Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave this speech at Kansas State University on Wednesday, March 3, 2010.
CHARLES REAGAN: Adm. Mullen is the 17th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He previously served as the Navy’s 28th chief of naval operations. His other four-star assignments include commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe and commander, Allied Joint Force Command in Naples. As the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mullen is the highest-ranking officer in the Untied States Armed Forces and is the principal advisor to the president and secretary of defense on military matters. (Video | Pictures)
Adm. Mullen has been a recipient of the prestigious Vice Adm. Stockdale Leadership Award. He has received the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal and multiple Legion of Merit medals. Adm. Mullen graduated from the Naval Postgraduate School with a master of science degree in operations research. He has also completed the Harvard Business School advanced management program.
As commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples, Adm. Mullen had operational responsibility for NATO missions in the Balkans, Iraq and the Mediterranean. As commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe, he was responsible for providing overall command, operational control and coordination of U.S. naval force in the European Command area of responsibility. Please join me and give a big Wildcat welcome to Adm. Michael Mullen, chair, Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Applause.)
ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: Good afternoon and thank you for that mercifully brief introduction. (Laughter.) And also, Dr. Reagan, I’d just like to add my thanks and appreciation for all you’ve done here for so many years to facilitate this series. I know how important it is to you and actually, I think, important to all of us. It really is a great honor for me to be here today at Kansas State, and in particular, for the Landon Lecture series. And I’d like to recognize, before I get started more in-depth, recognize those members of the ROTC unit here for their willingness to serve at this critical time in our history.
You really are the future, and I’m really humbled by what you are about to take on. There’s no greater task, no more meaningful career than to lead America’s sons and daughters in uniform. And I know you’ll be great. So thank you. I also recognize and remain humbled by the long and prestigious list of former Landon lecturers who’ve preceded me, including my boss and proud Kansan, Secretary Bob Gates.
Indeed, the secretary could not have been more gracious when I told him I was coming here. He assured me that I would find you all rapt and engaging audience, eager for every scrap of wisdom I had to offer. (Laughter.) Then again, he said, if you bore them or if you claim you know who Willie is, all bets are off. (Laughter.) And I’d like to start our discussion by talking about the nature of war today – the essence of these conflicts we find ourselves in against ruthless and irreconcilable adversaries.
But enough about the Jayhawks. (Laughter, applause.) And actually, as someone who grew up in Southern California as a basketball player under the aegis of John Wooden, I have a special appreciation for the game tonight. I’m amazed you’re all here, quite frankly. (Laughter.) You know, in each era of American history, at least in terms of armed conflict, each one can be defined by an overarching strategy – a doctrine, if you will, that captures the proper use of military force suitable to the threats of the day.
During the Cold War, it was largely the strategy of containment that dominated our thinking – the notion that military force, or more importantly, the threat of military force was best applied in preventing the spread of communism through nuclear deterrence and/or conventional alliances. So came our nuclear triad, and the theory of mutually assured destruction, and the advent of NATO.
During World War II, we followed a doctrine very much akin to that used by Gen. Grant in the Civil War – attrition of the enemy force. To accomplish this, however, we needed also to attack the enemy population’s will to fight. And so came the bombings of Dresden and Hiroshima and Nagasaki – on and on. Farther back in our past, we could go, from the trench warfare of World War I to the limited conventional war we fought against Spain in 1898, to the unconventional wars we fought against the Barbary Pirates in the early 1800s.
Each era has something to teach, for there is no single defining American way of war. It changes over time, and it should change over time, adapting appropriately to the most relevant threats to our national security, and the means by which that security is best preserved. As the godfather of theory himself, Carl von Clausewitz, once observed, war is but an instrument of policy, beholden to it. And because policies change, the conduct of war must also change.
We have, as a nation, been at war continuously over the last nine years. Indeed, you could argue that your military has actually been engaged in combat operations since 1990, when we fought Desert Storm and then stayed around to enforce sanctions and no-fly zones against Saddam. The enemies we faced in that time have certainly varied. We quickly deposed the Taliban from power shortly after the attacks of 9/11 and then went on to defeat the Ba’athist forces of Saddam’s regime, later struggling to throw back a rampant Sunni insurgency.
