LEE BOLLINGER: Thank you very much. Welcome, everybody. This is a World Leaders Forum, and let me begin by acknowledging two members of the city council – Matthew Jane (sp), who works in Veterans Affairs, and Gail Brewer (sp). Also a very strong welcome to Deborah Mullen. Please stand up, Mrs. Mullen. (Applause.) And let me also acknowledge my wife, Jane, who is here. (Laughter, applause.)
It is our central role and responsibility to provide a venue for open conversation and discussion on almost any topic in the society. It makes free speech on the Columbia campus as open as anyplace in the world. Our World Leaders Forum is just one way, at Columbia, that we try to bring people from all different points of views and all different experiences in life together. Just a week or so ago, we had Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and then next week, we’ll have Vikram Pandit, the head of Citigroup, who’s also an alum.
Now, when you think about the size and scope of – and geopolitical significance of the U.S. military, it’s especially appropriate for us to welcome to this forum the 17th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen. He serves as the principal military advisor to the president, the secretary of defense, the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council. He leads an American institution of more than 2 million soldiers, sailors, members of the Marines and Air Force – an institution in which the society invests well over $600 billion a year.
The chairman leads an organization, most crucially, that provides our nation’s necessary point of engagement in a dangerous and complicated world, though he would be the first to say that it must be only one part of a whole web of strong, diplomatic, civic and economic relationships across the globe. Our servicemen and women are called on to fight battles, but also to bet he diplomats with village elders and emergency responders in nations devastated by natural disaster.
It is a mission that we all understand calls for a level of physical courage and personal sacrifice by individuals and their families that is truly extraordinary. Now, as many of you know, here, this university has a long and deep and continuing tradition of making special efforts to open our doors to the nation’s military veterans. And today, there are more than 270 student enrolled at Columbia from the veterans, who receive some form of educational benefits. Many of them have returned from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many of our students are in the school of general studies, which was actually founded in 1947 largely to help veterans of World War II pursue an Ivy League education on the G.I. Bill. The students attend professional schools and graduate schools, and we would like to recognize all of them and say how pleased and proud we are to have you part of this community. I also want, at the beginning here, to salute MilVets at Columbia, providing your own Columbia float in the Veteran’s Day parade, along with working with former provost Alan Brinkley to develop and dedicate our new memorial to the generations of Columbians who have lost their lives in service to our country.
So I’d like to just mention two things at the beginning, that have been very important. And I think it brings us to our historical moment here. The first is, when universities across the United States felt that diversity was such a key educational role that it was critical to defend it all the way to the Supreme Court, one of the key components of that case came from our military, where the recognition of diversity and all that it means for a society was as strong as anyplace. And many members of the military stepped forward to, in fact, make that case in the legal suits.
The second thing I’d like to recognize is the powerful statement that Adm. Mullen recently made in his efforts with Sec. Gates and President Obama in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which will begin to move us away from a very painful conflict for this and several other of our peer universities, that have tried to uphold our core values of nondiscrimination for all of our students, while also supporting our country and our military.
This is an historic moment, therefore, in which we can begin to build an even stronger relationship that has sometimes had its rifts over the course of the last several decades, between our great universities and our great national defense and military. Secretary (ph) and Admiral Mullen, let me welcome you to Columbia University.
We’re very happy to have you here to begin a year-long series of conversations with the country about issues that are important to our military and civilian society, including ways that educational institutions like this can help opportunities for veterans. So welcome, and thank you. (Applause.) So why don’t we begin with your saying why you’re doing this.
ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: Well, thanks, President Bollinger, and to Dr. Aron (ph) and so many others who made this opportunity available, and your personal support and time, which I know is incredibly valuable, as well. What this is, is the beginning of an effort to connect with communities, quite frankly, throughout the country, to talk about the challenges we face, certainly to connect with America as much as we possibly can, and then inside those challenges, very specifically, through community-based support, to be able to reach out and connect with those who serve in the military, those who’ve sacrificed so much.
What I see here very quickly, obviously, at Columbia, is a tremendous support for military veterans. And that is greatly supported, I think, by the new G.I. Bill. And you’ve obviously been very aggressive in your ability to both find the students and connect those benefits, and I think those are huge, not just now, but well into the future. I believe that investment, on the part of America and Columbia specifically, will be paid back tenfold, at least, over the course of the next decade.
