Delivered April 15, 2008
We're living in extremely challenging times. I was standing not
too long ago outside the Pentagon with Secretary of Defense Robert
Gates, and I asked him if in his 40-some years experience he'd ever
seen so much going on. His comment was that he hadn't ever seen
anything close-not as busy, not as intense, not as many issues, not
as varied. And certainly, in my almost four decades of service
that's the case.
I'd like to focus on those challenges this afternoon-in
particular, the risks I think we're incurring from a military
standpoint and about mitigating those risks given that these
challenges are out there. These challenges are actually highlighted
by incredible uncertainty about the future and an incredibly
dangerous time that I think we're living in. They are also
underscored by the fact that we're not very good
historically-we haven't been very good about predicting the
future. You can go back to many of the conflicts that we've been
in, and there weren't many people that predicted that we'd been in
whatever that conflict was.
In all that we do and how I approach this job, I really
try to keep my focus on balance, given that uncertainty and that
unpredictability: whether it's the resources against our mission;
training against our training requirements; full spectrum versus
what we're doing right now, an execution in terms of
counterinsurgency; how we train with the capabilities we have
and how we look to future training and those capabilities; the
amount of time we're deployed balanced with the amount of time
we're home; and then how much focus we put on the current fight
we're in and how much focus we need to put on the future.
Being at headquarters here in Washington, one of my principal
responsibilities is to make sure I can keep my head up above Iraq,
above Afghanistan- in fact, above the Middle East-and look long
term to make sure that we are taking into consideration what's out
there and how to develop the military, how we recruit and retain
our people, not just for the current fight, but for the challenges
that will certainly come our way in the future.
How do we balance all that? That probably comes pretty close to
my full-time job as Chairman. So I'll tell you a little bit about a
"day in the life of a Chairman."
I'm concerned that we're not as balanced as we used to be-nor
are we as balanced as we should be.
Focusing on Iraq
Clearly, right now the focus is on Iraq, and that's the right
place to focus. Everyone wants to succeed in Iraq and give General
David Petraeus and his commanders all the possible support they
need to do that.
In fact, in testimony that Secretary Gates and I had the day
after General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker left, we were
asked about what our recommendations were. We both testified that
our recommendations are very consistent with what General Petraeus
and Ambassador Crocker had brought forward.
From the military standpoint, certainly I was very comfortable
with his assessment and spent a fair amount of time reviewing that
with the Joint Chiefs. Admiral William Fallon, the commander of the
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), did the same thing, and, by and
large, we arrived at the same conclusions, and we're very
supportive of those recommendations.
Back to what I said, all of us want to succeed in Iraq, and we
fully support his recommendations up to this point. But each of us
has a different perspective, and I think sometimes that gets
lost. David Petraeus is tactical commander on the ground. The
CENTCOM commander has responsibility for the entire region and must
take into consideration not just what's going on in Iraq, but in
Afghanistan- and not just that.
That region is a region of tremendous instability. The area of
focus moves from Lebanon all the way to Tehran and into South
Central Asia and Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's a huge theater with
an awful lot of challenges just in that theater alone. For myself
and my fellow Chiefs, we really have the responsibility to not just
understand what's going on in Iraq and the region; it's a global
responsibility. How do you balance our capabilities? Where do
you put them? What's going to happen in various parts on the world?
What are we ready to handle and what are we concerned about in
terms of readiness to handle- not just where we're focused now in
fighting, but should something else happen.
All of us have different responsibilities and foci in that
regard. And that's what we took into consideration, as well as
the recommendations General Petraeus brought forward. It would be
both irresponsible and imprudent, I think, not to keep that
global focus, which is one of the things I try to do.
Basra and the Risks of Not
I think the risks of not succeeding in Iraq right now would be
exceptionally high. I get asked this question frequently. I worry
about a withdrawal from Iraq at any time before Iraq is able to
provide for its people, have an economy that's working, and have a
secured environment that going to be acceptable. It doesn't
have to be the perfect solution- clearly, the kind of future that
is involved there is going to be heavily dependent on the politics
in Iraq and the reconciliation that has started to move down the
road-but Iraq still has an awful long way to go.