Today, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have generally become a fight against a syndicate of Islamic extremists led by al-Qaida and supported by a host of both state and non-state actors. The epicenter of this fight remains, in my view, the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where not only does al-Qaida’s leadership plot and plan to attack America, but also where a new collection of like-minded extremist groups partner together to support them and to further destabilize the entire region.
In other words, these wars also have changed in character. I’ve watched and advised two administrations as they have dealt with this struggle. And I’ve come to three conclusions – three principles – about the proper use of modern military forces. The first is that military power should not – maybe cannot – be the last resort of the state. Military forces are some of the most flexible and adaptable tools to policymakers. We can, merely by our presence, help alter certain behavior. Before a shot is even fired, we can bolster a diplomatic argument, support a friend or deter an enemy. We can assist rapidly in disaster-relief efforts, as we did in the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake. We can help gather intelligence, support reconnaissance and provide security.
And we can do so on little or no notice. That ease of use is critical for deterrence. An expeditionary force that provides immediate, tangible effects. It is also vital when innocent lives are at risk. So yes, the military may be the best and sometimes the first tool; it should never be the only tool. The tangible effects of military engagement may give policymakers a level of comfort not necessarily or wholly justified. As we have seen, the international environment is more fluid and more complex than ever before.
Not every intended target of one’s deterrent will act rationally and not every good intention will be thus received. Longer-lasting, more sustainable effects will most assuredly demand a whole-of-government, if not a whole-of-nation effort. Defense and diplomacy are simply no longer discrete choices, one to be applied when the other one fails, but must, in fact, complement one another throughout the messy process of international relations.
As President Obama noted in his West Point speech, when he announced his strategy for Afghanistan, we cannot count on military might alone. We have to invest in our homeland security; we have to improve and better coordinate our intelligence; and we will have to use diplomacy, because no one nation can meet the challenges of an interconnected world acting alone.
My fear, quite frankly, is that we aren’t moving fast enough in this regard. U.S. foreign policy is still too dominated by the military, too dependent upon the generals and admirals who lead our major overseas commands. It’s one thing to be able and willing to serve as emergency responders; quite another to always have to be the fire chief.
Secretaries Clinton and Gates have called for more funding and more emphasis on our soft power, and I could not agree with them more. Should we choose to exert American influence solely through our troops, we should expect to see that influence diminish in time. In fact, I would argue that in the future struggles of the asymmetric counterinsurgent variety, we ought to make it a precondition of committing our troops, that we will do so only if and when the other instruments of national power are ready to engage as well.
There’s a broader issue involved here. For, in addition to bringing the full weight of the U.S. government to bear, we must also bring our allies and partners with us to the fight. Forty-two other nations fight alongside us in Afghanistan, as did so many others in Iraq. Whether by formal alliance or by informal agreement, these multinational commitments lend not only a higher sense of legitimacy to the effort, they lend to local populations certain skills and knowledge which we alone do not posses.
The Australians are experts at counterinsurgency warfare; the British have a long tradition of service in that part of the world and bring unique insights; the Germans and the French and the Italians have superb national police organizations for Afghans to emulate. In my view, whatever drawbacks of alliance management there may be, they are more than outweighed by the benefits of operations in unison.
With the U.S. providing the bulk of forces, it should come as no surprise to anyone that some may avail themselves of lesser contributions. But that doesn’t detract from the very real impact many of them make. It also doesn’t mean we shouldn’t exhort them to do more. For our part, we have become the best counterinsurgency force in the world and we didn’t do it alone. We had a lot of help.
That brings me to number two: Force should, to the maximum extent possible, be applied in a precise and principled way. War costs the societies that engage in it a great deal; lives and resources diverted from pursuits that a more peaceful time would allow. Even now, as we are poised to reach 1,000 troop deaths in Afghanistan, we’re reminded of the thousands more Afghans who have been killed and the hundreds of over coalition soldiers who have likewise perished; not to mention the property and infrastructure damage that will yet take years from which to recover.
Though it can never lessen the pain of such loss, precisely applying force in a principled manner can help reduce those costs and actually improve our chances of success. Consider for a moment ongoing operations in Marja in Afghanistan, Gen. McChrystal chose to move into this part of Southern Afghanistan specifically because it was a hub of Taliban activity. There, they had sway over the people; there, they were able to advance their interests to other places in the country. It wasn’t ground we were interested in retaking so much as enemy influence we were interested in degrading.