So what I hope to do is to be able to connect with colleges and universities – not exclusively, but as a main focus – throughout the country, because colleges and universities are community-based, and they’re tied to community leadership. And then very specifically, we have tens of thousands who have gone off, done what our country has wanted them to do, faced the perils of war, seen things that they’d never thought they’d see. Their lives have changed forever in ways that they don’t even know yet, and we don’t even know.
And they have sacrificed enormously. And over 5,400 cases, they’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice. So how do we, as a country, repay that debt? It is their service that allows us to have these kinds of forums, and it’s fundamental to who we are as a country. So we have tens of thousands who’ve suffered from visible wounds and hundreds of thousands who’ve suffered from invisible wounds.
So how do we reach the individuals? But also, I’m here with Deborah, and we’ve had the good fortune of serving – this is our fifth decade of serving in the military – and we are very much focused on families, as well. And we see the effects of these wars impacting spouses and children in ways that none of us imagined just a few years ago. So the only way I could – we have the Department of Defense; we have the VA; and then we have the communities in America. And the only way this can scale to effectively reach all those who’ve given so much is to have all three of us work together.
But the real scalable capability is in the communities. And the dreams haven’t changed. Our young men and women still want an education. They’d like to have a family. They’d like to have their kids go to schools. They’d like to get an education. They’d like jobs. They’d like to own a piece of the rock. Their path, however, has changed, in many cases dramatically. So I’m hopeful to be able to, over the course of the next year, spend time with communities throughout the country that would pick up this challenge.
And I call it, actually, the sea of goodwill. It’s not a nautical term – (laughter) – even though I was in the Navy. But it does represent what Deborah and I and many others have experienced throughout the country, that there are people – citizens throughout the country who want to help. The question is, how do they connect? And we’ve been frustrated in that, and we’re working our way through how to make those connections. This effort is central to that.
MR. BOLLINGER: Sir, that’s great. I think we’ll just have this conversation for 15 minutes or so, and then open it up for questions. You know, I was very struck, in the time we had before we came here – and your service extends over several decades. You’ve had the chance to see multiple types of engagement between the military and the world. You’ve had the opportunity to see the relationship of the military to the country evolve. If you could just reflect on that – where we stand now in light of that experience – I think it would be very interesting for people.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, the seminal experience for me was really Vietnam. I was commissioned in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, and as the country turned against men and women in uniform. And we were unable, as a country, to separate the politics from the people. And so the scars that I had from that time run deep, and as these wars started, it really was the first question I asked myself, was whether or not the American people are going to support our men and women in uniform.
And it was a question I would routinely ask our deployed personnel when I visited them in theater. For the first three or four years, they would ask me that same question. And I had done a lot of work to try to make sure I understood the answer. And what I found was, throughout my paying attention to this, that the American people really were supportive of our men and women in uniform.
And when asked that in the field, in Iraq and Afghanistan – mostly Iraq then – the troops wanted to know the answer to that. And the answer was, yes, and then they just marched off and executed their mission. They were certainly cognizant of the politics, but they weren’t paying much attention to them. So that has been an incredibly uplifting part, from my perspective, of us, as a country, in terms of the American populace supporting those who serve. And I’ve seen it here today, but I’ve seen it over the last decade in ways that, quite frankly, with my experience as a youth, in the first war I was in, was very defining, in terms of where we are.
And even to speak to the relationship now that the military has – the growing relationship – that the military has with Columbia and other northeastern universities – and I think we can do a great deal more than we have – I mean, that’s the trans – you talked about a transformative moment – that’s, to me, I think, a very accurate description of where we are. And we need to take advantage of that. The tremendous opportunity that is here – just the military veterans I met today that are in school here and, again, the investment in America through them will just pay off in ways that, you know, I can’t even imagine.
MR. BOLLINGER: And another thing you said, which I think, really deserves repeating is your assessment at the moment of the quality of the armed forces compared to, again, your experience over a long period of time?
ADM. MULLEN: I oftentimes get asked whether we should reinstitute the draft and I mean, the draft has certainly pros and cons. One of its pros, I think, is that it obviously very broadly represents the country as a whole. And I think it’s important that our military be representative of the breadth and the depth and the diversity in our country. And to the degree that it isn’t over time, I think the military just drifts away from the country. And I think that’s a very dangerous possibility in a democracy.
