Transcript: Mike Mullen on “This Week”

Admiral Mike Mullen on ABC News’ “This Week with Christiane Amanpour”

Sunday, November 21, 2010


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Welcome to viewers here and around the

world. I’m Christiane Amanpour.

And at the top of the news this week: nuclear secret, a report of a

major advance in North Korea’s nuclear program. What new threat does it

pose? And how will it impact the president’s disarmament agenda and his

push to get the Senate to ratify his START nuclear treaty?

OBAMA: This is not about politics. It’s about national security.

AMANPOUR: This morning, the nation’s top military official,

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. Plus, the

escalating war in Afghanistan. His views on night raids, relations with

President Karzai, and deadlines for U.S. withdrawal.

Then, hot zone. As Haiti reels from a cholera outbreak, we ask,

what happened to the global pledge to rebuild the nation?

And G.M.’s new start. Was the bailout good for America after all?

Analysis on our roundtable with George Will, Democratic strategist Donna

Brazile, Ed Luce of the Financial Times, and former Clinton Labor

Secretary Robert Reich.

Plus, the Sunday funnies.

LETTERMAN: The Capitol Hill Christmas tree arrives this week. And

as soon as it gets to Washington, it will die in committee. Did you

know that?


ANNOUNCER: From all across our world to the heart of our nation’s

capital, ABC’s “This Week” with Christiane Amanpour starts now.

AMANPOUR: Hello again. And with reports of a new nuclear facility

in North Korea and a new deadline in the Afghanistan war, there’s a lot

to discuss with our guest, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral

Mike Mullen.

President Obama returned late last night from the NATO summit in

Lisbon where the United States and its allies are now talking about

another deadline, the end of 2014 to hand over combat operations to

Afghan forces. To make that happen, American and NATO forces are

escalating the war right now, and so we start with a powerful report

from ABC’s Mike Boettcher in Afghanistan.


BOETTCHER (voice-over): When Lieutenant Colonel Steve Lutsky last

saw 10-year-old Sadekela (ph), he was bleeding to death on the side of a


LUTSKY: His mom was yelling out that, “My son is dead. My son is


BOETTCHER: Now he is recovering at a U.S. military hospital. The

lives of the American officer and the Afghan boy intersected on this

stretch of highway in Khost province, when a car bomber trying to kill

Lutsky and his men attacked their column.

(on-screen): The American convoy was traveling this direction. The

other way, civilian vehicles. They slowed down when the convoy passed.

So did a suicide bomber. And inside his car, he had 600 pounds of high


(voice-over): The soldiers were not hurt, but the explosion killed

one child and injured three others, including Sadekela (ph). Now angry

at the Taliban, Sadekela’s (ph) family is grateful to the Americans for

saving his life, a small but important victory in a war where not

killing civilians is more important than killing the enemy.

TOWNSEND: It buys us credit, in the sense that there’s a little

more respect for us and there’s a little more trust for us.

BOETTCHER: America’s top officers tell Afghans that it’s the

Taliban who are killing civilians, a message undermined by President

Karzai’s claims that U.S. special operations night raids are killing

innocent people.

(UNKNOWN): Nine out of 10 civilian casualties are caused by the


BOETTCHER: At a district center in eastern Afghanistan, not

everyone is convinced by that argument. During a visit by the 101st

Airborne’s deputy commander in Afghanistan, Steve Townsend (ph), a

village elder asserted that the Americans were killing more Afghans than

the Soviets did a quarter century ago. Townsend pushed back hard.

(UNKNOWN): Look in my eyes right now. You know I’m telling the


BOETTCHER: But as the words fly, so do bombs and bullets. Combat

Outpost Firra (ph), situated on the Pakistan border, is often attacked.

During one assault, 18 insurgents died, but soldiers know this: You

can’t kill your way out of Afghanistan.

(UNKNOWN): They can reconstitute faster than we can. We’re so

close to Pakistan that they just come right across the border.

BOETTCHER: So rather than enemy body counts, real success here is

measured in how quickly Afghan feet can fill American-made boots. If

the war is to end, Afghan soldiers will have to end it.

(UNKNOWN): We have to make a difference. Coming here and — and

just running around and killing the enemy and then leaving and looking

back and saying, “I didn’t make a difference, I didn’t make a change,”

will cause us to never leave.

BOETTCHER: Steve Lutsky’s son is the same age as young Sadekela

(ph), 10. The colonel wants only one thing to come from his service

here: confidence that his own son someday will not be fighting his

father’s war.

For “This Week,” Mike Boettcher, ABC News, Forward Operating Base

Clark, Afghanistan.


AMANPOUR: And joining me now is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of

Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.

