ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: Good morning. That’s actually a pretty good response. (Laughter.) Your Majesty, it’s great to have you here and I know what a great – (applause) – friend you are at this critical time in our history. And we just appreciate the relationship, the strength of the partnership, in so many ways.
Ambassador Crocker, it’s great to be with you again. It’s a real privilege to share this stage with you. You’ve really shown, throughout your career and particularly in recent years – in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and throughout the Middle East – was instrumental at a very, very difficult time. And you are the consummate public servant who cares so much about our country and about our people and peoples around the world. It’s just great to have you back with us. (Applause.)
And I know you’ll continue to do great things down at Texas A&M, helping to develop our next generation of public servants. To our international fellows, whom I had the pleasure to speak with a couple of days ago, thank you and your families for helping us broaden our perspectives and deepen our partnerships with each of your nations. The debate and the dialogue you offered your fellow students here was, no doubt, as rich as the international cuisine I’m told you prepared for everybody throughout the course. (Applause.)
Admiral Rondeau, Ambassador Krajeski, you have been terrific leaders who work hard every day to ensure that this institution is the intellectual center of gravity for our joint force. Here, partnerships are built. Innovation and research and outreach flourish. And most importantly, this is where our future strategic leaders learn and grow.
NDU leaders, faculty and staff, thank you for continuing this institution’s long legacy of excellence, for evolving and adapting to the demands of national security and for instructing these students and for challenging them. I appreciate and I know they appreciate all that you do.
And none of us could do what we do without great family support. I’ve said it before and I truly believe, especially in these challenging times, that our families serve every bit as much as we do. So husbands and wives, sons and daughters, parents and extended relatives, thank you for your service. (Applause.) Actually, I’d like all family members and friends who support the graduates to stand up. (Applause.) The graduates are all saying thank you, even if you couldn’t hear them.
And finally, to the graduates. You studied and debated the great battles and contests of the ages, but I heard that one enduring match, at least, has now been settled. ICAF absolutely dominated – (applause) – dominated National 9-2 in this year’s athletic competition. But then I also heard a rumor that ICAF stands for “I can’t attend on Fridays.” So maybe ICAF students had more time to practice.
But I do hope you all feel recharged intellectually and professionally because soon, maybe of you will return to the field and to the fight. And although you may think you haven’t been out of the fight too long, I’d offer to you that the landscape of our landscape of our battlefield has changed and is constantly changing, changing in a way that I believe matches, if not exceeds the pace of change in the world. Each day and often in an instant, our economies, our environment and our adversaries remind us how diffuse yet interconnected our challenges are becoming.
You don’t have to look any further than this morning’s headlines to see that. Increasing violence in Afghanistan, devastating international debt, tenuous stability in the Western Pacific, renewed tension over the Gaza Strip and an oil spill, right here on our own shores, that threatens the livelihoods of millions of people for years to come.
Abraham Lincoln had it right: The dogmas of the quiet past really are inadequate to the stormy present. Such has probably always been true of the human experience. But I’ll bet even Honest Abe would be bowled over by the speed of change today and the degree to which events and people and decisions are intertwined. Today, it takes all of us working together, listening to each other, building partnerships and perhaps thinking differently about the problems we face to prove able to, as Lincoln put it, rise with the occasion.
And those occasions, mind you, don’t always involve conflict. Indeed, they shouldn’t. I think we all can see that many of the problems we face today are best solved through cooperation over coercion, dialogue over distrust. Ambassador Crocker said it best when he said that what’s needed in dealing with this world is a combination of understanding, persistence and a strategic patience to a degree that Americans traditionally have found hard to muster.
Though when the use of military power is required – and it will be required – we must be ready for it, across a broad range of operations. From deterrence right on up to and including postcombat peace operations, we have within our respective services, and to our respective nations, a duty and a responsibility to provide our leaders options. That’s what we do. The one option we don’t have anymore, if indeed we ever did, is to be indiscriminate.
Force today, in virtually all its permutations, ought to be applied as precise – in as precise and principled a manner as possible. That goes for conventional conflict, of course. And technology enables a precision today for which history simply has no equal. But it very clearly fits the counterinsurgency model as well, where the objective is not the enemy’s defeat, but the people’s success.
