USA — Mullen Tackles Questions in Virtual Town Hall

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2010 — Navy Adm. Mike Mullen took on some of the military’s tough­est top­ics – all posed from ser­vice­mem­bers, spous­es and vet­er­ans — in a vir­tu­al town hall meet­ing sched­uled to air at 1 p.m. EDT today on the Pen­ta­gon Chan­nel.

From tol­er­ance of ser­vice­mem­bers’ reli­gions and sex­u­al­i­ties to Iraq, Iran and “win­ning” in Afghanistan, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff took nine ques­tions sub­mit­ted online via YouTube, Face­book and Twit­ter and answered them in a Sept. 8 tap­ing that marked the sec­ond install­ment of the Pen­ta­gon Channel’s “Ask the Chair­man” pro­gram, which began last year.

In response to the first ques­tion, tak­en from a senior air­man at Malm­strom Air Force Base, Mont., Mullen said the draw­down of forces in Iraq already has increased the time ser­vice­mem­bers spend at home – known as dwell time – between deploy­ments.

The rede­ploy­ment of some 100,000 troops out of Iraq in the past year, down to 50,000 at the end of August, has increased dwell time for Marines and sol­diers “who bore the brunt” of repeat­ed deploy­ments to the coun­try, Mullen said. Dwell time will con­tin­ue to improve as the remain­ing troops return at the end of next year, he said.

Asked by a recent vet­er­an about Iraq’s future, the chair­man said the Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue a strate­gic rela­tion­ship with Iraq, but the specifics have yet to be deter­mined. “What we’re wait­ing for right now is for Iraq to stand up their gov­ern­ment,” he said. “Until then, we can’t real­ly know specifics.”

Until then, Mullen said, he “is com­fort­able that 50,000 is enough” U.S. troops to help Iraq sus­tain secu­ri­ty and advance its gov­ern­ment.

Asked how Iran might affect “post-with­draw­al” Iraq, Mullen not­ed that Iran, Iraq’s neigh­bor to the east, has a rich his­to­ry in the region, and that it invest­ed in try­ing to influ­ence Iraq’s nation­al elec­tions ear­li­er this year. “I would hope it would become a sta­bi­liz­ing influ­ence, but now it’s a desta­bi­liz­ing influ­ence,” he said.

The chair­man not­ed that U.S.-Iranian rela­tions have been stalled for 30 years. “Even at the height of the Cold War, we still talked to the Sovi­et Union,” he not­ed. Mullen said he wor­ries about a “mis­cal­cu­la­tion” between Iran and the Unit­ed States and said there is “no ques­tion” Iran will con­tin­ue to try to influ­ence Iraq.

On Afghanistan, Mullen reject­ed a char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the coun­try being in “the Stone Age,” say­ing much progress has been made there and that U.S. goals there are less than a 21st cen­tu­ry democ­ra­cy. A “win” there would be a secure Afghanistan, with­out cor­rup­tion, and with good gov­er­nance, he said.

Mullen added that the Unit­ed States only recent­ly began ful­ly resourc­ing the mis­sion in Afghanistan. “We’ve been in there for nine years, but we’ve only had the right resources in the past year to 18 months,” he said.

A retired Army offi­cer asked Mullen about allow­ing gay ser­vice­mem­bers to serve open­ly, to which the chair­man repeat­ed his posi­tion that the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law should be over­turned. “For me, it’s fun­da­men­tal­ly an integri­ty issue” to not force ser­vice­mem­bers to hide who they are, he said.

The Defense Depart­ment issued hun­dreds of thou­sands of ques­tion­naires to ser­vice­mem­bers and their spous­es this sum­mer as part of a report on the impact of chang­ing the law that is due to Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates on Dec. 1.

A Mus­lim ser­vice­mem­ber asked the chair­man if there has been a mil­i­tary round­table dis­cus­sion about reli­gious tol­er­ance, in light of reports of intol­er­ance toward Mus­lims among non-Mus­lim Amer­i­cans. Mullen replied that he is not aware of such a dis­cus­sion, but that it may be a good idea.

“There is a need for under­stand­ing each oth­er and our dif­fer­ent views,” he said. “We, as a coun­try, sup­port reli­gious free­dom.”

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

More news and arti­cles can be found on Face­book and Twit­ter.

Fol­low on Face­book and/or on Twit­ter