And so this is a much more transparent operation. We did not swoop in under the cover of darkness. We told the people of Marja and the enemy himself when we were coming and where we would be going. We did not prep the battlefield with carpet-bombing or missile strikes. We simply walked in on time.
Because frankly the battlefield isn’t necessarily a field anymore. It’s in the minds of the people. It’s what they believe to be true that matters. And when they believe that they are safer with Afghan and coalition troops in their midst and local governance at their service, they will resist the intimidation of the Taliban and refuse to permit their land from ever again becoming a safe haven for terror.
That is why the threshold for the use of indirect fire in this operation is so high. That’s why Gen. McChrystal issued more restrictive rules for night raids. And it’s why he has coalition troops operating in support of Afghan soldiers and not the other way around.
In this type of war, when the objective is not the enemy’s defeat but the people’s success, less really is more. Each time an errant bomb or a bomb accurately aimed but against the wrong target kills or hurts civilians, we risk setting our strategy back months, if not years. Despite the fact that the Taliban kill and maim far more than we do, civilian casualty incidents such as those we’ve recently seen in Afghanistan will hurt us more in the long run than any tactical success we may achieve against the enemy. People expect more from us. They have every right to expect more from us.
Now, there’s been much debate over how to balance traditional and irregular warfare capabilities in our military. As an underpinning, I see this principle applying to both. It chooses quality of people, training and systems over quantity of platforms. It means that we choose to go small in number before we go hollow in capability. And it favors innovation in leaders, in doctrine, in organization and in technology.
Precise and principled force applies whether we are attacking an entrenched enemy or securing the population. In either case, it protects the innocent. We protect the innocent. It’s who we are. And in so doing, we better preserve both our freedom of action and our security interests.
Preserving our security interests is also better-ensured by what I consider my third and final principle. Policy and strategy should constantly struggle with one another. Some in the military no doubt would prefer political leadership that lays out a specific strategy and then gets out of the way, leaving the balance of the implementation to commanders in the field. But the experience of the last nine years tells us two things: A clear strategy for military operations is essential; and that strategy will have to change as those operations evolve.
In other words, success in these types of wars is iterative; it is not decisive. There isn’t going to be a single day when we stand up and say, that’s it, it’s over, we’ve won. We will win but we will do so only over time and only after near constant reassessment and adjustment. Quite frankly, it will feel a lot less like a knock-out punch and a lot more like recovering from a long illness.
The worst possible world I can imagine is one in which military commanders are inventing or divining their strategies, their own remedies, in the absence of clear political guidance, sometimes after an initial goal or mission has been taken over by events. That’s why we have and need political leadership constantly immersed in the week-to-week flow of the conflict, willing and able to adjust as necessary but always leaving military commanders enough leeway to do what is expected of them.
Policymakers, after all, have other concerns beyond those of the military that must be adequately considered when taking a nation to war, including cost, domestic support, international reaction and so forth. At the same time, military leaders at all levels much be completely frank about the limits of what military power can achieve, with what risk and in what timeframe.
We owe civilian leaders our candor in the decision-making process and our unwavering support once the decision is made. That doesn’t mean every bit of military advice will be followed. We shouldn’t expect so. But it does mean the military concerns will be properly considered. And we can ask for nothing more.
In this most recent Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy review, the president devoted an extraordinary amount of time to getting it right, to understanding the nature of the fight we are in and the direction in which he wanted to take it. And then he laid it out clearly, simply, for the American people. And we are executing. In December he will review where we are and how we are doing, and I think we should all be prepared to adjust if events on the ground deem it necessary.
The notion proffered by some that once set, a war policy cannot be changed, or that to do so implies some sort of weakness, strikes me not only as incompatible with our history but also as quite dangerous. Lincoln did not emancipate the slaves when Fort Sumter was fired upon. He made that policy change when he deemed it most necessary. Though he favored a Germany-first policy, FDR still struggled to properly balance the war’s efforts against both Japan and Hitler’s Germany. And Kennedy did not embark on the war in Vietnam with any sense that his successors would be fighting it at all, much less the way they did.
