Charles Stevenson, a one-time teacher of mine and long-time authority on civil-military relations, pointed out an intriguing difference between what Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had planned to say to the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning, and what he actually said.
I mention Stevenson's expertise in this field because the difference depends* on trusting his account of what he saw. Early today, Stevenson reports, Mullen's prepared testimony was posted on the Pentagon's site. It began with a fairly anodyne statement of support for the policy that Barack Obama announced last night, similar to what Mullen said in person this morning: "Let me state right up front that I support fully and without hesitation the President's decision."
The prepared remarks then moved on to an analysis of the broader policy issues. But in his live performance -- captured in the "as delivered" transcript that is now on the Pentagon site -- Mullen went out of his way to defend the way Obama had made the decision, and implicitly to contrast it with the previous Administration's approach:
"I have seen my share of internal debates about various national security issues -- especially over the course of these last two years. [Eg, including the Iraq "surge."] And I can honestly say that I do not recall an issue so thoroughly or so thoughtfully considered as this one.
"Every military leader in the chain of command, as well as those of the Joint Chiefs, was given voice throughout this process ... [all ellipses in original] and every one of us used it.
"We now have before us a strategy more appropriately matched to the situation on the ground in Afghanistan ... and resources matched more appropriately to that strategy -- particularly with regard to reversing the insurgency's momentum in 2010.
"And given the stakes in Afghanistan for our own national security - as well as that of our partners around the world - I believe the time we took was well worth it."
Was Mullen volunteering a defense of Obama's "dithering" style of decision-making? Saying something about the previous Administration's approach? I don't know. According to Stevenson, "These implicit criticisms of Bush and even earlier Obama policies strike me as unusually supportive of the president in responding to political criticisms." FWIW.
* I have not taken time to rev up the Internet wayback machine to see what that site showed this morning, but eventually I will give details of the before-and-after versions of the speech.