Textual analysis dept: Admiral Mullen defends Obama

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.

Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

The Blacksmith: A Short Film About Art Forged From Metal

"I'm exploiting the maximum of what you can ask a piece of metal to do."

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

Video

The Rise of the Cat Tattoo

How a Brooklyn tattoo artist popularized the "cattoo"

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In