Contrary to popular imagination, war has never been a set-piece affair. The enemy adapts to your strategy and you adapt to his. And so you keep the interplay going between policy and strategy until you find the right combination at the right time. What worked well in Iraq will not necessarily work in Afghanistan. What worked well today will not necessarily work tomorrow. The day you stop adjusting is the day you lose. To quote one of war’s greatest students, Winston Churchill, you can always count on Americans to do the right thing after they’ve tried everything else. (Laughter.)
Trying everything else is not weakness. It means we don’t give up. It means we never stop learning, and in my view if we’ve learned nothing else from these two wars of ours, it is that a flexible, balanced approach to using military force is best. We must not look upon the use of military forces only as a last resort, but as potentially the best, first option when combined with other instruments of national and international power.
We must not try to use force only in an overwhelming capacity, but in the proper capacity, and in a precise and principled manner. And we must not shrink from the tug of war – no pun intended – that inevitably plays out between policymaking and strategy execution. Such interplay is healthy for the republic and essential for ultimate success. For Churchill also noted that in war, as in life, and I quote, “It is often necessary, when some cherished scheme has failed, to take up the best alternative, and if so, it is folly not to work with it with all your might.”
Ladies and gentlemen, your military is working for you with all its might. And we’ve not forgotten who started these wars, and we will not forget those who have perished as a result. We will stay at it for as long as it takes and we will succeed for as long as you support us in the endeavor. Thank you. (Applause.)
MR. : We will have some time for some questions. We’ll ask members of the audience to please come to the microphones and state your questions so that everybody can hear them. Thank you.
Q: Adm. Mullen, my name is Samuel Brinton, and I’m currently the president of the group LGBTQ and More, representing our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied students here at the Kansas State University. Sir, I would like to thank you for your support of the repeal of the discriminatory policy, “don’t ask, don’t tell.” My question for you is simple: What can I as a student do to support your work? Sir, what can we do to make service in our armed services equal for every citizen?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I think, clearly what Secretary Gates and I have laid out over the next year – not quite a year, towards the end of this year – is the review, to understand exactly what the potential impact of this change, should the law change, would be. And I, as a senior military officer, feel responsible to both understand that impact, in order to lead it, as we implement a policy that would be a new policy.
And then specifically, what you can do is to lead responsibly as well. One of my biggest concerns is that this review and this issue not put a heavily strained military in the middle of this debate in a way that burdens them when they are pressed as hard as they’ve ever been pressed and performing at an exceptional level. There has been criticism that it’s going to take too long to do this. In fact, I spent a fair amount of time on this before my testimony looking for what I considered to be objective data in terms of impact on the force. There’s a lot of strongly held views on it. There are a lot of polls on it.
But in fact, what we want to do over the next few months is really understand that impact objectively – how our troops feel about it, how their families feel about it, how the influencers, if you will – families who raised young men and women to come and serve – how they feel about it, and have that interaction, if you will, as we move forward through these reviews. So more than anything else, responsible leadership from your position and others in positions of responsibility that care about this issue would be what I would ask for.
Q: I thank you, sir.
Q: Adm. Mullen, thank you for coming to speak with us today. In the recent Afghan presidential election, the red flags went up pretty much before the votes had begun to be counted. Abdullah Abdullah was going to mount a challenge, but bowed out after what many people considered external pressure. It seems likely, we’re giving the Afghans a choice between religious extremists and a corrupt government that, frankly, no one seems to support.
ADM. MULLEN: Certainly you raise concerns we all have – both getting to and through the elections with the level of corruption that we know exists in Afghanistan. And it’s been an issue that’s been addressed at every level in Afghanistan, and probably the most important level is with the political leadership in Afghanistan. And President Karzai laid out, in his inauguration address, what steps he is going to take to get at the corruption issue.
And quite frankly – and it goes back, in great part, to what I was speaking about a few minutes ago. The military aspect of this cannot succeed without success in other areas. And there have to be significant steps taken on the part of President Karzai, and other leaders in Afghanistan, to eliminate corruption. It’s been there for a long time. It’s not going to go away overnight. But where it has not been addressed before, it is being addressed now. And we can’t move forward in a positive way unless it continues to be.
It’s too early to tell how much has actually – what effects have been taken. I mean, we’ve got to – there is a crime task force which is there. We’re working hard on rule of law – not just we, but the international community – with Afghanistan; what does that mean?
