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Profile: Michael Mullen
Michael Mullen was a participant or observer in the following events:
While many inside and outside the Bush administration consider the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, which concluded that Iran halted its push towards building nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), a disappointment, a small but influential group inside the Defense Department consider it a victory for their viewpoint. The NIE almost guarantees that Bush will not order any sort of military strike against Iran, a result sought by, among others, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, and Admiral William Fallon, the supreme commander of US forces in the Middle East. All three have, in recent months, privately and publicly opposed the idea of going to war with Iran; indeed, the Pentagon’s intelligence units were instrumental in forming the NIE’s conclusions. Time reporter Mark Thompson writes, “Some critics have suggested that the military simply found a public way to quiet the drumbeat for war coming from Vice President Dick Cheney and his shrinking band of allies in the administration.” Additionally, some Pentagon officials believe that this NIE shows the US intelligence community is not as tied to ideological and political concerns as was evidenced by the 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). For his part, Gates warns that the US and the international community must continue pressuring Iran to keep its nuclear-weapons program dormant, and “[a]s long as they continue with their enrichment activities, then the opportunity to resume that nuclear weapons program is always present.” But Gates adds that the NIE demonstrates that non-military actions are the best way to keep Iran’s nuclear program in check: “If anything, the new national estimate validates the administration’s strategy of bringing diplomatic and economic pressures to bear on the Iranian government to change its policies.” [Time, 12/5/2007]
In remarks to the National Religious Broadcasters Association, President Bush misrepresents two important aspects of the US-led occupation of Iraq.
Misrepresenting the 'Surge of Their Own' - Referring to the so-called “surge” of US troops into Iraq (see January 10, 2007), Bush says: “As you can imagine, during that period of time a lot of folks were wondering, is America going to stay with us? Do they understand our deep desire to live in freedom? Can we count on them? And when they found out they could, they launched a surge of their own. Increasing numbers of Sunni leaders have turned against the terrorists and begun to reclaim their communities… . Folks who were involved in the insurgency have now decided they want to be a part of their government… . I strongly believe the surge is working, and so do the Iraqis.” Bush is referring to the Iraqi counterattack against al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Islamist terrorists—the so-called “Anbar Awakening.” He is wrong in saying that the Iraqis “launched a surge of their own” in response to the US troop escalation. The “Iraqi surge” against al-Qaeda in Iraq predates the US surge by months. In fact, two years before the “Iraqi surge,” Bush had rejected offers of similar assistance from Sunni leaders eager to bring Sunni-led terrorism in Iraq to a close. Instead, the Sunni leaders took action without US approval. Bush is now linking the Sunni initiative to the US “surge,” and in the process misrepresents both the chronological chain of the events and the forces driving the “Iraqi surge.”
Misrepresenting the Effectiveness of the US 'Surge' - Bush also says that some US forces are coming home as “a return on our success” in the surge. That implies that because the “surge” is successful, Bush and US military commanders are beginning to bring some troops home. “And as a return on our success, as we get more successful, troops are able to come home,” he says: “They’re not coming home based upon defeat, or based upon opinion polls, or based upon focus groups, or based upon politics. They’re coming home because we’re successful.” In reality, Bush has been quite reluctant to bring any troops home, only grudgingly giving way to the recommendations of US commanders such as General David Petraeus, the head of military operations in Iraq, and Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Petraeus, Fallon, and other US military commanders have long said that the surge is designed to be temporary, with drawdown dates of early 2008 built into the planning from the outset. [Salon, 3/11/2008]
The US is unable to find more troops to send to Afghaninstan, due to the war in Iraq. On April 10, 2008, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen tells a Congressional committee: “I’m deeply concerned. In this economy of force operation, we do what we can. Requirements exist that we simply cannot fill and won’t likely be able to fill until conditions improve in Iraq.” The US would like to send 7,000 more troops to Afghanistan to fight the growing Taliban resistance there, but the US is unwilling to divert forces from Iraq due to renewed violence there, and NATO allies remain unwilling to send more troops as well. A study by the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, a group funded by the European Commission, reports that there were 704 insurgent attacks causing 463 civilian deaths from January through March of 2008, compared with 424 attacks causing 264 civilian deaths during the same months in 2007. US officials privately admit that their estimates are similar. [McClatchy Newspapers, 4/15/2008]
