STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.
We got a glimpse today at the way the nation's next top military officer would face two tough jobs. One is to advise President Bush in the midst of a lengthening war. The other is to make sure a strained U.S. military stays ready to fight that war, and the next one.
Admiral Mike Mullen is the president's nominee to do those jobs. Today a Senate committee is holding a confirmation hearing for him and some of Mullen's prepared testimony has already been spread around.
NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is following this story. And Tom, if you're the president's nominee for this top job and you're facing a Democratic Congress that's skeptical of the war, what do you say about the war in Iraq?
TOM BOWMAN: Well, first of all, Mike Mullen was never a fan in this so-called surge in troops. He said this is more than just a military problem in Iraq. But once he learned that there would be more State Department reconstruction teams, pressure on the Maliki government to reconcile, he came on board.
He will likely bow to General Petraeus, who of course is going to report in September on the progress of the surge, and he will not be calling for, like the Democrats are, for any precipitous withdrawal of U.S. troops. He'll, I think, want to see this surge play itself out.
INSKEEP: So you have somebody here who is not entirely in synch with previous administration policies but is not going to speak forcefully against them, at this time anyway.
BOWMAN: Exactly. That's right.
INSKEEP: Well, now, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates chose Mullen, he recalled how the admiral had a discussion with him and they were talking about which military service was in the worst trouble. And Mullen said the Army, which might be significant because this is a guy from the Navy saying that.
BOWMAN: Absolutely. Listen, a lot of people realize the Army is stretched very thin in Iraq. They've increased the deployment time from 12 months to 15 months. There are 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, most of them Army troops, and the Army has missed its recruiting goals for the last two months. There's a great deal of worry about whether the Army will break over their duty in Iraq.
INSKEEP: Which is the biggest concern. But if you're the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, the job he's nominated for, you must also have to think about other parts of the world.
BOWMAN: Right. And I think like a lot of other people in the Pentagon, they're worried that there's so much focus on Iraq - American troops, money, and just planning for Iraq - that other parts of the world are really being ignored. And, of course, Mullen is very worried, as many are, about the Pacific region - North Korean nuclear program, al-Qaida is making in roads into the Philippines, emerging nations like Malaysia, Indonesia.
They realize you have to focus more on these other parts of the world; keeping an eye on China, for example. So you'll see a real push on that for Mullen and others, I think, over the next year.
INSKEEP: Well now, if he's confirmed as expected, he takes over from General Peter Pace, who's a familiar face from many press conferences to the public. How do the two general and the admiral compare?
BOWMAN: Well, I think, first of all, Mullen is seen more as a pragmatist in the mold of Robert Gates, the defense secretary. And Pace was criticized for being too much of a yes man for Donald Rumsfeld. Of course, he's been around for six years as vice chairman and also chairman when a lot of these decisions were made regarding Iraq, not sending enough U.S. troops in early on and also, let's say, cutting back on the Iraqi army, disbanding the Iraqi army. So you'll see in Mullen, I think, someone who was not around during the time these decisions were made and, you know, much more able to change course, I think.
INSKEEP: Tom, thanks very much.
BOWMAN: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. He's following the nomination of Admiral Mike Mullen to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. There's a hearing today.
Now, in advance of his appearance, Admiral Mullen wrote out some answers to written questions. The Associated Press got a look at those answers, and here are some clues to what Mullen is thinking. He says there is a link between progress in Iraq and broader U.S. interests. He says he is, quote, "in support of the decision to send more troops to Iraq," though as Tom Bowman reported, he was skeptical when it was being discussed. Asked about an exit strategy, the nominee answered this way, he said, American interests require a pragmatic, long-term commitment that will be measured in years, not months.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.