Welcome to “This Week.”

MULLEN: Good morning.

AMANPOUR: And we will discuss, of course, Afghanistan, but let me

get to the breaking news this morning, the report by the New York Times

of the discovery of a new nuclear facility in North Korea. How much of

a threat is that to the United States, to the world?

MULLEN: Well, this validates a long-standing concern that we’ve had

with respect to North Korea and — and its enrichment of uranium. It

also continues to validate a country that is led by a dictator who is

constantly — who constantly desires to destabilize the region. And

he’s done that again, certainly, with this capability, as well.

And certainly the development of nuclear weapons is a huge concern

for all of us, those in the region, as well as those around the globe.

AMANPOUR: How could this have happened in secret, despite the

sanctions that were put on? Practically as the sanctions were put on,

this was being built.

MULLEN: Well, he’s defied sanctions. There are two, actually, U.N.

Security Council sanctions that he’s defied in this. He’s defied what

he said he’d do in 2005, because he said he clearly would comply and not

— not do the — generate this kind of capability, and yet he does.

AMANPOUR: Right. But what options, then, do you have? If

sanctions are the toughest measure and he’s doing it, what’s your answer

to that?

MULLEN: Well, I think we have to continue to bring pressure on him

specifically. Those in the region — in particular the six-party talk

countries, Russia, China, the United States, Japan, and South Korea, we

all — we have to continue to do that.

He is predictable in his unpredictability, if you will, because not

too long ago, he killed 46 South Korean sailors. He has over time

continued to destabilize this region. And, in fact, I also believe that

this has to do with a succession plan for his son.

AMANPOUR: But do you think they’re planning to make more nuclear

weapons? What do you think they’re trying to do? And again, if

sanctions aren’t working, what will?

MULLEN: Well, the assumption certainly is, that they continue to

head in the direction of additional nuclear weapons. And they’re also

— they also are known to proliferate this technology.

So they’re a very dangerous country. And — and he has been someone

who has not responded thus far to previous actions. He actually blows

hot and cold. He moves in a direction for a while, and then he reverts,

and I certainly would see him in his reversion mode at this particular

point in time.

AMANPOUR: And why didn’t U.S. intelligence discover this?

MULLEN: Well, I won’t go into any…

AMANPOUR: But isn’t that alarming?

MULLEN: I won’t go into any specific intelligence kinds of things

today, Christiane, but I would say that, you know, this is something

we’ve been concerned about for a significant period of time, and also

penetration of — of the North Koreans, in terms of intelligence

capabilities, is very, very difficult.

AMANPOUR: Do you think China is the one to help you resolve this?

MULLEN: I think China has…

AMANPOUR: Will it?

MULLEN: … an awful lot to do with that. We’ve been engaged with

China for an extended period of time with respect to North Korea. The

president sent out a team to each of the capitals this weekend to

re-engage, and so that’s where we are right now, and I’m sure we will

continue to do that. And a great part of this, I think, will have to be

done through Beijing.

AMANPOUR: Are you worried about North Korea making more nuclear

weapons right now with this facility? Is that what it’s showing?

MULLEN: I’ve been worried about North Korea and its potential

nuclear capability for a long time. This certainly gives that potential

real life, very visible life that we all ought to be very, very focused


AMANPOUR: The president and the president of Russia have signed the

New START treaty. This week, that has been sort of stopped, stopping

START in the Senate by the number-two Republican senator there, Jon Kyl.

Can I ask you — I’m basically going to wave around a veritable

“who’s who” of Republican and Democratic former secretaries of state, of

defense, all sorts of people who have been studying this for a long time

and say that this has to be ratified. Does it have to be ratified? Is

this necessary for U.S. national — national security?

MULLEN: I think this is — more than anything else, it’s a national

security issue. I was involved extensively in the negotiations with my

counterpart in Russia. We have for decades have had treaties with them

to — to be able to — to verify aspects of the nuclear weapons

capabilities that we both have. And from a national security

perspective, this is absolutely critical.

AMANPOUR: So when it comes to the military impact of this treaty,

are you convinced that all the military issues have been dealt with and

the United States would be no weaker or a in no worse place if this was


MULLEN: Completely comfortable with where we are militarily,

myself, the rest of the uniformed leadership, as well as the secretary

of defense.

AMANPOUR: And the intelligence agencies have signed off on all the

verification procedures and measures? You’re comfortable with that?

MULLEN: Absolutely. The verification regime that exists in this is

in ways better than the one that has existed in the past. Some

criticize that there are fewer inspections; the arsenal is much smaller

than it used to be. We are close to one year without any ability to

verify what’s going on in Russia.