US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, a Bush administration appointee who is preparing to depart the country in favor of a new appointee from President Obama, says he hopes Obama will not prematurely withdraw US troops from Iraq. He adds that to do so would be a potentially disastrous error. Crocker says that after discussing the matter with Obama in a four-way video conference, along with General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he is confident Obama will not do so. Obama promised repeatedly during the presidential campaign that he would withdraw US forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. Crocker says that during the video conference, Obama repeated his campaign promise to withdraw American forces from Iraq “responsibly.” “If it were to be a precipitous withdrawal,” Crocker says, “that could be very dangerous, but I think it’s clear that that’s not the direction in which this is trending.” Crocker adds: “We’re worried about a too-swift withdrawal. That’s when I think the spirit of compromise, of accommodation, of focus on institutional development, all of that could run the risk of getting set aside.” Crocker warns that the reaction to a US pullout among Iraqi citizens might be along the lines of “Uh, oh, we had better pull back, dig the trenches, build the berms and get ready for whatever comes next.… I’m not saying that that will happen, but I think these are dangers that could happen.” (Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadir Muhammed Jassim says his country is “prepared for the worst.”) Crocker says of the nation’s political and social status: “We’re at a very encouraging, hopeful point, but it is not a culminating point by any means. It’s not a point at which I at least can lay claims to legacy or make any claims resembling a definitive judgment. It is still fragile, and it is still reversible.” A US official quotes an adage he attributes to Crocker about the situation in Iraq: “Everything here is harder than you think it is, everything will take longer, and something will come along to screw it up.” [McClatchy News, 1/22/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009]
US defense officials, led by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, say they are not entirely supportive of President Obama’s promise to withdraw from Iraq within 16 months. Gates is the only Obama administration holdover from the former Bush administration. Instead of getting behind Obama’s 16-month withdrawal, which was a central promise of Obama’s campaign, defense officials say they intend to present Obama with a “full range of options.” Asked about Obama’s meeting with him and senior US military commanders to discuss withdrawal, Gates says the 16-month timetable is just “the beginning of a process of evaluating various options.” The White House has said that the plans to withdraw American forces from Iraq in 16 months are firm. “Let me just say, I think our obligation is to give the president a range of options and the risks associated with each of those options,” Gates notes. “And he will make the decision.” Iraq is still a nation in transition, says Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and this year’s series of elections in Iraq provides reason for both hope and apprehension. “There’s growing confidence, but it’s not in leaps and bounds,” Mullen says. General Ray Odierno, the senior US commander in Iraq, says, “How the provincial elections play out will, I think, be a big indicator for 2009, which is a big year.” Mullen is in favor of a “responsible drawdown,” but is not sure exactly how it should progress. Outgoing US ambassador Ryan Crocker joins Gates, Mullen, and Odierno in warning of what he calls a “precipitous” withdrawal (see January 22, 2009). “Al-Qaeda is incredibly tenacious,” Crocker says. “As long as they hang on they are looking for the opportunity to regenerate.” Obama intends to withdraw some forces from Iraq for duty in Afghanistan, which he views as the US’s central front in battling terrorism. There are currently 143,000 US troops in Iraq, and only 34,000 in Afghanistan. The US commander in Afghanistan wants another 30,000 troops; the Pentagon says those will be provided over the next 12 to 18 months. Gates agrees with Obama’s intention to refocus US military efforts on Afghanistan: “The president has been quite clear that the mission is to responsibly draw down and end our active combat role, the role that we have been playing over the last number of years. He wants to put more emphasis on Afghanistan and deal with the problems in Afghanistan there and the challenges that we face in Afghanistan.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009]
