Senate to Weigh Joint Chiefs Nomination

The Senate holds confirmation hearings Tuesday for the nomination of Adm. Mike Mullen as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Retired Adm. Robert Natter talks with Alex Chadwick.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In Washington tomorrow, a Senate committee will question the man President Bush wants to become the country's top military officer. Navy Admiral Mike Mullen is nominated to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

We're joined now by Admiral Bob Natter; he's former commander of the Atlantic Fleet, now retired. Admiral, why is Admiral Mullen the top naval officer in the country today? What is it about him?

Admiral ROBERT NATTER (Retired U.S. Navy Admiral): Well, I think Admiral Mike Mullen has a reputation of being very broad-minded. He's very pragmatic. He works well with other officers in his commands. And he's somebody who can be trusted.

CHADWICK: He once served under you. You were his commanding officer. Can you tell us about anything that he did in that capacity that marked him in your eyes as someone who would be a good officer?

Admiral NATTER: Yes. He was very forward thinking and flexible with respect to preparing naval forces for deployment into the Middle East. He knew it was a very fluid situation over there, and his approach was to ensure that these forces were ready when they were called upon. And I think history has proved him correct in that regard.

CHADWICK: When was this and what specifically was he charged with doing?

Admiral NATTER: It was about five years ago and he was commander of the Second Fleet based out of Norfolk, Virginia. And his responsibility was to train and equip naval forces for deployment to any theater around the world, whether they're required, and at the time, of course, that requirement was out to the Middle East.

CHADWICK: What about having a Navy man in charge when there are a couple of land wars underway in Asia?

Admiral NATTER: Yeah. That's a good question. The real job and responsibility of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is to be, number one, the primary adviser to the president and secretary of defense on military issues. But to address the challenges facing our nation and the Department of Defense on a policy and strategic level, he is not responsible for nor should he be expected to run the ground war or run the air war or run the war at sea. He's got commanders, very capable commanders, who will be responsible for that.

But his job is going to be to work with the secretary of defense, his fellow joint chiefs, and to provide the president the best advice possible with respect to not only the war on terror, but other challenges facing this nation on the military front.

CHADWICK: The admiral is notably not a big supporter of the surge in Iraq over the last eight or nine months. At least early on he was not known as a supporter of that. And further, Defense Secretary Gates has reportedly been told by senior senators in both the Democratic and Republican Parties not to re-nominate General Peter Pace, the Marine general who's the current chair of the Joint Chiefs, which has been the tradition; that is, two terms for the chair. I wonder if this is an almost inauspicious time for a new chair of the Joint Chiefs to come in.

Admiral NATTER: I don't think so. Admiral Mullen is known as being very pragmatic and I'm sure supportive of the objectives of the surge at this point. But he will be pragmatic also as we move down the road. And if the surge doesn't work, he's going to look for other remedies and other approaches with a new perspective coming in, a pragmatic approach to this. Secretary Gates, the president, they're going to get a very fine chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

CHADWICK: Retired Admiral Bob Natter on the nomination of Mike Mullen to be the new chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Natter, thank you.

Admiral NATTER: Thank you, sir.

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