We’re addressing this not just at the national level, but quite frankly, down in the districts. And one of the forces we’re most concerned about are the local police. We’ve actually made quite a bit of progress in terms of training the Afghan security forces, the army in particular, but we’ve still got a long way to go with the police. And corruption’s at the heart of that as well.
Q: But Adm. Mullen, how confident can we be in a man that came to power in a corrupt election to address corruption?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, he is a duly elected president. And we went through a process, quite frankly, that not only the United States endorsed in terms of the elections, but also the international community. So he was duly elected by his people and he now has to perform in this area.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Thank you for coming to speak today, sir. You spoke of the importance of pursuing soft power, as well as further distancing of foreign policy from military dominance. But I’m curious as to how these goals can be achieved, given that the Obama administration refuses to make a nuclear non-first-use declaratory policy in the upcoming nuclear posture review.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, the posture review is not done. So quite frankly, I don’t know what the outcome is with respect to that. It will be done here in the next few weeks.
The part that is, I think, incredibly important about – at least I believe is important about what I said is – the whole of government approach here that we must work together. And I talked about in particular Secretaries Clinton and Gates. And both Secretary Gates and I have advocated for increasing the resources in the State Department that was in great part dramatically reduced in the early ’90s, and specifically – and we just did a lot of work with USAID in Haiti – and they were terrific. But it was an agency that had been reduced by significant percentage and essentially had become almost a contracting agency.
That part of our government – the policy diplomacy piece – I think needs to continue to be energized. And we’re moving in that direction. It’s just that we didn’t do it for a long time. We took the resources away. And I think it’s going to be a decade or two before we can get all of that back.
And then I just can’t speak to – I know certainly the president’s position with respect to nuclear weapons and their existence and where we go is very clear. Certainly from what I know, from what I see, I think the NPR, the nuclear posture review, will speak to that. But I wouldn’t talk about what it’s going to say until it’s actually published, despite the fact that there are articles out there seemingly reporting themselves as knowing exactly what it says.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Thanks very much for your discussion today. I think your positions are very enlightening and hopeful for our future. I especially enjoyed your emphasis on – that to win the war against terrorism we have to win the hearts and minds of the citizens around the world. I’m wondering if this might be a time in history where we could accomplish that by reducing our military presence throughout the world and perhaps reducing the number of military bases that we have in other countries, or if you think that would be infeasible?
ADM. MULLEN: From my perspective – and I know, I grew up in the Navy and I grew up around the world – and the United States, at least what I learned over the course of my career – was a lot about my country from other people’s views and how highly we are regarded, how hopeful they are for our leadership across a vast array of issues, not just on the military side. And in a time where the challenges that are out there right now – and the terror piece is one of them – but the threat of terrorists getting their hands on nuclear weapons, which is a very real threat – I mean, it is something al-Qaida seeks, for example – what we see in countries like Iran and North Korea, in terms of capabilities that they are developing – from my perspective it requires the United States, the whole of government to be engaged around the world.
And what I worry about, quite frankly, is what I would call a garrison mentality, that we recede globally and just come home. Get behind the walls of our borders, if you will. And I just think, my own view of that is that puts us on a track that actually potentially generates more crises as opposed to solves them.
We’re working hard right now. I’ve got some 70 to 80 percent of my resources devoted to the Central Command AOR, Iraq, Afghanistan, and that part of the world. It is the most unstable part of the world, I think, for obvious reasons. The Middle East, it’s been a focus area of mine since I’ve taken over as chairman and actually before that. And seeking stability there is really key. And how do we do that? And how do we do it with where we are right now?
I worry about not being engaged in other parts of the world, not just on bases but in what I call routine deployments, in places where we are invited to be engaged to have relationships that actually through the strength of those relationships would preclude conflict breaking out. So I mean, I come at it from a position is the more we recede, the more likely something really bad is going to happen. And that we need to stay globally engaged.
And actually, there is an expectation in regions throughout the world that we will do that. And I don’t just mean militarily specifically. And we have relationships with countries that are long-lasting that are underpinned in the military-to-military relationship. But that is not the main focus of the relationship. And in fact, in many cases, robust relationships develop from having a military-to-military relationship specifically that allowed broader relationships to develop.
