ideas about the military art and science is through the Marine Corps Gazette. . . . designed for us to exchange ideas.  It should be a healthy dialog about those issues affecting the Corps. 

I will tell you tonight that when I look out at the security environment, there’s probably never been a time when it’s as important for us to have a healthy dialog – a healthy debate, if you will – about the future of the Corps.  You know even Henry Kissinger, who’s been around a while, described today as the most volatile and complex security environment since World War II.  So the implications for the United States Marine Corps and our need to adapt and innovate in order to win in the future – the stakes are pretty high. 

So why do I raise that?  It’s been brought to my attention, and not just by one or two sources, that there are actually some Marines out there who are afraid to write articles for the Gazette.  They’re afraid to actually write about issues that affect our Corps because they think it will be held against them and actually may be adverse to their career.  The point I want to make tonight -- with the leadership sitting here -- I want to make sure we have a command climate that is consistent with our traditions – a command climate that actually encourages informed and constructive criticism of the institution.  A command climate that encourages a very healthy exchange of ideas -- and a command climate that actually results in us getting better as an institution.

[Comment:  Compare General Dunford’s welcoming attitude toward debate with this discussion of the annual American Foreign Service Association’s “constructive dissent” awards.]

So for those of you sitting here tonight, particularly if you look around at the average age in this room, it’s probably somewhere north of … north of … [laughter] and so actually we are in positions to make sure that Marines don’t feel that way. . . . It may be on some issues where the risk is felt, but we have to make sure that is absolutely not the case in the future.

* * * *

Speaking personally, I read the Gazette every month, and I personally move some items to the top of my in-box as a result of something I read, and I want to tell you right now that I don’t like everything that I read in the Gazette.  * * *

Adam Strickland four or five months ago wrote an article in the Gazette that actually highlighted a number of pretty important issues, and it really talked about some of the gaps we have in integration that we need to be addressing in order for us to be more effective in coming from the sea.  But, he went through all of those challenges and he proposed a solution, and his solution was that the Commandant of the Marine Corps should work for the Chief of Naval Operations [audience murmurs].  I didn’t like that article [audience laughter], and I didn’t actually agree with that article either. 

But I’ll tell you what I did.  The next time I saw him, about two or three days after I read that article -- General Bailey was standing there -- I put my arm around him – I didn’t squeeze that hard – and I said, “hey, Adam, that was a good article, and there’s a lot of good points in there,” and I gave him my perspective on why I thought he was wrong, and we had a very good exchange. 

But that’s actually that’s what’s supposed to happen.  He did exactly what he’s supposed to be doing.  He initiated a conversation, he initiated a dialog, and frankly, he caused me to think about some things in a different way because of the way he phrased his article, and that’s exactly where we are today.

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