"It's about the software. It's about relationships," Martin Dempsey told reporters Wednesday after his visit to Iraq and Afghanistan. "We almost always talk about the hardware -- the F-16s, the radar, the tanks. We went through that [with Iraq]. It's part of the conversation. But we managed to talk about software -- the human dimension of this thing."
Dempsey met with U.S. and national leaders in both Afghanistan and Iraq during his unannounced visit.
U.S. defense and service war colleges, in a program funded through the State Department, have 154 Iraqi officers as students, the Defense Department said in a release. Dempsey said he is "passionate" about the program, noting he and his Pakistani counterpart, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, met when they were Command and General Staff College students.
"I'm a passionate proponent of that," he said. "I can go around the world where we are having some of our most significant challenges and find someone who has been to one of our schools. It's a great foundation on which to build."
But relationship-building takes time, he added.
"I've invested half a decade in my relationships in Afghanistan and Iraq," Dempsey said. "You can't blow into a room in any culture, but particularly Arab culture and South Asia," and expect to understand the situation or be remotely effective, he said.