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Admiral Mullen Speaks at the Naval War College

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gave an address today to the students and faculty of the Naval War College. It was, in my opinion, a window into his thinking.

He opened his remarks by noting that he has a "focus on change and the pace of it" and what that means for the different types of warfare and engagement the U.S. military will be involved in over the next decade. He listed his three broad priorities as chairman:

1) A focus on the challenges emanating from the broader Middle East and South Asia;

2) The health and well-being of the U.S. military

3) The "rest of the world."

He addressed a number of critical topics:

--On Yemen, he said that this has been a country of particular concern to him because of the potential for it to become a safe haven for Al-Qaeda. Engagement and support are important, but he said that in response to questions posed to him as to whether U.S. forces will be sent to that country, that there are "no plans to do that."

--On Iraq, it is important not to "take our eye off the ball." There has been a significant shift--Iraqis are now talking about jobs and economic development, not security. Having Iraqis take primary responsibility for security after June 30, 2009 has led them to take the lead. After the elections, there will be a "rapid drawdown" to get us to the 50,000 troop level for next summer.

Iraq does have lessons for what needs to be done in Afghanistan, citing the shift in having U.S. forces move to the "advise and assist" role, to back up both Iraqi security forces and the Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

--On Afghanistan and Pakistan, he noted that there was a "deliberate review" leading up to the new strategy, and that it has to be one that focuses on the region, not just Afghanistan. There is a "trust deficit" in the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, a consequence of the sanctions and isolation imposed by the U.S. on Pakistan between 1990 and 2002, and it will take time to rebuild the relationship with Islamabad. In Afghanistan, the goal is to get the Afghan security forces to show the same level of initiative that Iraqi forces have demonstrated since mid-2009. As in Iraq after 2006, the focus has to be on the population as the center of the strategy.

Other points:

He paid tribute to the contributions of the National Guard and the Reservers, noting that we "would not have been successful in Iraq" without them.

He said that "we haven't spent enough time in our hemisphere making sure those relationships are strong"--mirroring a concern I have been expressing.

The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) is expected "shortly" which will assist in articulating the needs of the force. Quoting former deputy defense secretary Gordon England, "you are what you buy", he noted that while the U.S. military is "not walking away" from its conventional capabilities, there is more equipment suited for irregular warfare coming into the kit. (He also said that, based on the lessons learned in Iraq, the U.S. military is now the world's "best" counter-insurgency force.) But he does expect that defense budgets will be trimmed, and his concern that, accordingly, requirements and resources are matched well.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will come to an end, he observed. Do we do a good job in our national security apparatus of predicting the next crisis? He foresees challenges--in outer space, cyberspace, borders that are blurring, what happens in those parts of the world that are left ungoverned, the possibility of resource conflicts, and the importance of having a rebalanced force that can meet different contigencies.

A final note: these are my impressions of the talk ... not any sort of official transcript.

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