Mike Mullen: Relationship Guru

This is apparently the week of Mike Mullen’s media blitz. Fresh off appearing on The Daily Show Wednesday night, I watched the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff deliver remarks yesterday at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. While admittedly a different venue, it is a sad fact that Executive Director Rob Satloff, ...

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ARLINGTON, VA - FEBRUARY 1: Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks during a briefing at the Pentagon February 1, 2008 in Arlington, Virginia. Admiral Mullen spoke about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

This is apparently the week of Mike Mullen’s media blitz. Fresh off appearing on The Daily Show Wednesday night, I watched the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff deliver remarks yesterday at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. While admittedly a different venue, it is a sad fact that Executive Director Rob Satloff, in leading the question and answer session, let a perfect opportunity to break into a Jon Stewart impression slip through his fingers.  In any case, it is not hard to see why the Obama team would want to roll out Mullen: He comes across as sober and well-informed, and doesn’t give the impression that he’s spinning the audience even while he sells the administration’s line.

Mullen was generally bullish on Iraq, saying that he was encouraged that “there was not a sectarian response” to the latest round of terrorist attacks in Baghdad, and that the Iraqi government is adapting to the threat. America’s involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan was a different story. Mullen stated that the U.S. relationship with these two countries must be based on “re-learned trust – because we have lost trust.”

Pakistan, rather than Afghanistan, was the real focus of Mullen’s remarks. Mullen stated that he had recently made his fourteenth trip to Pakistan, and that the army of Pakistani Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani “had had to learn counter-insurgency, much like we have.” He spoke admiringly of what the Pakistani military has accomplished in kicking Islamic militants out of the Swat Valley, with “minimal collateral damage,” last year.  “Quite frankly, there wouldn’t have been many of us that would have expected that kind of outcome,” he noted.

The broader theme Mullen was driving home here was the importance of building long-standing relationships with foreign governments, and particularly their militaries, as a prerequisite to success. We were slowly rebuilding our relationship with Afghanistan and Iraq, he said. Our relationship with Pakistan was still suffering after it was broken following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. And he attributed our ongoing difficulties in negotiations with Iran — which he said openly had a “strategic intent to develop nuclear weapons” — with the 30-year rift in the U.S.-Iranian relationship. Adm. Michael Mullen: media star and relationship guru. Only in Washington D.C.

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

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