Q: Thanks very much.
Q: Yes, I’d like to thank you, Admiral, for appearing here today. My question speaks to an earlier question somewhat. As you mentioned in your speech, we face a new kind of war against non-state actors such as al-Qaida. In this world, what if any role does our current size of our nuclear arsenal have? And should there be any changes to the size or operational status of our nuclear arsenal?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I’m heavily involved right now – I mean, literally personally heavily involved in the negotiations for the follow-on START treaty, the nuclear weapons treaty between us and Russia, which expired on the 5th of December. And we live in a world where Russia has an extraordinary number of nuclear weapons.
And the results of that negotiation, not done yet – but certainly the hope is that there is a fairly substantial reduction in the number of nuclear weapons. And that aligns very clearly with where President Obama wants to go. We’re not going to get there over night.
In addition to the strategic weapons, which is what this negotiation is about, Russia has thousands of tactical nuclear weapons, which is not – they’re not on the table right now. And so the challenge is how do you get to a point where you get to something like zero, which is what the president is out there – given the thousands that are there – and actually also given the potential?
So the treaty that we’ve got has to be worked together. It has been very successful historically. And I think the one that will follow hopefully in the next few weeks will also both reduce weapons but recognize both countries still have them. And quite frankly, both countries still have the potential to wipe each other out.
China has developed nuclear weapons. India has nuclear weapons. Pakistan has nuclear weapons. So the totality of the challenge I don’t think can be handled. I don’t think it can just be answered with one single approach. It’s an enormously complex issue. And that’s the reality of where we are – the pragmatic side of where we are – in terms of trying to achieve long term a point where they don’t exist anymore.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Afternoon, sir. Lt. Andre Marshall (sp) from 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division. Kind of carrying on the focus of nuclear proliferation and things of that nature – but in relation to non-nuclear players becoming nuclear states – do you see – and if so – how that will be a major impetus in military strategy and doctrine across the board?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, there is a tremendous amount of emphasis on Korea to not become a nuclear state, if you will. We’re focused heavily, obviously, on Iran who continues, from my point of view, to seek nuclear weapons. And I think Iran achieving nuclear weapons is incredibly destabilizing in the region, very much potentially triggers other countries in the region to develop nuclear weapons themselves literally in response. And I talked earlier about how unstable that part of the world is. And we just don’t need more instability.
What we need from Iran, in my view, is responsible leadership. And that has certainly not been evident in an awful lot of the public rhetoric that I’ve seen. And there is an aspect certainly with those two countries in particular, North Korea and Iran, which is tied to proliferation.
And the worry that not only would they have the weapons; they’d have the technology and in fact could spread the technology and meet the need and the request of the terrorists, for example. And we’re working hard on nonproliferation. We will continue to do that. It’s not just the United States.
Countries around the world are working on this, put in regimes which are very tough, in that regard. But it’s by no means a perfect system, and the technology, potentially, still can spread. So dealing with that is all part of this same issue to make sure that not only do more countries achieve that capability, but also, eliminate, as best we can, the proliferation of these kinds of weapons.
Q: Roger, thank you, sir.
Q: Thank you, Admiral. Question about the training and development of the people in the military tie into one of your principles about applying force in a principled and precise matter, with the increasing technology on the battlefield. And is there a big push within the military to make sure that all the war-fighters have the training and the knowledge so they can apply the force in a principled way? I would think that would be a huge challenge.
ADM. MULLEN: Certainly, again, we’ve learned an awful lot in these wars. And I use the – what I consider to be the signature example of what Gen. McChrystal has led since he got there last summer, which is to seek to eliminate any civilian casualties and really focus on the people and not focus on the enemy.
And it actually goes to the – it goes to the larger question, for me, of the terrorists – what is at the root cause of terrorism and how do we get to a world, and in countries throughout the world, where 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds are making decisions that are positive decisions about their life, not negative – that they see a way ahead which doesn’t include killing themselves and killing a lot of innocent people along with them? And we’re a long way from that, just based on where we are.
So I think the example that McChrystal has laid in out there is significant. And I’ve talked to troops on the ground in Afghanistan that fought in Iraq. And they have concerns about some of what they’ve been asked to do, in terms of rules of engagement. Because it wasn’t that way, early in Iraq. And it could make them – and in some cases, they believe they have been – they have become more vulnerable.
