Listening To Admiral Mullen Tonight It’s Worse Than Thought

Admiral Mullen is a supple intellect and adroit interpersonal politician in marked contrast to his two hapless, unlamented predecessors. He effortlessly maintains zero daylight between him and the Commander in Chief while still sending oblique messaging. We saw more nuance in him being up close than guessed before reluctantly accepting tonight’s invitation.

The Whisper Of Spread Spectrum

As Mullen recited the Administration line several points seeped through in interstitial spread spectrum whisper. First, it’s clear (to the Stiftung, at least) Mullen remains unenthused about the State/White House slap-dash ‘winging it’ decision-making. He is aligned with his boss, although Gates did the patented Washington-two-step earlier on the Hill, assuring that ‘all alternatives were *exhaustively* examined’. (Clever phrasing).

Second, Mullen is silent about the future besides notional no-fly command turnover to NATO. He seconded Gates hope that those with more immediate regional or local interests would step up and support/arm/train the ragtag ‘rebels’. Both he Gates on the Hill today conceded that other than a few individuals claiming to speak for the rebels, ‘we have no real idea who or what the opposition is’. Both, however, are confident that as of tonight Al-Qaeda’s role is lower than negligible. (Try squaring that one).

While defending the White House Mullen also all but eviscerated any notion of an Obama Doctrine [sic]. Without the snark, Mullen more or less said what the Siftung said earlier — this stumble into conflict arose from improvisational expediency. His claim it’s all worth it because we averted a bloodbath at Benghazi seeming half-hearted. More specifically, he declared after Libya there would not be more humanitarian intervention; from Yemen all the way to Mynamar ‘no marching down the list from 1 to 12.’ Libya is a one off. (He and we hope.)

Adopting formal and avuncular stylings, the only time an emphatic edge cropped into his voice was his declaration of no American boots on the ground in a third Muslim nation. Whether that covers the DO personnel there now or future seconded special operators left unexplored this time. As Buck Turgidson once said of General Ripper, “He’s already invalidated that policy”.

Mullen’s got impressive interpersonal empathy, able to calibrate comments like a supple 5 speed manual transmission, down shifting when necessary or rapid firing to 5th. We’ve spent more than a little time with flag rank officers as you know, Dear Reader. If Mullen arguably is not as overtly intellectually brilliant as Art Cebrowski, he has the gift of sharing insights with graceful fortitude.

Significantly, he spent perhaps equal time underscoring his known concern that U.S. finances are the greatest security threat to the nation. It’s clear that both his and Gates’ hearts are in the right place. Nonetheless, Mullen is a loyal bureaucrat – he will only tip so many rice bowls. How disappointing his robotic defense of the paltry and notional $70 billion in cuts over five years from projected DoD budget growth.

A change agent must come from outside. And no change agent can ever be spelled Leon Panetta.

The cultural and institutional divide between civilians (State and White House) and military is at once significant and possibly overstated. Mullen obliquely referred to it (leaving room to interpret it in the broader sociological sphere or the problems of the academies like Colorado Springs still fomenting hard core apocalyptic evangelism).

As Obama confronts the booby trap he set himself escalating Afghanistan promising withdrawals this year, the White House definitely could use people familiar with military culture. They’re lucky that Mullen today can meet them more than 1/2 way across that divide unburdened with Petraeus’ unctuous, manipulative ambition. It’s fortuitous but also temporary.


  1. DrLeoStrauss says

    Petraeus going to an institution using the initials ‘CIA’ makes sense ala the attempted Rummy sandbag on GHWB. Sidetrack, stain and hamstring the ambitious. As for Petraeus’ alleged skills etc. Zinni had them in spades as well. As do many others.

    Let’s also admit the Nation no longer cares about militarizing what calls itself CIA. Quaint notions from a different time. Striking the “I am just your humble mouthpiece” Ignatius doesn’t even mention it. Wasn’t in his brief, apparently.

    Once upon a time (as all fairy stories begin), there was a reason for a *civilian* led Director of Central Intelligence after Hillenkoetter and Smith made sure CIA would ‘stay in its lane’. (Contrary to popular belief, the actual job title of CIA Director did not exist until Dec. 2004).

    OS&T Corona satellites and A-12/later SR-71 exposed the false Missile Gap. With the then new NRO ‘coordinating things’ and Air Force direct involvement, CIA would once more ‘stay in its lane’.

    DCI Adm. Raborn’s uncomfortable 14th month interlude in the 1960s after Dulles the exception.

    Adm. Turner’s late 1970s tenure doesn’t need recounting here. He was always exceedingly polite and cordial to the Stiftung, although we disagreed on many things, especially his absolute faith in technology over HUMINT. Then, CIA – although traumatized, still had a culture and identity. Turner never fit in. It’s true he did propose civilians wear some sort of uniform insignia so he could discern rank without knowing them. For keepers of the Flame Eternal, his actions re Nosenko were treason, the Halloween massacre – you know the drill.

    In keeping with statute, the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (DDCIA also formed in Dec. 2004) were often military. But the president’s primary intelligence adviser in those years was a civilian.

    General Hayden coming over from NSA after the Gloss CF was what it was. ‘CIA’ was dead, anyway — gutted, sold out for flipped badges, and depleted. The new cadres work at something calling itself CIA. Whatever it is they are doing, they’re creating something new, even if straining as an homage to the past.

    Anyway, back to Hayden. Regardless of the merits, he concurrently served with Adm. McConnell, Adm. Blair, briefly. In an ambiently mobilized America, why bother pretending? Fear not, Americans. The supremely powerful and influential DNI, if a military officer, like the DCI before, must have an equally powerful civilian deputy. So there, there’s your civilian, ok?

    That story is turning out great. On to Gen. Clapper, the 4th confirmed DNI in 6 years. Many predict Clapper is not long for that seat. (Gates wisely turned down the gig when offered it before Negroponte). Kudos to Panetta for playing the smart bureaucratic game. We were skeptical at first, but he took to the ‘where you stand is where you sit’ maxim con gusto.

    Clapper/his succesor and Petraeus. Gee, however could that turn out? (Even with Gates’ allocating the IC budget under his control to ODNI. Smart – gives SecDef freedom to defend his actual budget. And has the added benefit of being good policy).

    Which begs the question, ‘How does Tenet sleep at night?’

  2. Comment says

    We’re tossing Newt into the pile w. Maureen Dean’s Capitol Secrets.
    Btw – Alex would have loved AEI today – Charles Murray and Michael Barone lamenting softing of whites America.

  3. Comment says

    Leo, to make space w/ decided to shed Newt’s 1945 (unread except 1st 20pages), along w/ some E Howard Hunt books and a Gordon Liddy novel.

    Should we make a 2nd attempt to read it?

  4. Comment says

    “averting a bloodbath” is progress. Secdef Cohen lied about mass graves in Kosovo – which was disproven. Condi Rice et al lied about wmd – which was disproven.

    You cannot dispute “averting a bloodbath.” It may be BS – but it’s progress for a nation addicted to war.

    Just a few weeks ago Ann-Marie Slaughter was telling us that Saif Ghaddafi was Mr. Libya 2.0 – Now she calls for firebombing Libyan tank columns.

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