Friday, February 04, 2011

Mullen Discusses Egypt, Other Topics on ‘Daily Show’

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2011Egypt’s military leaders have assured him they are working to quell any further violence associated with protests in that country while protecting their people, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said last night.

During an interview on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen discussed the situation in Egypt as well as issues facing the U.S. military.

“It has taken not just us, but many people, by surprise,” Mullen said. “We’ve got a 30-year relationship with the people of Egypt, and certainly a very strong relationship from our military to theirs.”

Hundreds, if not thousands, of Egyptian officers and noncommissioned officers have trained at U.S. military schools during those three decades, Mullen said, and there are contacts and relationships between the two nation’s services.

“One of my chief goals right now is to make sure we keep the lines of communication open -- I’ve talked to my counterpart a couple of times –- and also that we’ve got our military ready, should any kind of response or support be required,” he said. “That isn’t the case right now, but I’m very focused on that.”

Egypt has been widely viewed as a stabilizing force in the Middle East since Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Accords in September 1978.

Since Jan. 25, protestors have filled the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities, calling for more freedoms and demanding that President Hosni Mubarak end the 30-year rule he began after Sadat’s assassination in 1981.

“It’s a very volatile situation. It’s evolving, and there’s an awful lot we don’t know,” Mullen said. “Certainty with outcomes and certainty with what’s going to happen tomorrow -– it’s just not there.”

But despite the uncertainty, the chairman said, Egypt’s military has reaffirmed its support of its people and its institutions.

Mullen’s remarks echoed those of President Barack Obama earlier this week praising the Egyptian military’s professionalism and patriotism in allowing peaceful protests to proceed while protecting the nation’s people.

News accounts reported that five anti-government protestors were killed Feb. 2 by Mubarak supporters. In the wake of those deaths, Mullen said, Egypt’s military leaders assured him they were taking steps to quell the violence and had “no intent to fire on their own people.”

“Certainly, we’re all hopeful this can evolve peacefully, with no more violence, and in a way [that] really is representative of the Egyptian people,” he added.

The chairman then responded to questions on the pending repeal of the law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which has barred gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military. He noted that he was an early advocate for repeal, explaining that the question to him always had revolved around individual and institutional integrity.

“Our military is an institution that has integrity, has a value, and we grow up with it,” Mullen said. “So it was just very difficult for me to reconcile -- for an institution that values integrity so much -- how we could ask someone to serve, and actually to die, for our country, and then have to lie about who they are every single day. It wasn’t reconcilable, from my perspective.”

As the Defense Department moves to prepare the force for the law’s repeal, Mullen said, he is delighted the change is coming. But he acknowledged that the repeal will be implemented during a difficult time for the nation’s military and stressed the importance of doing it right.

“It’s got to be done well, and carefully,” he said. “The service chiefs, the leaders, the head of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Marine Corps, are all about setting up to do that now.”

The admiral added that he expects the implementation to happen “fairly rapidly.”

While he first weighed in against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law during his 2007 confirmation hearing, Mullen noted, he didn’t know which way the question would be decided.

“I’ve been in Washington long enough to know that politics are pretty difficult to predict,” he said. It was really up to the American people to make their feelings known to their elected officials, he added.

“I believe the American people, through their representatives, changed this legislation,” the chairman said. “And I’m very comfortable with that.”

The people serving in uniform today will not have a problem accepting the new policy, Mullen said.

“I’ve been doing this for over 40 years, and this is the best group of young men and women I’ve ever served with,” he said. “I believe they can do just about anything. They really are that good.”

Since he started his Navy career in 1968, Mullen said, he always has been aware he served alongside gay service members.

“Anybody that has been in for a long time will tell you that,” he said. “All of this … focuses in a positive way on our people, and we’re nothing without our people.”

Mullen then turned to what the nation owes its people in uniform, a topic he has spoken about in venues across the nation since April, when he started his “Conversations with the Country” series of speeches.

Americans are very supportive of today’s service members, the chairman said, noting that as a Vietnam veteran, he worried when the current wars began whether that would be the case.

“I don’t worry about that any more,” he said. “But [veterans] are coming back from these wars changed, and I really am hopeful that local community leaders will take them in, take their families in, [and] recognize the potential.”

Mullen said today’s veterans want to serve their nation and make a difference in the future. They will do so, he said, if the country gives them support in health, employment and education.

“I think it just takes a little bit of investment [from] the local community to help them make that transition as they come back from these wars,” he said, “and they’ll make a huge difference long term.

The nation owes today’s veterans a debt “we almost can’t meet,” the chairman added.

Mullen also discussed the military’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We’re coming out of Iraq. … We’re due to be out of there by the end of this year, based on the current agreement we have with the Iraqis,” he said. “We will start withdrawing our troops in Afghanistan this summer, in July, but really turn it over in 2014.”

While coalition and Afghan forces are making good progress in Afghanistan, the chairman said, it’s a difficult fight.

“I think it’s going to be a while before we’re out of Afghanistan, in terms of getting it where we think it needs to go,” Mullen said.