So but I have also – not but – I am now, as indicated, in my fifth decade. And the president indicated over 2 million. It is. It’s over 2 million men and women and it is the finest it has ever been from my perspective, certainly in the time I have served. They represent the best, the highest qualities, the values, their families, their sacrifice. They don’t think about sacrificing. It is the norm for them. They want to at a very young age – and I assure you, being a product of the 60s, that was not the case when I grew up.
And so they have set such a high standard of excellence and professionalism that when asked about, should we keep an all-volunteer force or go to a draft, I’m very much in the all-volunteer force camp. And the need to then make sure that where we are not diverse enough, we work on that as opposed to just create that by changing to a draft.
MR. BOLLINGER: If we could go to the wider sort of world, how are things going from your point of view in both Afghanistan and Iraq?
ADM. MULLEN: You want to spend the rest of the – (laughter) –
MR. BOLLINGER: (Inaudible.) Just an overview. (Inaudible.)
ADM. MULLEN: Iraq is actually certainly still a huge challenge, but it had elections. They are in the process right now – the democratic process of forming a government. I’m happy to report from what I both read in the media and see as well as just my visits that the vast majority of issues in Iraq are political. And so you see politicians who represent people in Iraq jockeying for position in who’s going to lead Iraq into the future.
There are also good things happening there on the business side – oftentimes not reported. There were, quite frankly, very large investments made by private companies in the oil business not too long ago. I have been pleased to see in these very tragic bombings since August – the suicide bombings – that they have not – as tragic as each of those are – what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to create sectarian violence. They’re trying to explode it into what it was before 2005, ’06 and ’07. And that’s just not happening. So I’m encouraged there.
They’re actually pushing back on Iran’s influence, which we’re all worried about there. That doesn’t mean that there is an influence, but from that perspective, I’m cautiously optimistic. And the countries in the region – and I just recently made two trips to the region. The countries in the region who were very skeptical at times are reaching in and sending ambassadors, establishing relationships, working to set up trade – to take advantage of trade opportunities. So generally speaking, headed in the right direction.
We will start very shortly, literally in the next couple of weeks, taking another 50,000 or so troops out of Iraq. We’re a little under 100,000 right now. We’ll come down to about 50,000 by the 31st of August. And then we’ll watch this government get set up. But under the current policy, we’ll have everybody out of Iraq – all troops out of Iraq by December of next year.
So that’s the glide slope we’re on right now. And it’s one of those things as well as difficult as the Iraq war has been for the country – and I understand that – the sacrifices that were made there that the over 4300 lives we’ve lost there truly have created an opportunity for the Iraqi people that did not exist before. So we’ll see.
And then in Afghanistan, we’re at a point now where I believe we’ve got the strategy right, we’re resourcing the strategy. As you indicated, the answer, as it was in Iraq, is not military alone. We’ve got to create the security so that the governance and the development and the economy – those things – can start to move in the right direction.
I was just in Marja the other day where, from a military standpoint, it’s been very successful. But it’s early. It’s tentative. I think I was there a month ago and it was day 45. So and I think a huge indicator will clearly be where we end up as the strategy proceeds vis-à-vis Kandahar over the summer.
The goal is to change the momentum. It’s changing. We see those indicators. But I don’t really think we’ll have a good feel for that until the end of the year. So I think we’re in a good place, but key to it is clearly going to be, does Afghanistan stand up? Do they start to lead? We’ve seen some good – some successes from them, leading on the military side.
I actually was very pleased the other day to be in Kandahar and hear good stories about the local police in Kandahar because I haven’t heard too many good stories about Afghan police. Interestingly enough, sort of 2007, that’s kind of – those are the first stories I started to hear in Iraq, when the police started to turn. So we’ve still got a long way to go there, but we think we’re headed in the right direction.
And I would also lastly point out that 43 countries have combat forces there. This isn’t about the United States alone at all. There’s a very large international commitment, which I think signals the criticality and the importance of getting this right, which is focused as much as anything to make sure that al-Qaida, who killed 3,000 people not very from here, doesn’t have a home to come to again, which is where they were living when this started.
MR. BOLLINGER: I find myself wanting to have the benefit of your view about so where the security interest of the United States and the world is heading as you see it over the next decade – because if Iraq and Afghanistan sort of continue on the course that they appear to be on and that you say – that is on a positive course – those are going to be sort of dealt with in a sense. And it must be important – it is important in your office and role to be thinking out ahead to sort of what the world looks like in five and 10 years out. So how do you think about that?