AMANPOUR: And you’re comfortable with the amount of money that the

president and the administration has pledged to modernize American

nuclear arsenals?

MULLEN: I have. I reviewed it — I’ve reviewed it several times.

And it is a very clear commitment to modernize the nuclear

infrastructure in this country.

AMANPOUR: So by a process of elimination, is the Senate playing

politics with American national security?

MULLEN: Well, you’d have to ask the Senate about that.

AMANPOUR: What do you think?

MULLEN: Well, certainly, what I think is that there is a sense of

urgency with respect to ratifying this treaty that needs to be both

recognized. Historically this has been bipartisan. This is a national

security issue of great significance. And the sooner we get it done,

the better.

AMANPOUR: In a lame-duck session?

MULLEN: As soon as possible.

AMANPOUR: In a lame-duck session?

MULLEN: Certainly, the potential is there for a lame-duck,


AMANPOUR: And you would want that?

MULLEN: I would — that’s the soonest possible time, absolutely.

AMANPOUR: And just so we’re clear, why does one need Russia’s

cooperation today?

MULLEN: I’ve worked hard, not just in this treaty, with my

counterpart in Russia, and I’ve seen it up and down our government over

the course of the last couple of years, and we’ve really taken

significant steps, no better example than this weekend, where President

Medvedev was actually in Lisbon with all of NATO supportive of a missile

defense treaty — I’m sorry, missile defense capability in the future.

And a year or two ago, that just not would have been possible.

The Russians have supported us in Afghanistan, allowed us to

transport some of our most significant equipment, where they could have

pushed back on that.

They’ve also helped in other ways that wouldn’t be widely known. So

the relationship is maturing, very specifically, and it’s one that’s

helped us in Iran. So they’ve — so — so there’s been an awful lot

tied into the improvement of this relationship.

AMANPOUR: Not ratifying it, does that harm American credibility?

For instance, many of the senators who are saying, no, let’s not do it

in this lame-duck session are the very ones who say we need to make sure

that Iran doesn’t proliferate nuclear material, we need to make sure, as

we’ve just seen, that North Korea does not. How does this affect

America’s credibility when it comes to nonproliferation?

MULLEN: Well, I think President Obama said coming out of this NATO

summit many of the leaders there spoke to him about the need to ratify

this New START treaty, and certainly it’s indicative of the commitment

that many other countries have to us and the importance of getting it


So I’m certainly concerned about how — and in particular, how we

look and also this — this emerging relationship with Russia and what it

would mean to not do that. And they’ve clearly sent signals already

with respect to that which haven’t been positive.

AMANPOUR: What signals?

MULLEN: Just — they’ve spoken to the need to get this done, the

importance of it, and whether or not it would be tied to this

relationship, given all that we’ve done in the course of the last couple

of years.

AMANPOUR: Let’s move on to Afghanistan, an area where you said that

they have been cooperating. They’ve just said that they’re going to

offer more roots through their — through their territory for material

for NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

In NATO, summit in Lisbon, talking now about a 2014 deadline for

transferring combat responsibilities to the Afghan forces. I’ve also

heard — is that an absolute date?

MULLEN: Yes, it is.

AMANPOUR: Absolute?

MULLEN: Yes, it is. It’s one everybody signed up to.

AMANPOUR: All combat operations will be handed over to Afghans at

the end of 2014?

MULLEN: I would describe it much like what we just went through in

Iraq, where clearly they have the lead for their own security. We are

then in some capacity, in a training, advising, and assist mode, which

we would expect to be for some time, but in terms of combat operations,

they would have the lead.

AMANPOUR: So you see post-2014 just like we see in Iraq today?

MULLEN: As best we can tell, absolutely.

AMANPOUR: Any more?

MULLEN: Any more…

AMANPOUR: … troops, operations. I mean, I ask you, because right

now, how many areas have even been transferred to Afghan control?

MULLEN: Well, one of the things that happened — one of the things

that happened in Lisbon was the commitment to start to — that transfer

in the spring, and that will be based on conditions on the ground and a

recommendation from General Petraeus, literally district by district.

So it’s a significant commitment to start that this spring.

Again, it really is a situation where — where the Afghans then

lead, specifically in terms of their own security, and we think that’s

absolutely critical, and that they’ll be capable of starting to be able

to do that this spring.

AMANPOUR: Well, your own officers say, in fact, even in the least

combative areas of Afghanistan, that it could take something like 18

months to 24 months to complete a transfer to Afghan lead, in terms of

security. Can they really, do you believe, take over security within

four years?

MULLEN: I do believe, as best we understand things right now, that

that’s very much a reachable goal. There’s a lot to do between now and

then, clearly. Very dangerous place, very tough fight we’re in right

now. We certainly understand that.