In this case, precision is less about weapons accuracy than it is about intent. You need a light touch here, not a heavy hand. You need to be less intrusive and more insightful, less in control and more in support. Clearly, where and when you fight, you do so in as lethal and disciplined a fashion as possible. We cannot shrink from our duty to kill a ruthless enemy who himself murders and maims innocent people as a strategy.
But even here, deftness is demanded of us. Each errant bomb, each innocent person we kill, flies in the very face of what we are tying to accomplish. That is why the threshold for use of indirect fire in Afghanistan is so high. That’s why Gen. McChrystal issued more restrictive rules for night raids and it’s why he has coalition troops operating in support of Afghan soldiers and not the other way around.
Those of you who have served and fought in Iraq and Afghanistan know well the importance of such restraint. We have learned this, some might argue, too slowly. We cannot kill our way to victory. We must build our way there by building trust and confidence and good governance.
We’ve had a tough time of it this week. More than 20 coalition soldiers killed in action in the last few days. None of us should forget the sacrifices that are being made by our troops and by our Coalition partners, or by the Afghans themselves. This is difficult work, to be sure. As the United States Marine Capt. Ryan Sparks, who has deployed five times to Afghanistan, put it, we have to be perfect on every patrol and the enemy only has to be lucky once in a while. It’s frustrating, he said, but it’s the right way to do it because it protects the people.
This is not to say that mistakes won’t happen. Tragically, they do and they will. War is by its very nature messy and brutal and unpredictable. Nor does it mean that we won’t find ourselves dealing with people who, perhaps, just the day before were shooting at us, or in fact may be shooting at us tomorrow.
Such is the nature of the diverse threat we face: a complex, adaptive network of radical and violent ideologies that bind together disparate individuals, movements, organizations and even states. Not all extremist groups share the same goals. Not all extremists themselves share the same ideology. We must differentiate and distinguish between them, divide them and turn them one against the other.
By precise, I do not mean perfect. And by principled, I do not mean uncompromising. What I’m saying is that our use of force needs to be discriminate and proportional and in keeping with the ideas of the citizens and the country we represent. Our enduring national interests are bounded by our values and our values are reflected in our conduct. What we do must ever be in keeping with who we are.
So too must it be in keeping with our security commitments around the world. We cannot ignore obligations to contribute to the defense of others and we cannot forget the criticality of engagement with civilian agencies, allies, partners and nongovernmental organizations. Indeed, we should embrace such engagement, as I know you did here in this curriculum.
And I know with great satisfaction that nearly half of the graduating class of 600 today are from other countries and other federal agencies. These are relationships you will cherish. And I promise you that they are relationships upon which you will rely in the future. They may be hard to sustain once you leave here, but I urge you to try.
I urge you to make the effort to see problems through the perspectives and the eyes of others because America’s own power and our security is stronger when we act in concert with our friends. No one military, no one nation can do it alone anymore.
As I said at the outset, today’s security environment requires capability and flexibility across the entire range of military options, though we must be realistic about that which we should not do and that which we should do. There has been much debate, as there should be, over the right balance of investment for the future. Frankly, the lines that divide conventional and irregular warfare, like the changing landscape of the battlefield, or our most volatile global challenges, are becoming progressively more difficult to draw. Future conflict will likely be even more complex and our way of engagement will continue to evolve.
So I believe our investments should be allocated in a manner that recognizes this complexity and focuses on capabilities that allow maximum flexibility. It’s not about doing more with less. It’s about doing the right things with the right capabilities.
For that favors quality of people, training and intelligence over quantity of systems and long-cycle platforms. And it favors responsibility and innovation and leaders, organization, technology and thinking. It requires us not just to apply kinetic force precisely and, when called for, decisively, but to recognize the responsibility we have to use that force appropriately.
As you transition from the hypothetical back to the practical, I ask you to think about the ways in which this tenet applies to you in your new assignments. I ask you to challenge yourself and to challenge others to pose tough questions and solve tough problems because the world to which you now return is not necessarily the one you left. In fact, it isn’t. It’s changing fast.
You must embrace that change. You must lead that change and you must lead it well. There’s no greater task, no more meaningful endeavor, than to lead your nation’s sons and daughters, especially in a time of war. I hope you share with them what you have learned and experienced here, allow them to question you and to grow, and listen – truly listen – because, like you, their opinions matter. They deserve – your nations deserve nothing less than your very best. Congratulations, again, to you and your families. Thank you for your service and God bless. (Applause.)