BAGHDAD, Aug. 2, 2011 — Because the growing national debt remains as the biggest threat to national security, the recent debate and resolution of the debt ceiling crisis are important steps, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
“It is up to Congress how to figure out how to move ahead with regard to the debt,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said during a news conference.
“I don’t have the details of the deal,” the chairman said. “I certainly expect there will be defense cuts as a part of this deal — I just don’t know yet.”
Any cuts would come on top of a mandate from President Barack Obama to cut defense spending by $400 billion over 10 years. Mullen said that because he doesn’t yet know what the Pentagon’s topline budget is for fiscal 2012, which starts Oct. 1, planning is difficult.
Mullen, who is retiring after four years as chairman at the end of September, came to the military’s top uniformed position in October 2007, a time he called the “peak of the downside” in Iraq. Since then, he said, he has come back to Iraq many times, and he has been amazed at the progress Iraqis have made. He used his visit to Mosul yesterday as an example.
“The U.S. forces have now turned over all the security checkpoints,” he said. “[The Iraqis] are doing it professionally and efficiently.”
Flying over Baghdad, he added, it becomes apparent that the city is lit up, it has a lot of traffic on the roads, and the Iraqis are building an economic infrastructure that will capitalize on the country’s oil resources.
“The [American] blood and treasure that has been sacrificed here has given opportunity to 26 million people who had a pretty bleak future to have an entirely different one,” he said. “There are huge challenges, but progress is palpable, and is better each time I see it.”
Mullen stressed that the United States is committed to a strong, long-term relationship and partnership with Iraq, and that a strong military-to-military relationship would benefit both countries. “Over a long period of time, the relationship will just get stronger and stronger,” the chairman said.
The most important part of that relationship, Mullen said, is its people-to-people aspect — not only with senior leaders, but also with junior officers and noncommissioned officers.
“These junior officers and NCOs need to learn about each other when they are young, so when they do reach higher levels … they are not simply beginning a relationship with their opposite numbers, but continuing it,” he said.
Iraq is a critical country in a critical region, Mullen said, and it can be a positive example to struggling nations throughout the Middle East and Central Asia.
“I think there is great hope for stability, great hope for economic growth, great hope for a democracy in this region,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)