Q&A with Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen

At a Sept. 29 Monitor breakfast, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mike Mullen discussed increased pressure to cut the defense budget, US strategy in the Afghanistan war, and the impact of extended deployments on troops and their families.

Michael Bonfigli/Special to The Christian Science Monitor
U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, at a Monitor breakfast with reporters Sept. 29.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen serves as the principal military adviser to the president and the secretary of Defense. Before assuming his current post in 2007, Admiral Mullen was chief of naval operations. He was the guest at the Sept. 29 Monitor breakfast in Washington, D.C.

Federal budget deficits and increased pressure to cut the defense budget:

"The ongoing efforts to move [resources] from overhead into the war-fighting end of our business, I think absolutely critical. What I hope to be able to avoid are any massive cuts.... I think those would be dangerous now, given the national security requirements that we have."

Disagreements between the military and the White House over US strategy in the Afghanistan war, described in Bob Woodward's book "Obama's Wars":

"We are right in the heart of executing this strategy, which the president approved. And optimists or pessimists notwithstanding, everybody at that table agreed that this was the strategy and we should go execute it. And that is where I am focused right now."

Impact of extended deployments on troops and their families:

"The emergency issue right now for me is the suicide issue. We had five suicides in the Army last weekend ... [and] it's a very difficult problem.... There's not a national solution for this issue.... It is not just the Army, because [in] every service the suicide rate has gone up dramatically since 2004. But it's not the only challenge that we have: dealing with PTS [post-traumatic stress], dealing with the injuries, dealing with just the overall pressures that so many have dealt with for so long."

Iraqis' inability to put together a workable government:

"I'm increasingly concerned about their inability to stand up this government.... The politics there are, from my perspective, too slow.... The longer that lasts, the more I and others worry about what does the future hold."

The lack of military-to-military relations with China:

"I can't sit down and talk to them ... because I've got no mil-to-mil relationships with them.... I certainly don't have an expectation ... we'll agree on everything. But I think it is dangerous to not be able to discuss the issues, even if we agree to disagree."

Rising military health-care costs:

"I am extremely concerned about the rise in personnel costs and inside that, the rise in health-care costs. In 2000 or 2001, we were spending about $19 billion in health care, and now it's over $50 [billion].... In the next four or five years ... it goes up to $64 billion, at least as it is currently projected. It's just not sustainable.... I've supported for years an increase in the copay requirements, which have not gone up since 1995."

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