ADM. MULLEN: I’ve had – since I took over this job and even before, probably my number one priority has been what I call the broader Middle East. And trying to focus efforts on that part of the world because I believe it is the most unstable and potentially the most destabilizing part of the world.
We are still – we, the world – still very much dependent on resources, the oil that comes out of that part of the world and will be for the foreseeable future. And the reason that I bring that up is because a lot of this to me is about economics and they are the economic engines not just now but in the future.
And one of the things I learned as a sailor in my travels early in the world and it’s true to this day is I find parents around the world who have a single goal in mind and that’s to raise their kids in peace and to give them a better standard of living than they had growing up. In order to do that, you have to get the security piece right. And as I said earlier, it’s not – as in Afghanistan – it’s not just the United States.
So I worry a great deal specifically about Iran now, in the future. I worry about Iran achieving a nuclear weapons capability. There are those that say, come on, Mullen, get over that. They’re going to get it; let’s deal with it. Well, dealing with it has unintended consequences that I don’t think we’ve all thought through. I worry that other countries in the region will then seek to – actually, I know they will seek to – actually, I know they will seek nuclear weapons as well. And I think that spiral headed in that direction is a very bad outcome.
On the other hand, I worry a great deal about striking Iran. I’ve been very public about that because of the unintended consequences of that. So the diplomatic, the engagement piece, the sanctions piece – all those things, from my perspective, need to be addressed to possibly have Iran change its mind about where it’s headed.
Clearly, I’ve spent a lot of time in Pakistan, a lot of time engaging Pakistan. And that both – when I say broader Middle East, I include south Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan – the region, the linkage in the region between those two countries. And obviously India, with whom we have a very positive and growing relationship, is a key player in all this as well. So I think for the next – certainly the next 10 to 20 years that – I don’t see that part of the world receding in that regard.
MR. BOLLINGER: Yeah.
ADM. MULLEN: The second priority for me is – which is as big a concern as any – is just the health of our force. We’re in our 10th year of war or our ninth year of war. We are doing things that we couldn’t have imagined seven or eight years ago we’d been doing – deploying for 12 and 15 months in a – (inaudible) – and doing it repeatedly. The major units in the Army are about to start their fifth one-year deployment. And that’s with a year back. Those are our divisions. You almost can’t do the math and wonder if they’ve had any time at home, particularly when you spend half your time at home getting ready for the next deployment.
The impact that that has on families – families have become – they’ve always been important. But the health of our families has become a much more integral part of our health and will be for the foreseeable future. So as we slow down a little bit and come out of Iraq, we give a little more dwell time, time in between deployments, which we will over the next couple of years – are we going to do that in time before we really almost irreversibly harm our military? And that’s one of the reasons I’m reaching out to the country because I think we have to as a country help with that. So that’s kind of the second priority.
And then the other is the rest of the world. And first of all, we’re not very good at predicting where we’ll go and what we’ll do. We haven’t been historically. But I think we need to stay engaged. I don’t think we can just come home and hope for the best. I think we have to stay out there and stay engaged.
Certainly, the evolution of China. I’ve talked about keeping an eye on the economy as they continue to grow at a clip of eight to 10 percent a year, develop their military capability. That’s an incredibly important part of the world economically as well as from a security standpoint. We’ve got long-lasting, strong alliances in that part of the world, so how do we make sure we’re invested well enough there?
And some of what I worry about is with the energy in the Central Command area – Iraq, Afghanistan, the broader Middle East – that we could very well – we could be not paying enough attention somewhere else. So I work hard to try and make sure we – and I’m not saying we are – but with that focus, we have to work hard to keep focused in other places.
I worry a good deal about our own hemisphere. I mean, I grew up in southern California. I was in Mexico City five or six weeks ago. And the drug wars that are going on there – the resourcing of those, the guns, the money, the habit, the potential instability – is also something of concern. And I think we need to just be paying attention to our own hemisphere, if you will, in ways that we haven’t in the past.
Actually, on top of all that though – and this was highlighted, I think, last week with President Obama’s nuclear summit – the summit that involved some 46 countries I think – is what scares me the most right up front is terrorists and nuclear weapons. We know that they have a goal to get their hands on them. We know that they want to still kill as many Americans as they possibly can.