I focus on that when I talk about succeeding there, principally
from the military standpoint. I don't think we can afford to have
an Iraq that is a failed state in that part of the world. And that
is directly tied to the interests in the Middle East and, quite
frankly, directly tied to our national interests in that
I'll just use an example of the kind of uncertainty that I
talked about before. It's what happened in Basra just a couple
weeks ago. If you spend time, and I have, with General Petraeus and
others and look at what he's been doing since December, there
was-and I'm sure will continue to be-a discussion about the 45
days and what it really means.
We started moving troops out of Iraq last December. We
moved the Third Brigade out of the surge brigade at the end of
March. Commanders on the ground have been continuously assessing
and adjusting their battlefield geometry since last year. And it's
that continuous assessment that has been ongoing and will continue
to be ongoing the entire time that we have troops in Iraq. General
Petraeus and others are doing that constantly.
I think there's great wisdom, in once we come down to 15
brigades, taking those 45 days as a time of consolidation and
evaluation, making an assessment, and then moving forward with
the way ahead-to include the possibility that we would continue to
draw down troops if security conditions allow that. And if they
don't, then obviously we'd have to make other adjustments.
As for things that will drive that, I'll just briefly use the
example of Basra a couple weeks ago. That was a spike in violence
that we hadn't anticipated. When we talk about the future, we
expect Iraq to be a dangerous place for a significant period of
time. Violence is going to occur. It really gets to what level is
acceptable. When do Iraqi security forces have the capability and
capacity to take care of its own security? That effort has
been criticized from a tactical standpoint. There were some
shortfalls in that, and we recognize that. I think it's also very
important to understand that a year or two ago there wasn't much of
a chance that the Iraqi security forces could have moved that
quickly to a place of contact.
There has been progress. We've worked hard on that. The Iraqis
have worked hard on that. And I think that will continue, but it's
going to take some time.
Basra and the Iranian
Another important part of Basra was obviously the Iranian
influence. It really highlighted the Iranian influence in ways
that some of us had not seen before as directly as occurred in that
part of Iraq. And it certainly got an awful lot of peoples'
attention across the board.
We've talked for a significant period of time about the training
of Iraqis in Iran to come and fight us and kill our American and
Coalition soldiers in Iraq. We've talked about the technology that
Iran has shipped into Iraq. We've talked about the flow across the
border there, and yet, in the end, I think what became very evident
was the politics of Iran; the politics of Muqtada al-Sadr; the
politics of the leaders in that part of Iraq; and the lead that
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took to address not only the
challenges-that he stepped forward and dealt with the violence and
dealt with the thugs and the criminals-but also the political
requirements that that country has to figure out over time.
Obviously, some violence broke out, and I think it would be
unreasonable not to have some expectations that there are
going to be episodes like that. Yet at the same time, as we move
forward, it is this continuous assessment of where we are that
will, I think, drive future decisions about what our next moves
might be-strategically, operationally, and tactically to include
how many troops of what kind and where they'll be.
I want to talk a little bit about the impact of focusing on
Iraq. I think we need to be very clear about acknowledging that
focus and acknowledging what we can do, what we've done, and
also what we haven't been able to do. It is clearly having an
effect on our ability to do other things.
Resourcing Iraq and Afghanistan
The one that is very obvious to me is the link to Afghanistan.
President George W. Bush was in Bucharest the week before last, and
he announced that the U.S. would commit to additional troops in
Afghanistan some time in 2009. The availability of those troops is
going to be directly tied to the troops that are in Iraq, and so
until we come down in numbers of brigades in Iraq, the brigade
size requirement that exists for Afghanistan just will not be
met. That links us very directly.
So it's a resource issue, it's a requirements issue, and I've
talked for a long time about Afghanistan being an economy of forced
campaign-one that does not have enough resources to really go where
you would like to go from the combat standpoint. Actually, our
biggest shortfall there right now is in training resources. The
center of gravity in Afghanistan is to train the Afghan army
and the Afghan police, and we need about a brigade-sized effort to
train the Afghans.
