Who will carry out Obama's Afghanistan exit plan? Three new guys.

It will be the duty of three men, all new in their roles, to carry out Obama's plan to wind down the war in Afghanistan. Here are some clues into what priorities these three defense leaders might set and a look at the particular skills each brings to the task of managing America’s longest war.

2. Gen. Martin Dempsey, next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

  • close
    Gen. Martin Dempsey speaks during a graduation ceremony at Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Friday, June 10.
    Orlin Wagner/AP
    View Caption
  • About video ads
    View Caption

When announcing General Dempsey’s promotion earlier this month, President Obama quipped that General Dempsey will go down in history as perhaps the shortest-serving Army Chief of Staff (the job he gives up to become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).

He has shown a sense of humor about his relatively quick rise to the top. During a visit with US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq in April, he cracked up many soldiers when he said: “I took the job as the 37th Chief of Staff of the Army about a week ago, so I’ve pretty much got it all figured out if you want to ask me any questions here.”

Jokes aside, Dempsey is expected to bring an intellectual rigor to his new job as America’s top military officer and adviser to the president. He has a master’s degree in English from Duke University, and taught the subject as a professor at West Point.

He welcomes debate, too. As head of US Training and Doctrine Command – his job before becoming Army chief of staff – he hosted seminars with experts not only in warfare, but also in international development and social policy to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan and any future wars.

As the former head of the training and development of Iraqi security forces from 2005 to 2007, Dempsey has special knowledge of what is largely considered America’s exit strategy in Afghanistan: training Afghan security forces with some degree of rigor so that US troops can safely depart.

He is also considered a leader who will ask the tough questions – and not shy from giving the unpopular answer. When he was quizzed during a May budget hearing about the military’s progress on detecting roadside bombs in Afghanistan, Dempsey said, “I would be loath to give you optimism.” When soldiers are at risk, “I think we should all remain sort of pessimistic,” he added.

The pessimism disappears when he speaks to the soldiers he leads. He told troops in Iraq during his April visit that “our Army, it always does what the nation asks it to do…. It means you do what you have to do, on behalf of the nation and your fellow soldiers.” Likewise, he told them, “I’ll be in the fray back there to try to help figure out what the Army of, let’s say, 2020 will look like,” he added. “And I think together, we’ll be fine. I really in my heart believe that.”

2 of 3