And so while al-Qaida in Iraq is greatly diminished and we’ve had some success against al-Qaida in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area, that threat’s not going away and it’s not going away near term. And I don’t think it can be won kinetically. In the long run, that’s not going to be the way it gets won. The way that gets won eventually is to be able to support the Muslims throughout the world who say that is enough. And over time – and they represent values we care a lot about and that this outfit that has seized this religion in the most negative way actually is no longer supported by the Muslims who support them.
That’s the long-term approach there. But that’s tied to relationships with countries who create economic value and education and a future for young – particularly young males, who when they’re 15 or 16 years old have to make a decision about what they’re going to do and need to be put on a positive track as opposed to the one they’re on – many of them are on right now.
MR. BOLLINGER: And before opening this up – I mean, I think I certainly have a few – I mean, I could just keeping you question after question – (laughter) – and we could keep going. I mean, I think is probably something you don’t want to answer, so I’ll just put it in there and you can – then I’ll ask a question on top of it – you can just go to the other question. (Laughter.) But I think there’s a question whether there is any military option for Iran. Is there actually something or is it only diplomatic? Put that aside. I doubt you can answer that. (Laughter.)
ADM. MULLEN: What was your question? (Laughter.)
MR. BOLLINGER: So I’d like to ask about the – (laughter) – about journalism – (laughter) – (applause) – and the military. So recently, David Ignatius, whom you know and from the Washington Post was here and we had a panel. And one of the things David said was, I’m worried about, from the journalist standpoint, about being embedded. And yet very difficult for journalists to get information about what is happening around the world without being embedded because very dangerous, not clear you can get around and so on. So the kind of tension.
And he was using the word embedded in a metaphorical sense – than simply going into Iraq and being in a tank. And I think the big question is not journalists and embedded; it’s the American population getting the information it needs to really think about these things and it goes back to where we began, which is how are veterans treated when they come out.
And they’re going to be treated in part by how much people know about what is happening, how connected they feel to what is happening, how connected they feel to the people who are serving the country. And that kind of area, if you could just talk about that, the problem of the American democracy – journalism and military. (Inaudible.)
ADM. MULLEN: Actually, there was an article I read coming up here this morning – and I can’t remember who wrote it; I think it was an AP piece – that was by a young journalist that just was out there for a number of weeks and who was writing a piece about the struggle of being embedded.
And when I think about being embedded, fundamentally, I think we changed all of that in 2003 when we embedded so many reporters. The goal was to be able to tell the story. And I think that’s really important. Certainly from my perspective, I take reporters on just about every single trip I go on because I want them to tell the story. And I don’t – I mean, I give my view, but I sort of don’t constrain them on where they go and who they interview on these trips because – and then for me, this is Vietnam again. It is really important that we as a country understand what we’re doing.
So Deborah and I spend a lot of time with families of the fallen – Deborah in particular. We go to Arlington to go the funerals. And we spend time with those who have been wounded because that is the toughest part of this war – those who’ve lost so much. And it’s very important for me that America understands what’s going on. And then in the democracy in which we exist make decisions about what we’re going to do.
And I was – Secretary Gates went forward and changed the policy at Dover – I was a very strong supporter of that. As difficult as that is, it is important that families get to see their loved ones when they come back having sacrificed so much. And if they choose to do it at that moment, we should give them that choice. So that’s a huge – that approach is a huge driver for me so that we understand what we’re doing. And then president makes a decision and we march off.
So from the journalism side, I think David and others – I think the journalism community has to work its way through that, figure out if they’re getting spun or not. There’s no active – I mean, from my perspective, there’s no active goal to spin them. But I think that’s something that they’re going to have to continue to struggle with in order to tell that story. I don’t know how else to tell it.
And I feel that way about our young men and women who serve. Whenever I have any citizens visit me, or my units, what I do is I turn them over to my people and say: Go out, see where they live. See where they fight. Talk to them about their families and let them tell the story because they are enormously strong young men and women. And to a person, those stories always amaze – whether they’re citizens or journalists, those who’ve gone to find out what those stories are about.
MR. BOLLINGER: Fantastic. Let’s open it up.
ADM. MULLEN: Oh, you asked about Iran. (Laughter.)
MR. BOLLINGER: So, I mean, in a recent report about Secretary Gates, about not having this efficient – I don’t know whether that’s true or not. It’s leaked information. But I think that issue of military options and Iran is a big one.