If I had another brigade, my next brigade would go there. After
that, I would source the combat requirements. Right now we are
focused on the south because we have 3,500 Marines who have
recently deployed there. In the south, from a fighting
standpoint, we are in pretty good shape. They're going to do not
just the fighting; one of the two battalions will be involved
in combat, and the other battalion will be involved in training. If
the Marines are only going to be there for seven months and they're
coming out at the end of the year, those requirements still exist.
We would be looking to backfill them, and again, it's tied to
available forces that are right now tied up in Iraq.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
I don't like to even bring up Afghanistan without talking about
Pakistan, because I think they're linked, and I think we need to
make sure our strategy includes not just Afghanistan but also
Pakistan. We have a heavy focus on the FATA (Federally Administered
Tribal Areas), and I think that's right. Clearly, if I were going
to pick a place where the next attack is going to come from, that's
where al-Qaeda is, and we're going to need to figure out a way to
resolve that challenge.
At the same time, you have a brand new government that has
been a good ally against terrorism. They're just getting their feet
on the ground, and we have to be mindful that this is a new
government working hard to figure out the direction they want to
go. I've been there a few times. They have an extremist problem.
Someone mentioned to me the other day they've had over 250 citizens
killed by suicide bombers in January and February alone. They
recognize they've got that problem, and I believe we must have a
comprehensive strategy that includes Afghanistan and Pakistan.
And while it includes focus on that border-and that's really
part of it-there are huge challenges by the tribes who have lived
there for a long time. Having a thorough understanding of what
that means should be also included in our approach to how we engage
Pakistan as it moves out under this new leadership.
Engaging that leadership is going to be important. Engaging
Pakistan across the board, not just on the border, is also very
critical. We're focused now on helping them from the military
perspective, to train their trainers. It's really no more than
that, nor do I expect it will be any more than that. The Pakistani
army can shift from a conventional focus to a counterinsurgency
focus. It's going to take them some time to do that; it did for us,
and it clearly will for them. In my engagement with their
leadership, they understand that, but I think that we have to be
patient enough to recognize it's going to take some time.
This is back to the balance issue-things that we cannot do right
now. I mentioned it briefly before: the full-spectrum aspect of
what we're doing. I was actually taken back a little by General
Petraeus, who talked about the combined arms aspect of some of the
battles that they've been in in Iraq. When I say taken back, he
specifically focused on that, but it has not been extensive, nor
have we trained for it in any of our forces for a long time. Jim
Conway and the Marine Corps specifically talk about Marine captains
who've been in the Marine Corps for five or six years who've never
seen a ship. That's not what the Marine Corps is, and that's not
where Jim Conway or I believe the Marines need to be in the
future. They've done spectacular work in this fight; they'll
continue to do that, but we must be mindful that the 911 force for
the U.S. is a vital force for us for the future.
That full-spectrum aspect of how they do business in the
future is something we can't do right now that we need to move
forward with based on what we've learned while trying to keep in
balance all of the capabilities that we need as a military.
The same is true for the Army. While we've modularized, one
of the unstated changes has been that the army has modularized
itself so quickly. And the coin of the realm is a brigade, and
everything's centered on that. We did it in a time of war, and
at the same time, were not doing much combined arms training with
the Army. How do I deal with artillery? How do I deal with air
defense? How do I deal with both air control and close air
Though certainly some of that-and in some cases, a lot of that,
particularly air support-is going on, the point is that we're
trading that off right now. I think that's got to be something that
we make sure we get right for the future as we get to a point where
we can start to build off time back here for forces.
The rotation is also out of balance. The President announced last
week that we'll reduce 15-month deployments to 12 months. I think
that's a very important step. We need to get to the point where we
start to build dwell time. I travel a lot, meet with lots of
troops. I travel with my wife, she meets with spouses in the Army
and Marine Corps particularly, and the families are very brittle.
We talk about the security in Iraq being fragile and tenuous, and
for the families, they're very brittle.