President Obama greets Marines at Camp Lejeune. [Source: White House]President Obama says that the target date for a substantial withdrawal of US troops from Iraq is August 31, 2010. “Let me say this as plainly as I can,” he tells the gathered Marines: “by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.” Around 100,000 troops will be withdrawn by that date. However, major withdrawals will not begin until after December 2009, to ensure that national elections go smoothly. Obama promised that US troops would be out of Iraq 16 months after he took office in January; the new deadline extends the withdrawal by some three months. Obama tells the Marines: “I want to be very clear. We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime—and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government—and you got the job done. And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life—that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.” Some 35,000 to 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq under a new mission of training, civilian protection, and counterterrorism operations. According to the latest Status of Forces (SOF) agreement between Iraq and the US, all US troops must withdraw from Iraq by December 31, 2011. White House officials say that Obama has no interest in keeping troops in Iraq after that date. The August 2010 date was decided after input from all the key principals, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The date was chosen to best manage security risks without jeopardizing the gains of recent months. Obama has refused to set specific withdrawal schedules, preferring to give his commanders in Iraq some flexibility. One White House official says, “They’ll either speed it up or slow it down, depending on what they need.” [Associated Press, 2/27/2009; White House, 2/27/2009]
Positive Response - Many Iraqi citizens and lawmakers hail the decision to pull out (see February 27, 2009). And so do many of the Marines at Camp Lejeune. Petty Officer Ryan Junkin says he has an “all around pretty good feeling. It’s good that he gave some direction.” Sergeant Aldwin Del Rosario says, “My biggest take away is that he had dates, and he plans to meet those goals and those dates.” And Lance Corporal Codell Campbell says: “Iraq got all our full attention for the past years. A lot of fellow Marines have died trying to make the country better.… Afghanistan is where the real fight is.” [Think Progress, 2/17/2009]
Republicans Credit Bush Strategy - Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Obama’s challenger in the 2008 presidential race, says he is “cautiously optimistic” that the withdrawal will work. Both McCain and former Bush national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe credit the 2007 “surge” (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007) for making the withdrawal possible. [New York Times, 2/27/2009]
Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that Iran most likely has enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon. When asked by CNN’s John King whether Iran “might now have enough fissile material to make a bomb,” Mullen replies, “We think they do, quite frankly.” He adds, “Iran having a nuclear weapon, I believe, for a long time, is a very, very bad outcome for the region and for the world.” A spokesman for Mullen later “clarifies” his remarks to emphasize that Mullen was talking about “low-grade” material, and notes that for such to be used in a nuclear weapon, it would need to be highly enriched. Defense Secretary Robert Gates contradicts Mullen, saying that Iran is “not close to a weapon at this point” (see March 1, 2009), a point with which both the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, agree. After Mullen’s interview, his spokesman, Captain John Kirby, tells CNN: “There are two components here: having enough and having it highly enriched. The chairman concurs Iran has enough low-enriched to produce a nuclear weapon, but it’s important to note it’s low-grade, and to enrich it would take time.” Iran has recently tested its first nuclear power plant, using dummy fuel rods that did not produce a nuclear reaction. [CNN, 3/1/2009]
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that Iran is not close to having a nuclear weapon, which gives the US and other nations time to persuade Tehran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program. Gates tells NBC’s David Gregory, “They’re not close to a stockpile, they’re not close to a weapon at this point, and so there is some time.” Gates’s statement contradicts a recent warning from Admiral Michael Mullen, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who told a CNN audience that he believes Iran has enough fissile material to build a nuclear bomb (see March 1, 2009). Tehran insists that its nuclear program is strictly about producing electricity for peaceful purposes. Gates says there is “a continuing focus on how do you get the Iranians to walk away from a nuclear weapons program” in the Obama administration, just as had been in the Bush administration. Obama officials have called Tehran’s nuclear development program an “urgent problem,” and have said they favor a balance between economic sanctions and incentives for engagement. [Reuters, 3/1/2009]