But that’s a goal actually that President Karzai set out there and

that all NATO allies — actually, all countries who are providing forces

— because there are some 20 other countries doing that — have signed

up to, and we think it’s reachable.

AMANPOUR: In order to do that, it looks like the situation on the

ground is shifting. In other words, that there is a huge spike in

raids, whether it be drones on the Pakistan area, whether it be trying

to kill as many Taliban as possible on the ground in Afghanistan. Is

that what’s happening now?

MULLEN: We knew this year would be a particularly difficult year

because of all the added troops that we put in, among other things. And

it has been. And I would expect next year to be a very difficult year,

as well.

That said, the — the security situation has started to change. It

has started to get better — better. We’ve sacrificed greatly, tragic

losses, far too many always, but we’ve also succeeded in starting to

reverse the momentum. I think General Petraeus calls it we’ve arrested

the momentum in some specific places…

AMANPOUR: But he said it’s not irreversible.

MULLEN: No, it isn’t irreversible, and it’s still fragile. That’s

really where we are right now in this fight.

AMANPOUR: So, given that fact, as you put it, what is the

relationship with President Karzai, which seems to be basically all over

the place on any given day? What does he say now about night raids?

MULLEN: Well, he’s — I think, obviously, most recently, he’s

spoken to his concerns about that. The piece that you ran earlier

speaks to a huge issue, which is the issue of civilian casualties, but

it also speaks to a point that was — is oftentimes not clearly

articulated, which is the Taliban are killing about 9 or 10 times more

civilians than — than our forces are. And we are making extraordinary

efforts to make sure that doesn’t happen.

We recognize President Karzai’s concern with respect to night raids

and some of the other concerns that he has, and we are doing all we

can. There has to be a balance here, very specifically.

AMANPOUR: Let me move quickly over to Yemen. Al Qaida brazenly

puts out a statement today, yesterday saying that this is our tactic,

bombs that cost $4,000-plus, a raid against all your multibillions of

security in counterterrorism. Are they going to succeed with one of

these cargo plane bombs?

MULLEN: Well, there’s an awful lot of effort going on to make sure

that they don’t. And…

AMANPOUR: Doesn’t that worry you?

MULLEN: You bet it worries me. And I give credit to a lot of

people to — at this point in time that — that they haven’t been able

to pull something like this off, because it’s a very serious threat, and

I believe what they are saying. They’ve grown, it’s dangerous, and it’s

a place we need to focus.

AMANPOUR: “Don’t ask/don’t tell,” something that’s hugely important

right now. A draft report has come to you; some 70 percent of the

military say that it will either have a beneficial or nonexistent

effect. Do you think it needs to be voted on in this lame-duck session?

MULLEN: Well, I won’t speak to what the draft report says. We’ll

have this report done here…

AMANPOUR: Do you think…

MULLEN: … and to Secretary Gates in the next couple of weeks, by

December 1st, and I won’t make any comments on where I think we need to

go until that report is done.

AMANPOUR: You support it, though, repealing “don’t ask/don’t tell”?

MULLEN: From my personal perspective, absolutely.

AMANPOUR: Because?

MULLEN: Because I think it — it belies us as an institution. We

value integrity as an institution.

AMANPOUR: You mean forcing them to lie about what they are?

MULLEN: And then — and then asking individuals to come in and lie

about who they are every day goes counter to who we are as an institution.

AMANPOUR: Apart from the integrity issue, many of your allies —

whether it be England or Canada or France or Australia, the Israeli army

— they have openly gay servicemembers in their military with no adverse


MULLEN: Certainly. I’ve seen that, and that is very much a part of

this review, and we’ll incorporate that into the review and

recommendations which go up the chain.

AMANPOUR: So were you angry with the new Marine commandant when he

cast his own doubts over this and criticized it?

MULLEN: He had made his position very clear in testimony. What

concerned me about his most recent comments, it came at a time where we

actually had the draft report in hand, and we had all agreed that we

would speak to this privately until we completed the report and made our

recommendations up the chain.

AMANPOUR: And if it does not get voted on in the lame-duck session,

is there any chance that it will come up in any reasonable time period


MULLEN: Well, I mean, it’s very hard to predict what’s going to

happen. Obviously, from a legislative…

AMANPOUR: But would you think it will put it down the road?

MULLEN: … from a legislative perspective. The other piece that

is out there that’s very real is the courts are very active on this.

And my concern is that at some point in time the courts could change

this law and in that not give us the right amount of time to implement

it. I think it’s much better done — if it’s going to get done, it’s

much better done through legislature than it is out of the courts.

AMANPOUR: Admiral Mullen, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

MULLEN: Thank you.

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