Mullen Offers 40-Year Perspective on Social, Military Issues

WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2011 — As the last month ticks down in a career that began with his grad­u­a­tion from the U.S. Naval Acad­e­my in 1968, Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, today offered his view of how war, peace, soci­ety and the world have changed over those 40-plus years.

He’s seen some of the most sig­nif­i­cant mil­i­tary changes ever dur­ing his tenure as chair­man, he told the audi­ence gath­ered here at the Carnegie Endow­ment for Inter­na­tion­al Peace.

“This has been a tumul­tuous four years,” the admi­ral said. “I do remem­ber when I took over this job … the state of Iraq; the despair that was there in so many cor­ners, the vec­tor we were on, which was cer­tain­ly head­ed for fail­ure.”

In con­trast, dur­ing his last trip there a few weeks ago, he flew over Bagh­dad at night with some “Army guys” who served there ear­ly in the con­flict, Mullen said.

“It looked like a sea of lights, like you were in Las Vegas,” he said. “They’d nev­er seen traf­fic on the streets of Bagh­dad at night, and it was jammed.”

The turn­around in Iraq will be debat­ed by his­to­ri­ans, Mullen said, but he cred­its two pri­ma­ry mil­i­tary fac­tors: coura­geous lead­ers at the top, and the uni­formed men and women who car­ried out their orders.

Mullen said his three pri­or­i­ties as chair­man have been the broad­er Mid­dle East, includ­ing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and defeat­ing al-Qai­da; the health of the force; and the rest of the world.

The best day of his term of chair­man was “the day we got [Osama] bin Laden,” he said. “That also rep­re­sents 30 years of work since ‘Desert One,’ when we failed in the Iran­ian hostage res­cue. And we rebuilt not just our Spe­cial Forces and our spe­cial oper­a­tors, but our mil­i­tary.”

Blood, sweat, tears and a lot of loss­es have result­ed in an adap­tive force that is the world’s best, the chair­man said.

“Obvi­ous­ly we’re in the mid­dle of exe­cut­ing a very dif­fi­cult and chal­leng­ing cam­paign in Afghanistan,” he said.

There has been steady secu­ri­ty progress in that coun­try “since we put 10,000 Marines in Hel­mand in the sum­mer of [2009],” he not­ed.

The coun­terin­sur­gency fight in Afghanistan has impli­ca­tions for that entire region, includ­ing Pak­istan, India, Iran, Chi­na and “the ‘stans,” he said.

Respon­si­ble nations need to focus on the entire region, so the sit­u­a­tion there doesn’t dete­ri­o­rate into civ­il war or a failed state with nuclear weapons, Mullen said.

The Unit­ed States today faces secu­ri­ty chal­lenges dif­fer­ent in both num­ber and nature from those he knew as a young offi­cer serv­ing in Viet­nam, he said.

“This is not 1990; this is not 1970,” he said. “This is a world that, from my per­spec­tive, still is very, very dan­ger­ous.”

“I talk about two exis­ten­tial threats to the Unit­ed States right now,” he said. “One is obvi­ous­ly the nuclear weapons that exist in Rus­sia; we think that we’ve got that well con­trolled inside the [cur­rent strate­gic arms reduc­tion, or New START] treaty and inside the rela­tion­ship.”

The oth­er is cyber attacks, which “I think … actu­al­ly can bring us to our knees,” he added.

The cyber threat has no bound­aries or rules, and can issue from oth­er nations, non­govern­ment actors � “You pick it,” � but the dan­ger it pos­es war­rants a struc­ture of doc­trine and reg­u­la­tion like that used to con­trol the nuclear threat, he said.

“We’re a long way from that right now,” he said.

As the Unit­ed States and Rus­sia reduce their nuclear arse­nals, the tra­di­tion­al nuclear tri­ad of bomber air­craft, land-based mis­siles and bal­lis­tic-mis­sile sub­marines “at some point … becomes very, very expen­sive,” the chair­man said.

“I think a deci­sion will have to be made in terms of whether we keep the tri­ad or drop it down to a dyad,” Mullen said.

Mullen said he has worked to strength­en the nation’s mil­i­tary com­mu­ni­ca­tion with Chi­na, and wor­ries that the Unit­ed States and Iran have had no for­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion since 1979.

“Even in the dark­est days of the Cold War, we had links to the Sovi­et Union,” he said. “We are not talk­ing to Iran. So we don’t under­stand each oth­er. If some­thing hap­pens, it’s vir­tu­al­ly assured that we won’t get it right, that there will be mis­cal­cu­la­tions.”

While the mil­i­tary now uses dif­fer­ent doc­trine to counter dif­fer­ent threats than it did when Mullen began his career, the force today is more capa­ble and more pro­fes­sion­al than he dreamed of then, he said.

Mullen not­ed that peo­ple who wear the nation’s mil­i­tary uni­forms now make up less than 1 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

“Our major units now are on their fourth, fifth or sixth deploy­ments since 2003,” he said.

While ser­vice mem­bers and their fam­i­lies have been “incred­i­bly resilient,” the chair­man said, the aver­age Amer­i­can has no idea of the depth of stress with which they live.

While he feels strong­ly that the nation does not need a mil­i­tary draft, the chair­man said, mil­i­tary lead­ers must work to con­nect ser­vice mem­bers with the greater nation.

“Amer­i­can cit­i­zens are stunned at what we’ve been through,” he said. “I do wor­ry … that over time, our con­nec­tion is erod­ing. I think that’s a very bad out­come for Amer­i­ca; an out­come this democ­ra­cy could not stand — to have its mil­i­tary essen­tial­ly detached from its peo­ple.”

Mullen said he’s seen 18-year-olds enter the mil­i­tary and leave it changed for the bet­ter.

“I believe broad­ly, a cou­ple years of ser­vice — in any capac­i­ty � would be good for our young peo­ple in the coun­try,” the chair­man said. “In neigh­bor­hoods, in com­mu­ni­ties, with the Peace Corps, with the mil­i­tary … some­thing that expos­es them to the broad­er world, and gets [them] a con­nec­tion to the chal­lenges and recog­ni­tion of the oppor­tu­ni­ties.”

Mullen said dur­ing his own career, he has relied on the part­ner­ship of Deb­o­rah Mullen, his wife of more than 40. Dur­ing his term as chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he also has relied on his mil­i­tary col­leagues, he added.

“I have had the great priv­i­lege of lead­ing young men and women who are the best I’ve ever seen,” the chair­man con­clud­ed, “but doing that with a group of four-stars that are excep­tion­al­ly strong. I think we’re in pret­ty good shape.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)