President Obama presides over a deeply divided group of top advisers as he decides whether or not to release four Bush-era Justice Department memos documenting the Bush administration’s torture policies (see April 16, 2009). CIA Director Leon Panetta and his four immediate predecessors have already registered their flat disapproval of the memos’ release (see March 18, 2009 and After), as has Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan. On the other side are Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, and White House counsel Gregory Craig. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has indicated he supports the release because it is inevitable anyway—the memos are the subject of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit—and because Obama is willing to promise that no CIA officers will be prosecuted for abuse. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen sides with Gates. Obama presides over a “mini-debate” in the office of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, where each side designates a spokesperson to present its views. When the debate is concluded, Obama immediately dictates a draft of his announcement of the memos’ release. During the discussion, Obama rejects the proposal that the memos’ release be delayed in anticipation of a so-called “truth commission” to investigate Bush torture policies, saying that such delay would just create further divisiveness. Craig argues persuasively that the judge overseeing the FOIA lawsuit is unlikely to grant any delays. Obama aides later say the president’s decision is in keeping with his frequent campaign promises that he would not only stop the torture and abuse of prisoners in US custody, but get to the truth behind the Bush administration’s torture policies. [Newsweek, 4/18/2009; Washington Post, 4/24/2009]
Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal. [Source: DoD photo by Helene C. Stikkel/Released, via Reuters]Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen announce the nomination of controversial former special/black operations commander Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal to replace the top US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan. At the Pentagon, Gates explains that “new leadership and fresh eyes” are needed to reverse the course of the seven-year-old war. “We have a new strategy, a new mission, and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership also is needed,” he says. The White House confirms that President Obama has signed off on the nomination. McChrystal is the former commander of the secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which during his tenure was tied to prisoner abuse and covert assassinations in Iraq, as well as controversy in the military’s handling of the death of Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. McKiernan will remain in place until the Senate confirms the appointments of McChrystal and his designated deputy, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, also a veteran of elite US forces. Both officers have experience in Afghanistan and have more familiarity with counterinsurgency operations than McKiernan. Gates says that McChrystal and Rodriguez will “bring a unique skill set in counterinsurgency to these issues, and I think that they will provide the kind of new leadership and fresh thinking that [Admiral Mike Mullen] and I have been talking about.” [CNN, 5/11/2009; Army Times, 5/11/2009]
Prisoner Abuse, Geneva Convention Violations - Under McChrystal’s command, the Joint Special Operations Command supplied elite troops to a secret unit known variously as Task Force 626 and Task Force 121, based at Camp Nama (an acronym for “nasty ass military area”) near Baghdad. A Human Rights Watch report found evidence that the task force engaged in prisoner torture and abuse, and that the JSOC command likely violated the Geneva Conventions (see November 2004). According to the report, which was based on soldier testimony, inmates at the camp were subjected to beatings, exposure to extreme cold, threats of death, humiliation, and various forms of psychological abuse or torture. The report’s sources claimed that written authorizations were required for abusive techniques—indicating that the use of these tactics was approved up the chain of command—and that McChrystal denied the Red Cross and other investigators access to Camp Nama, a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [New York Times, 3/19/2006; Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Secret Assassinations - During McChrystal’s tenure as head of JSOC, he led campaigns to track down, capture, or kill enemies. To this end, McChrystal built a sophisticated network of soldiers and intelligence operatives to assassinate Sunni insurgent leaders and decapitate al-Qaeda in Iraq. He is also understood to have led the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, a Human Rights Watch report on the secret units under JSOC command states that although targets included Saddam Hussein and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the operations also swept up “hundreds of anonymous, and often innocent, detainees.” One senior Pentagon officer, quoted by the Washington Post, warns, “People will ask, what message are we sending when our high-value-target hunter is sent to lead in Afghanistan?” [Sifton and Garlasco, 7/22/2006; Washington Post, 5/13/2009] Newsweek has noted that JSOC is likely part of what then-Vice President Dick Cheney was referring to when he said America would have to “work the dark side” after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001). [Newsweek, 6/26/2006] Furthermore, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh has reported that JSOC ran what he called an “executive assassination wing” that reported directly to Cheney’s office, which then cleared lists of people to be targeted for assassination by secret JSOC units (see March 10, 2009 and March 31, 2009).
