Mullen Tackles Questions in Virtual Town Hall
By Lisa Daniel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 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.”