ADM. MULLEN: I’ve said many times: I mean, all options remain on the table. And as I indicated earlier, the diplomatic engagement piece is the lead piece and must – but, I mean, we in the Pentagon; we plan for contingencies all the time. And so certainly, that there are options which exist shouldn’t surprise anybody. What the main stream of that article talked about, which is in today’s New York Times, is that we have no policy and that the implication is that we’re not working on it.
I assure you, this is as complex a problem as there is in our country and we have expended extraordinary amounts of time and effort to figure that out, to try to get that right. And I want people to be comfortable that that’s the case. And Secretary Gates has led that effort. It’s also worked within the administration. It does represent, however, a very, very tough problem.
MR. BOLLINGER: Okay. It’s open to the audience for questions, comments. Questions. Only questions. (Laughter.)
ADM. MULLEN: Does that work?
MR. BOLLINGER: I have a lot of control in this university. (Laughter.) Much more than the military.
Q: Admiral Mullen, thanks for coming. I wanted to ask you about recent reports about Gen. Petraeus and his views on the role of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in U.S. military engagements in the Middle East. And I was wondering if you can elaborate on your feelings as to how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does affect operations, how an Israeli attack on Iran, in particular, might affect U.S. troops in the Middle East and your personal feelings on that.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I try not to speculate about, you know, what ifs, in terms of certain specifics. I had – I think it was about six weeks ago, maybe eight weeks ago now – made a tour out to the Middle East and was in five countries in five days, including Israel. And one of the messages that came out of that was the desire on the part of – in each country and particularly the Arab countries I visited – to see some movement on the part of the Middle East peace process. And so that’s very much on their mind. I think it’s very much on all our minds.
And we’ve seen how difficult that is. It’s not just difficult lately. It’s been a very difficult process over decades. But they urged me to message back to the leadership how critical that was. And then the other thing they’re, quite frankly, most concerned about is Iran getting a nuclear weapon. And I’m not just talking about Israel. I’m talking about countries in the region. And so there was clearly a desire to create a linkage between those two and to, from a policy standpoint, try to get those right, but more than anything else, to see movement – to create movement in the Middle East peace process.
So we’re very focused on that. I’ve got a very strong relationship with the head of the Israeli armed forces, have had for the last – I mean, we came in at about the same time. He is a very dear friend, as well as an extremely highly thought-of professional. But I’ve got good relationships throughout the region with military and civilian leaders. So it goes back to the question the president asked earlier, which is, at the top of the list right now is the Middle East. And the way I get to – you know, if there were a strike, I talked about that earlier.
I worry about the unintended consequences of that, the things that we don’t understand that are going to happen. And I’m sure they will, even though we work our way through trying to understand it. What they might be, we usually miss on that. And I just think they’ll be substantial in an area that’s so unstable right now. We just don’t need more of that. What we need is engaged political and diplomatic leadership from around the world to make sure that that doesn’t – that neither one of those things happens. And I don’t believe – I think Iran having a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. I think attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome.
Q: Good afternoon, Admiral. I’m Cadet Barrigan (sp) from Air Force ROTC, attachment 560, the Bronx bombers. I was wondering: Earlier today, you talked about the process of getting “don’t ask, don’t tell” repealed, but could you elaborate on how you think it will make the U.S. military a more cohesive and effective fighting force?
ADM. MULLEN: I’ve spoken very specifically about that in my testimony. Fundamentally, I believe that we are asking young men and women to come in and, essentially, lie. It’s counter to our values as a military. It’s counter to what I’ve valued, my whole life, in the military. And from that perspective, that’s why I personally believe – and it is a belief – that it’s time to change.
I said in that testimony and I repeat here: I’ve served with those that I thought were gay my whole life, from my first ship in 1968 up until right now. And I certainly haven’t seen – and they were, quite frankly, thought to be gay or lesbian by a lot of people in the command. I never saw any debilitating impact that I could put my finger on, from that standpoint. So it is really important, however, to work through this process, this review, over the course of this year, to understand, should the law change, the impact of that change. Part of my responsibility is to lead in a time of change and to lead that change.
In order to understand and in order to do that and do it in a way that preserves the unit integrity – cohesion, readiness, all those things, military effectiveness – all of which are at the top of the list – that’s something that I need to understand. And I’ll know a lot more about that as we get through this review towards the end of the year – and what it will take to lead, should that law change.