Multiple deployments-there is an awful lot of stress tied to
that, and there's a tension there as well for the members,
principally the ground forces but not exclusively. I don't want to
understate what both the Air Force and the Navy have done to
provide forces on the ground to CENTCOM to assist in critical
ways all of our ground forces. But our ground forces have borne the
brunt of all of this, and that pressure's there. We must move ahead
to a point where we can get them back twice as long as they've been
Some of you here remember one-year deployments. I do, too.
One year was a long time; 15 months is too long. There's a balance
here, because in the kind of war fighting we're in, the kind of
counterinsurgency operations we're in, being there for a time makes
a difference. It takes time to establish relationships. It
takes time to learn to understand the people, and the people
are the center of gravity for success in the long run. Moving to 12
months is key. That will take off some pressure, and that starts
the first of August this year. Any unit deploying from the army
after August 1, 2008, will only go for 12 months. Then we need to
get individuals back home for two years for each year they're
deployed. That's key as well, and it will be a while before we get
beyond that. So the health of the force is another part of the
balancing act to make sure we keep that in balance. It's a very
delicate balance right now between requirements in Iraq,
requirements in Afghanistan, the health of their force, and global
As I talk about an economy of force campaign in Afghanistan,
we're doing the same kind of thing around the world. We're globally
employed from this standpoint because we have so many of our forces
tied up in CENTCOM. This doesn't mean we don't have additional
capabilities-we do in the Navy and Air Force. We have small units
deployed in Central and South America, in the Pacific, in
Africa, and today, in fact, one of our Navy ships is in the
Gulf of Guinea on the west coast of Africa in an engagement
activity that is very important. But the focus of our resources,
rightfully so, is in the Central Command area of
I just left a hearing, and I was very encouraged. Secretaries
Gates and Rice and I testified in front of the House Armed Services
Committee speaking to building partnership capacity and doing it
together and doing it across our government. It shouldn't be the
responsibility of one of our government agencies, but the
message that's really in the hearing is we must integrate more
wholly across the government. All of that is directly tied to the
world we're living in, and our government needs to be adjusted
significantly for the world we're living in in the 21st
Balance and the Center of Gravity
One last comment about balance: It's this balance between
what we're doing today and what we're doing tomorrow. One of my
principal responsibilities is to build the military for the
future in a very uncertain time, a very dangerous time, and a very
unpredictable time. That takes balance as well. It takes all the
services; it takes conventional capabilities; it takes
counterinsurgency capabilities; it takes an ability to fight
irregular warfare, which is what we're doing now. It also takes
capacity to engage early in what we call "phase zero"
operations in places like Africa, South America, the
Pacific, and the Indian Ocean; to establish relationships; to
establish partners to do that globally; and to be preventative in
nature so that conflicts don't break out in the future.
So having the right balance for investment now and in the future
is very important. I've talked about having at least 4 percent of
the gross domestic product go for defense. It's less the exact
number than it is a marker to say we need to have a national debate
about how much we want to spend on our security.
In these very dangerous times, the highest level I believe we
get is the military the American people want. The American people
vote in those people who go to Congress, come to Washington, and
make decisions. Out of that process is generated the military that
we need not just now but in the future. And there are huge
challenges out there, not just the economic challenges we're in
now. There are other bow waves of great entitlement that are headed
ourp way in the next 10, 20, 30 years that we as a country will
have to deal with, not unlike security in Iraq or security in
Afghanistan or security in other parts of the world.
I believe we have to have a military and a national
security apparatus that provides for the kind of deterrent and
preventative capability that will allow our country to thrive. We
are linked throughout the world more now than we've ever been. To
do that it must be resourced not just in dollars, but with the
right kind of capabilities. Those dollars must go to the right
places to build not just the equipment, the airplanes, the ships,
the tanks, and the weapons.
I think that the center of gravity in our future is our people.
We need to make sure we attract and retain the best people we can
in our country to serve in our military-to make a difference, to
answer that noble calling to ensure that our security and the
security globally is such that parents all over the world can raise
their children to a higher standard of living and a better
Admiral Michael G. Mullen is the 17th Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff.