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Mullen Takes on Harvard Audience’s Questions

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 18, 2010 – When the nation’s senior military officer spoke to a Harvard University audience yesterday, students at the nation’s senior university spoke back.

Harvard, established in Cambridge, Mass., in 1636, was the first university in what was then not yet the United States. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the school to participate in a John F. Kennedy School of Government Forum on the interplay of policy and strategy.

“When it comes to finding a venue to discuss strategy and policy with a group that cares deeply about our nation and the world, the forum, right here at Harvard’s Kennedy School, was the only choice,” the chairman told the audience.

The forum program, which has since 1978 featured some of the world’s most prominent figures, typically involves a high-level speaker addressing a focused topic, followed by a question-and-answer period.

Mullen fielded questions on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military’s role in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s development, and whether policy can address ideology.

Drew Gilpin Faust, Harvard’s president, set the stage for the first question when she introduced the admiral before his remarks.

Faust quoted the chairman’s remarks last February about gay and lesbian servicemembers serving openly in the military: “It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at the issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, it comes down to integrity: theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.”

Mullen made that statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 2, 2010.

Faust said yesterday that she shares the admiral’s conviction.

“Admiral Mullen has spoken powerfully about the fundamental commitments of the institution he leads,” Faust said. “Let me speak about my own institution, and its values.”

Faust said Harvard has a responsibility to the nation and its citizens, and a long tradition of service, which she said is exemplified by the number of Medal of Honor recipients who are Harvard alumni: more than any other institution of higher education, other than the service academies.

“It is my belief that as a further embodiment of that tradition, an ROTC program open to all ought to be fully and formally present on our campus,” Faust added. The audience erupted in applause.

Mullen had commented in an earlier informal session with students that Harvard has “been pretty clear” that it links full institutional participation in ROTC with repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Faust confirmed that linkage in her next comments.

“It is also my belief that gays and lesbians should have full rights as citizens, including the privilege and the honor of military service. I am deeply troubled by a policy that forces some of our students either to lie or be excluded from service, to paraphrase Admiral Mullen,” she said. “And I feel a deep commitment to those students in their struggle for equal treatment.”

Faust added, “I want Harvard to be able to embrace both integrity and opportunity, both service and inclusion. I want to be the president of Harvard who sees the end of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ because I want to be able to take the steps to ensure that any and every Harvard student is able to make the honorable and admirable choice to commit him or herself to the nation’s defense.”

The question-and-answer period led off with a query following up on Faust’s statement. Does Mullen foresee a rapid end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?” And if it does end, would the chairman support the establishment of an ROTC unit at Harvard?

Mullen said he thinks it is “incredibly important” to have ROTC units at institutions like Harvard, adding, “I would certainly do all in my power to make that happen.”

As to a speedy repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the chairman said the military has completed its survey of servicemembers and family members.

“We’re collating that data and writing the final report,” he said.

Once the report is turned over to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and eventually made public, Mullen said, it’s difficult to predict what will happen.

While he doesn’t know whether DADT will be addressed during the lame-duck session of Congress, Mullen said he does feel strongly that repeal should rest with Congress, as the elected representatives of the American people.

Mullen was next asked about the role the U.S. military plays in promoting good governance and economic development in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“Governance and development have become very much part of what we’ve done over the last … 15 years or so,” beginning in the Balkans and evolving in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mullen said. “Certainly, we don’t do that alone –- over the last year, we’ve literally tripled the number of State Department civilians in Afghanistan.”

While governance at a district or sub-district level has become a concern for many unit commanders in Afghanistan, Mullen said, the military has learned a lesson during its years of counterinsurgency operations.

“Security is a necessary condition, but it is not sufficient,” the chairman said. “We can have a lot of security, but if we don’t get to a point where the governance in a country … where that government starts to deliver goods and services for the people, all the security in the world isn’t going to do any good.”

Governance and development must follow security, Mullen said. Some of that must rest with the Afghan people, he said, and other agencies and nongovernmental organization have a greater role to play in those areas.

Mullen next answered back-to-back question on Pakistan, asked by Harvard students from that country. How can the U.S. counter both the spread of hostile ideology and the increasingly negative reaction to drone strikes among the Pakistani people?

Mullen said he has made 20 trips to Pakistan as chairman, and has worked to build strong relationships with both military and elected leaders.

“It’s critical to understand what the challenges are … listening and learning,” he said.

Pakistan has lost thousands of citizens and military members during counterinsurgency operations, Mullen said, but there are still terrorist and insurgent organizations maintaining a foothold in the region along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.

“Getting to some level of a peaceful, stable Afghanistan is so important in terms of how Pakistan sees its future on that border and in the region, as well as working through the challenges that exist, that are long-standing, with India,” he said.

Concerning drone strikes in Pakistan, Mullen said, “I would want you to know the facts, not just what you read, on the level of civilian casualties … wherever we are fighting, they are dramatically low to none.”

Success in building relationships with Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mullen said, rests largely in recognizing those nations’ sovereign status.

“Sometimes we don’t understand that as well as we should,” he said. “That gets back into listening to those who live in those countries, about how they see things. Seeing things through their eyes, which is something I’ve worked very hard to do and that has a big impact on my advice, and my recommendations.”

Other questions followed, touching on Iran, the Horn of Africa, weapons acquisition and the future of the military.

Mullen said in all the military does in its operations and in supporting the president’s whole-of-government approach to defending the nation’s interests, it’s important to remember there are still organizations whose primary aim is to kill as many Americans and as many Westerners as possible.

“We still are in the shadow of 3,000 Americans who died not very far from here,” the chairman said. “The strategic intent for some of these terrorist organizations is still very much out there.”


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Navy Adm. Mike Mullen


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