Q: Elliott Goldman (sp), Columbia College class of ’79 and, I think, probably the only college graduate still in the active reserve as Lt. Col. Because it’s getting more and more difficult when you’re in the private sector. Welcome to Columbia, Admiral. This will take 57 seconds. (Laughter.) Coming in today, I wanted to give you money. A back-of-the-envelope calculation by the former assistant secretary of the Air Force Financial Management and Comptroller’s Office has the savings of implementing my idea be millions a year. This may not be the forum for fully vetting that idea, but it does give me the microphone.
I am a reservist who worked with Adm. Fallon in the ’90s to save the Times Square recruiting station and he took great care of things. Since then, as an Army JAG, I’ve done a lot of traveling with the Navy and the Army. And I found a tax loophole in the sofa we are not exploiting. Please give me a staff member for a couple of minutes today and at least you will have humored a member of the ROA Strategic Planning Committee and rendered appropriate homage to Columbia graduates still serving. Besides, I’ll bet that Columbia College degree and my oak leaves that you will also find a way to keep millions of dollars. Thank you.
ADM. MULLEN: Sure. Staff member? (Laughter.)
Q: Good afternoon, Admiral and President Bollinger. I’m a 1968 graduate, also, of Columbia College and went through the last Navy ROTC class here at Columbia College for four years. I want your thoughts and President Bollinger’s thoughts about the possibility of reestablishing a Navy ROTC unit here at Columbia College. (Applause.)
ADM. MULLEN: Actually, we talked about this whole issue over lunch, in terms of – and this is part of what I believe is a transformative moment – that there are opportunities out there, now, that are – that it might be time to do that. And as a ’68 graduate, you’ll understand how difficult it was back then. Probably you more than I. I was ’68 in the Naval Academy, where we were cocooned off, in many ways – not that I wasn’t exposed. But it goes back to what I said earlier.
I think representation and, in particular, universities in the Northeast – it would be of great benefit to both the universities as well as the military, as well as the country. There are, I will say – and I don’t know specifically, at this point – there are limits to how many we can actually create because we’re a much smaller force than we were way back when. Even now, as we have universities or colleges that come in across the country that want to create an ROTC unit from any service, it isn’t – we can’t just snap our fingers and make it happen because we’re limited into where we get our accessions and how many we can create. But from an overall perspective, I think it’s an important step to take for the reasons that I just described.
Q: And President Bollinger?
MR. BOLLINGER: And I would say a couple things. First of all, this is a – this issue has to go through the University Senate. That’s what it’s had to before and will have to happen again. So there has to be faculty, student debate about this and that would happen. I think the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is the crucial – has really been the crucial divide. And it’s been a very difficult – this has been going on since the late 1980s, even before that. And the debate became much more difficult over the past 5 to 10 years.
With this new direction, I think there are enormous opportunities, not only with respect to ROTC but other things, as well, for rebuilding the relationship between American universities and the military. As the admiral indicated, whether ROTC is right for even this – how that’s structured and the like – you know, those are major policy questions that are decided not here but elsewhere. But I can tell you, I think the campus will be much more receptive – this and other universities, if not almost all of them – to rebuilding that relationship.
A year or so ago, I was in an audience where Secretary Gates spoke to university presidents and I asked him what he thought about the prospects of changing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy because I feel that is the principal problem. Because it’s a conflict of basic moral, ethical values for universities – that we will not have programs or do things that discriminate invidiously against a group of our students. And gay and lesbian students are entitled to full treatment, equal treatment in the institution. So it’s a deep, deep problem for us. And his answer was that, in his view, this was no longer a military issue. It was a political issue. And I think that’s what we’re now facing and I think it’s very important for us to try to help that process move ahead towards a good outcome.
Q: Good afternoon, Admiral. Thank you for being here. And I wanted to ask you: The president of Iran has been quite clear about his intentions to make countries, or to wipe countries off the map. And I wanted to ask you if you believe that we run the risk of possibly repeating the same policies that led up to World War II, in terms of appeasement. Thank you.
ADM. MULLEN: I’m certainly aware of what Ahmadinejad has said for the last several years. And it has given me both great pause and concern and when you combine that with the goal of – the fact that they’re seeking nuclear weapons – and you bring that together, it is, in fact, why I believe we need to make sure that they don’t achieve that capability. So I think of it more along the lines of the here and now, how we move forward, rather than try to label it based on what happened in history.