Pat Tillman Silver Star Controversy - The Pentagon’s inspector general found McChrystal responsible for promulgating false and misleading information in the aftermath of the “friendly fire” death of Pat Tillman in 2004. In the controversy, McChrystal had approved paperwork recommending Tillman for a silver star, which stated that he died from “devastating enemy fire,” despite knowledge of internal investigations pointing to friendly fire as the cause of death (see April 29, 2004) and April 23-Late June, 2004). McChrystal then backtracked only when he learned that then-President Bush was about to quote from the misleading silver star citation in a speech. The US Army later overruled the Pentagon inspector general’s recommendation that McChrystal be held accountable for his actions. [Washington Post, 8/4/2007; Daily Telegraph, 5/17/2009]
Entity Tags: Seymour Hersh, Task Force 121, Robert M. Gates, Task Force 626, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Rodriguez, Obama administration, Camp Nama, David D. McKiernan, Human Rights Watch, Joint Special Operations Command, Michael Mullen, Pat Tillman, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
The Pentagon gives Stanley McChrystal, nominated to become commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan, unprecedented leeway to handpick his top staff, according to nearly a dozen senior military officers who provide details about McChrystal’s plans to the New York Times. According to the Times report, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen has personally told McChrystal that “he could have his pick from the Joint Staff.” McChrystal chooses several veterans of Special Operations, including former colleagues now serving with the Joint Staff, to join his inner circle. He is ultimately assembling a corps of 400 officers and soldiers who will rotate between the United States and Afghanistan for a minimum of three years (see October 7, 2009), a rare military commitment to one theater of combat which is common to Special Operations.
Special Operations Vets Chosen for Inner Circle - McChrystal chooses friend and former Army Ranger colleague Lieutenant General David M. Rodriguez to be his deputy, marking the first time an American commander in Afghanistan will have a three-star second in command. Rodriguez will be in charge of running day-to-day combat operations. McChrystal picks a senior intelligence adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Major General Michael T. Flynn, to join him in Kabul as director of intelligence. General Flynn was McChrystal’s chief of intelligence when he headed the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). McChrystal selects Brigadier General Scott Miller to organize a new Pakistan-Afghanistan coordination cell. Miller is a longtime Special Operations officer assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has served previously under McChrystal. [New York Times, 6/10/2009; Wall Street Journal, 6/12/2009]
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen calls Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) to press for Stanley McChrystal’s speedy confirmation as the new top commander in Afghanistan. Mullen stresses that it is a matter of urgency that McChrystal be able to depart for Afghanistan this very night. According to Reid, Admiral Mullen says that “McChrystal is literally waiting by an airplane” to leave. Later on the Senate floor during the confirmation proceedings, Reid will tell of the call from Mullen in an impassioned plea for McChrystal’s speedy confirmation (see June 10, 2009). [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
The US Senate unanimously approves Stanley McChrystal’s appointment as the next commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan. The Senate also approves his promotion to four-star general. [Associated Press, 6/10/2009] The New York Times reports that in order to prevent any delay in McChrystal’s confirmation, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev) makes an impassioned plea for a swift yes vote on the Senate floor, telling of a phone call he received from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen in which Mullen told him that it was urgent that McChrystal be able to go to Afghanistan that very night (see Early June 10, 2009). McChrystal and senior members of his command team are reportedly scheduled to fly from Washington within hours of the Senate vote confirming his appointment, with two stops planned in Europe to confer with allies before landing in Kabul. [New York Times, 6/10/2009]
President Obama is briefed again on how the plan to raid Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is progressing. Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, commander of Joint Special Operations Command, has been preparing a raid by Navy SEAL Team Six, and he updates Obama on the latest preparations (see March 30-April 19, 2011). Obama mostly discusses the contingency plans for the many things that could go wrong. For instance, what if the helicopters transporting the SEAL team crash? Or what if the Pakistani military reacts quickly and attacks the team? McRaven says he plans to have a quick reaction force nearby to help extract the team if things go horribly wrong. Also, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, plans to call General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, head of the Pakistani military, and implore him not to attack the team, if it looks like Pakistan is on the verge of doing so. But no one can be sure how Pakistan will react in such a situation. Nevertheless, plans for the raid continue to advance. [ABC News, 6/9/2011] Two weeks later, a Navy SEAL Team Six strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
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