When President Obama rolled out the strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, a couple of days after that I went down to Camp Lejeune to talk to about 1,000 Marines and I went down to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to talk to about the same number of soldiers, the vast majority of whom are going to Afghanistan. And I specifically talked about this issue, because these are instantaneous decisions that are made at a very, very small unit level, that are – that take both training, which we are focused on, because it’s backed up, right now, all the way into the training commands – but it had not been the focus that it – it has not been, up to now, the focus that it is. And so we’ve had to change that, as well. And in some cases, it’s a tougher decision. But we are totally dependent on them. Now, I also have great confidence in our young men and women.
This is – I wouldn’t tell you how long, but I’ve been doing this a long time – started in Vietnam – and this is the best military in my career. And I’m in my fifth decade. And it’s great because our young people make it great. So I have every confidence they can do this. It’s just an adjustment. And what I said in my remarks – we can tactically win, but strategically lose. And if we keep killing civilians, they’re not going to believe we’re there for their good. It just – it wouldn’t work in your home and it doesn’t work in theirs.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Good afternoon, Admiral, sir. I’m Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Strathman (ph). And I wondered if you, with your intelligence gathering, had any insight as to what the final score of the basketball game would be this evening? (Laughter.)
ADM. MULLEN: Actually, I do know. (Laughter, applause.) But it’s so highly classified, I can’t tell you. (Laughter.)
Q: Thank you, sir.
Q: Thank you for coming, Admiral. I’m a lieutenant commander in the Navy, active duty, and here as a student. My question has to do with the Navy psychiatrist that, a couple months ago, killed, I think it was 13 individuals. It seems apparent that he was motivated by some radical Muslim thought, in that. Do you believe enough was done to – or what could have been done differently to try to counteract this or prevent it? Is it perhaps systemic or illuminative of a systemic problem we might have in the military, with regard to sensitive issues such as this, sir?
ADM. MULLEN: This is the Fort Hood killings? Yeah. We learned a lot from that. And one of the things that became more obvious to us than we knew was the potential for radicalization, using the Internet. And clearly, he had been in contact with a very eloquent, very radical imam in Yemen, who actually was – had spent a lot of time in the United States. And it is, in some ways, the next phase, if you will, of radicalization.
And the same was true, as we found out more and more about the individual who was on the plane in Detroit on the 25th of December. So it’s – for all of us, not just the military, but for all of us, we need to be paying a lot more attention to that. I said very early in the discussion about this when I was asked questions – and there are military leaders here – I hold military leaders responsible for knowing who’s in their unit and knowing what they’re up to.
And I don’t think there’s anybody more capable and prepared for doing that than the leaders that we have across the military. And I have very high expectations for that. Had it before this incident, continue to have it. And in retrospect, there clearly were some signs that could have been picked up.
The specifics of both the review and the determination of outcomes with respect to that are – we’re not – we haven’t completed that so I wouldn’t talk to any more details on that. And I’m really speaking to the part of the reports that have been made public that Adm. Clark and former secretary of the Army, Togo West, reported out on – the review that they did.
But I’m also mindful – and it’s back to my expectations for leaders that it isn’t just about radicalization; it is about the totality of behavior of our people. We are experiencing right now in all our military record suicides. And we’re working day and night to try to figure out how to fix that. But the numbers actually continue.
I’m very hard-pressed – and they are dramatically increased since these wars started – and I’m just hard-pressed to believe that the wars don’t have an awful lot to do with it even though that hasn’t been proven scientifically yet.
But the only – I think the best way to get at this is through leadership and the individuals who are going to see these individuals are those who are closest to them in the workplace and also in the home, and that we need to have our antenna up for those signals as leaders. So it isn’t just about the radicalization piece of which I spoke; it’s about behavior in general and the pressures that so many of our young people are under. And we must, as leaders, intervene. Too often and so tragically and sadly, the self-intervention results in the suicide rate that we’ve got right now.