I just want to, I guess, reassure you that this has the focus of the president of the United States. I mean, I am his principal military advisor. And it has had, from the moment I had spent any time with him, even before he was sworn in, and it continues to have. And the discussion we had earlier about, you know, policy, implying that we had to work this thing – it has been worked and it will continue to be worked. It is amongst the top two or three most complex problems and challenges that we have. And if there were easy answers, we would have picked one off the shelf and said, okay. That’s just not the case.
Q: Hi, Admiral. Thank you for being here. I actually work at the School of General Studies. My name is Anna O’Sullivan and I’m the daughter of a military veteran and the granddaughter of a military veteran, as well as the niece of a military veteran. And my family is typically blue-collar. And I’m just wondering – you talk about the diversity in the military – and I’m wondering, with recruitment practices, how you see that going in the future. I work very closely with a lot of the military veterans here and, if it weren’t for them being in front of me every day, I don’t know how connected I would be with what’s going on overseas.
ADM. MULLEN: You know, I think it was in your opening comment – the president talked about the military being a leader, from the perspective of diversity, as an institution in the country. I certainly experienced that from the late ’60s through today. And I’m proud to represent that leadership and I think it’s, as I said earlier, I think it’s fundamental to us as an institution and, quite frankly, as a country. We still have challenges, particularly senior leadership – women and minorities – and often times this gets focused on the African-American issue.
And it’s an issue; it’s a concern. I worry a great deal, quite frankly, about underrepresentation, at the senior level, of the Hispanic community throughout the country. Because we have an extraordinary number of young Hispanics who serve and who have no – who can’t see the leadership examples that would then say to them: I can be he or she if I stay here, which, I think, is probably the single biggest driver to both recruiting and retaining young talent that would go do this and lead the military in the future.
Demographically, I mean, right now recruiting numbers are very, very strong and have been. Actually, with the exception of one year, since 2001 we’ve met our recruiting numbers and our retention numbers. Now, in 2007, 2008, 2009, we opened up the waiver issue, particularly for the Army, so we stayed within our policy but we waived to a level that has now, essentially, been disregarded, in the sense that, for instance, in the Army over 95 percent – I think, in the last year – of Army recruits are high school graduates. It went down to as low as 79 or 80. The single biggest indicator of whether someone finishes their first tour in the military is whether they’re a high school graduate or not.
So we’ve had our bumps, but we’re basically in pretty good shape right now. If I worry about anything, I worry about the demographics of the recruiting, from what part of the country. We’re very – we recruit heavily from the Midwest, the South, the Southwest, et cetera. And I think, you know, the balance of that, in the long run, has got to be from all over the country.
MR. BOLLINGER: I’ll take one more question.
Q: Afternoon. I was just curious as to what your opinions are on private organizations, such as Blackwater, which has, I guess, been repackaged as Xe recently, and what their role in the Middle East is and why the United States is allowing for that to happen and/or facilitating their presence? And what sort of accountability they have and what the chain of command is because it seems as though it’s independent. (Applause.)
ADM. MULLEN: We have to talk a little bit about this over lunch. We downsized our military – and I’ll try to be as brief as I can here – in 1989, when the wall came down, by about 40 percent. We then went to war in 2003 and we found we needed support, in particular, support capabilities that we had not invested in. We either didn’t have it because we got rid of them when we made our military much smaller, or they were new capabilities that we had to have, either way. And so we brought on a lot of contractors.
We’ve been through some ups and some downs with that. And I’ve got the Blackwater focus; I understand that. I think – I mean, part of the way, from the accountability standpoint, I’d answer that, is – in fact, I read, I think yesterday or the day before, that there were several leaders or former leaders of that company who’s been indicted. So we’re working our way through the whole issue of contractors, the vast majority of whom have been remarkable, have been very supportive of us. And, in fact, many, many of them had served in the military and care an awful lot about us.
When you take on – this is a significant number and a significant amount of money. And when you do that and move as fast as we can, as fast as you have, there are challenges associated with that. We’re trying to address that. So we recognize – and for me, personally, how dependant I am on contractors is something I’ve been focused on since I’ve been the chairman. And I want to know not – I don’t want to know just for now, but what does it mean for our military in the future, as we look beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and how dependent or independent we will be with respect to contractor support.
MR. BOLLINGER: Admiral Mullen, thank you very much for coming to Columbia College. (Applause.)