Sunday, April 05, 2009


"Power has a psychological and not only technical component. Men can be lead by statistics only up to a certain point and then more fundamental psychological values predominate. In the final analysis the military profession is the art of prevailing, and while in our times this required more careful calculations then in the past, it also depends on elemental psychological factors that are difficult to quantify".
Henry Alfred Kissinger, The White House Years (1979).

On the 2nd of Thursday, the Oxonian Society held a luncheon in honor of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen. The luncheon was crowded and full. Admiral Mullen has been the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs since the summer of 2007, hence he is very much a Gates, post-Rumsfeld appointee. He appeared in full dress uniform, and, spoke that somewhat awkward, quasi-bureaucratic, quasi-Washingtonian language and diction that our military leaders have tended to speak in since the days of Robert McNamara, if not Eisenhower and Marshall. Reflecting the fact that like most American military leaders of the last half century, the Admiral has been educated in the world of American post-graduate education with its emphasis on 'management', 'systems', and 'process'. In short he is in essence a bureaucrat, not a warrior. According to the Admiral Mullen, the key goals of American policy in the world were the search for 'stability in the broader Middle East'. As well as in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area. He praised the Bush surge policy in Iraq as: 'a good glide slope'. He warned that Al-Qaeda, was 'still active there [in Iraq]'. And, that 2009 with its provincial and other elections coming up was: 'a critical year in Iraq'. He praised the Iraqi forces improvement in the last two years, stating that: 'trends were in a very positive direction'.

According to Admiral Mullen, the new American Administration's Strategic Review of the Near East was now complete, and, the following were the highlights of the same: Al-Qaeda was the chief enemy in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area as well as the Taliban. Indeed, one of the surprises of the Admiral's talk was the constant emphasis on the dangers of Al-Qaeda in the Near and Middle East, something which one imagined would no longer be so much emphasized under the new dispensation of the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name. According to Admiral Mullen, the building up of local governmental forces in Afghanistan was more complicated than in Iraq. Hence the need, in essence for nation building, from the ground-up in both countries. As well as the need for: 'allies, friends and partners'. He praised the forthcoming, Senate bill to provide economic as well as military assistance for the two countries (the Kerry-Lugar bill). He expressed a 'continuing concern about Persia', worried about Persia's nuclear ambitions and the knock-on effect a Persian test of its nuclear capability would have in the region. He also expressed concern for Teheran's support for 'terrorist groups' like Hamas and Hezbollah. He complained that there were too many American forces in 'Central Command's OLR'. The Admiral expressed the view that the current world economic crisis, 'has potential to generate lots of instability', with 'lots of surprises', for the United States.

According to Admiral Mullen, the recent incident involving the PRC's aggressive shadowing of an American destroyer off the Chinese coast was 'of great concern', and he was 'glad that it did not escalate' any further. He further expressed the hope that the incident would not prevent further co-operation with Peking. And, in general played down the incident's future importance. On the subject of counter-insurgency, the Admiral stated (the historically dubious assertion) that the United States 'now had the best counter-insurgency force in the history of warfare'. Concerning future operations in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theatre, Admiral Mullen stated that the 'end-game' was one of: 'economy, jobs, how I earn income'. With a strategy for the region of: 'focus[ing] on Al-Qaeda', with the latter 'pos[ing] an existential threat' to both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus the need to eliminate Al-Qaeda's 'safe haven' in the latter country. Concerning the Pakistani military he stated, correctly enough that the Pakistani army was 'not a counter-insurgency force', and he remarked that the powerful Pakistani military intelligence (the so-called 'ISI'), had to refocus itself on countering the threat from Al-Qaeda, and, 'detach itself from its terrorist links'. He expressed himself 'reasonably comfortable' with the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons.

Summing up, Admiral Mullen, expressed himself on the Mexican situation: 'a tough fight', noting that: 'my charge is to assist the Mexican military' in its war with the drug cartels. A war that 'will take some time', due to a 'very corrupt Mexican police' force. Continuing with the Latin American region, Admiral Mullen expressed to the almost total laughter of the audience (including myself) that: 'I am not overly concerned about Mr. Chavez'. And, he closed with a reiteration of the importance of the threat from Al-Qaeda: 'they are enemy number one right now'. Again an emphasis that would seem on the surface to be a hold-over from the Bush regime, rather than the new dispensation. The Admiral was given a standing ovation by the audience at the close of his talk.


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