So I think all of us – myself, you, anybody in a leadership position – we’ve got a lot of work to do, and in ways that actually is – there are core leadership principles that we all understand. And taking care of our people, knowing who they are, knowing a lot about them, what their hopes and dreams are, how they’re doing, and an awful lot of the suicides are, best we can tell, tied to financial difficulties or relationship difficulties. And we’ve got to get ahead of it. And right now we’re not. We’re spending a lot of time doing it but we’re not yet.
Q: Thank you, sir.
Q: Thank you very much, sir, for your very enlightening lecture. I want to ask you a question related to Africa, where I come from. I’m – (inaudible) – from Kenya, Ph.D. student in security studies here. I would like to know from your opinion: Do you think Somalia is becoming the next Afghanistan? And do you think there is a military solution to dealing with or restoring a functioning government in Somalia? And what role can the U.S. play? And the last one is, has the U.S. found a country in Africa that is willing to host the Africa Com (sic)?
ADM. MULLEN: I’m sorry, is what?
Q: Has the U.S. found a country in Africa that is ready to host the Africa Com?
ADM. MULLEN: I have been concerned for the last couple of years and spoken very publicly about two countries potentially becoming safe havens for terrorism – al-Qaida specifically – one of which is Yemen and the other is Somalia.
There’s not a military solution here. There most likely is a military – certainly, there’s a security aspect to this, and I don’t mean provided by the United States. But clearly that’s key, and we are – we work hard to support the government in Somalia as, quite frankly, does your country.
But it’s the same kind of mix, if you will, where there has been a weak government. It’s what I call – you know, the terrorists go to non – to ungoverned spaces or weakly-governed spaces. That’s where they live and they dominate. And they dominate the people. And we’ve got to address it from that point of view.
And as far as a home for AFRICOM, which is the four-star command that has responsibility from the United States’ perspective – military has responsibility for the continent of Africa – we stood this up about a year ago last October, and we did it because we – Africa is a critical continent with lots of challenges. And having that kind of leadership, engagement and focus does what I talked about earlier, which is engages the leadership, engages the militaries, so that we have long-term relationships and we really develop trust between the countries. And if we have no one there and no one doing it, it’s hard to build up that trust.
And that headquarters is stationed in Stuttgart, Germany. And I’m actually very comfortable with where it’s stationed right now.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Thank you, sir, for coming to address us today. You mentioned that nuclear nonproliferation is an important goal, especially by certain states like Iran and Korea that have the capability to menace our interests and allies abroad. In the event that sanctions are not enough to deter the acquisition of nuclear weapons, to what extent are military interventions a possibility?
ADM. MULLEN: With Iran or with North Korea or both?
ADM. MULLEN: How did I know you were going to answer that question that way? (Laughter.) With Iran specifically, there’s an awful lot of work going on with respect to both dialogue and diplomacy to engage them to see if they will give up – essentially give this goal up. They certainly haven’t thus far. There’s a lot of work going on right now with respect to sanctions and an additional United Nations sanctions regime that is – we’re working hard to make it a very, very stringent set of sanctions. And I think that as the president has said, secretary of state, Secretary Gates, myself have said, that doesn’t meant that all options aren’t out there – contingency options. But certainly, that is not the preferred path at this point.
It’s a very narrow space between Iran getting a nuclear weapon and someone who might strike Iran. And both of those outcomes, I think, generate an enormous amount of instability in a part of the world that’s already pretty unstable. So I worry about not just the action in and of themselves, but also the unintended consequences of those acts, which are very hard to predict.
I just made a trip. I was in five countries in the Middle East a couple weeks ago. And there are extraordinary and increasing concerns about the development of this capability for Iran and what the potential outcomes could be. So an awful lot of people working it hard.
And the same is true, actually, for North Korea, in terms of destabilizing a part of the world that is vital economically, vital to our friends, vital to countries we have alliances with, and that potentially could be very destabilizing as well. So there’s an awful lot – and again, it’s not the United States. This is a lot of countries that are focused on North Korea, ensuring that they would never get to a point where they would have the capability to use a nuclear weapon.
Q: Thank you, Admiral.
MR. : Well, we really appreciate Adm. Mullen coming and speaking to us today. And backstage, he did slip me an envelope that said we’re going to win by five tonight. (Laughter.) But we do have a sweatshirt here to present, something for those cold Washington – (laughter) – there it is. It says K State Wildcats. Thank you very much.
ADM. MULLEN: Thank you.