Admiral Mullen praises Afghanistan skeptic Rahm Emanuel

Admiral Mullen and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel opposed each other on the way forward in Afghanistan, but Mullen said Emanuel 'contributed significantly.'

Michael Bonfigli/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen addresses reporter questions about White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel Wednesday in Washington.

During the intense battles in the White House situation room in 2009 over the way forward in Afghanistan, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel found themselves on different sides of the debate.

But at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast with reporters on Wednesday, Admiral Mullen was cautiously complimentary about his policy opponent, describing Mr. Emanuel as “somebody who I think has contributed significantly.” Emanuel is expected to announce shortly that he is leaving the White House to run for Mayor of Chicago.

In Bob Woodward’s new book “Obama’s Wars,” there are several scenes where the divide between Admiral Mullen and Emanuel is on display. At one point, President Obama is quoted as saying “nothing would make Rahm happier than if I said no to the 30,000” additional troops for Afghanistan. Mullen originally favored sending 40,000 additional troops, feeling the US military effort in the country was under-resourced.

Woodward also quotes Emanuel as calling the war “political flypaper,” posing the danger of entrapment.

In one scene in the book, the famously profane Emanuel leaves the White House Situation Room spewing expletives over Admiral Mullen’s September 15, 2009 testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mullen had said a properly resourced counterinsurgency in Afghanistan “probably means more forces.” Emanuel’s complaint was that Admiral Mullen’s testimony, sent in advance to the White House, was narrowing the president’s options on the level of troop commitment.

Admiral Mullen referred obliquely to this colorful side of Mr. Emanuel at the breakfast when questioned about Emanuel's management style by Chicago Sun TImes correspondent Lynn Sweet. “I actually really do poorly when I start describing individuals and how they function... particularly in these kinds of meetings…. I will say I have found him incisive, direct, engaged," he said.

At that point, a reporter shouted the word profane, as a question. “Actually not. Actually not,” Mullen said, adding “and undeterred.”

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