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Tehran: A pragmatic admiral takes the helm as the U.S. military's top officer

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10/01/2007 07:48 AM
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Tehran: A pragmatic admiral takes the helm as the U.S. military's top officer
A pragmatic admiral takes the helm as the U.S. military's top officer

WASHINGTON (AFP) -- The U.S. military completes a change at the top this week with the arrival of a pragmatic navy admiral to help steer it through the more than four year old war in Iraq.

Admiral Michael Mullen, former chief of U.S. naval operations, takes over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today from Marine Corps General Peter Pace at a ceremony at a Civil War-era fort overlooking the Potomac River.

Mullen, 60, is expected to bring a fresh perspective to a military stretched to the breaking point by repeated deployments and facing challenges beyond the Iraq war.

""We must rebalance our strategic risks carefully and as soon as possible,"" Mullen said in his Senate confirmation hearing in July.

Strategic thinker

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has said he wants to approach Iraq in its regional context, said Mullen was chosen because ""he is a very smart strategic thinker"" who took a broad view of the military's needs and requirements.

Mullen has a wealth of naval experience. Before taking the helm of the navy in July 2005, he commanded U.S. naval forces in Europe and NATO's Joint Force Command in Naples.

A Los Angeles native, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1968, served in Vietnam, commanded surface warships and a carrier battle group, and found time to study management at Harvard Business School.

He brings to the job little of the political baggage that hampered Pace, whose six year tenure as chairman and vice chairman spanned the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Pace was denied the customary second two-year term as chairman after Gates concluded in June that his confirmation by a Democratic-controlled Congress would be too divisive.

Mullen sailed through his confirmation hearings, making clear to senators that he was doubtful there can be a military solution in Iraq without political reconciliation.

""Barring that, no amount of troops and no amount of time will make much of a difference,"" he said.

Observers say Mullen made his doubts about the surge known to the Pentagon's civilian leadership before his nomination as chairman.

""I think he calls them the way he sees them,"" said Tom Wilkerson, a retired marine corps major general who is chief executive of the U.S. Naval Institute.

""However, I also think as a pragmatist he is going to do that within the lane as an adviser to the secretary and the president, and not do that publicly,"" Wilkerson said.

Mullen is the latest in a series of key changes in the U.S. military hierarchy since Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary in December.

Army General David Petraeus assumed command in Iraq, launching a new counter-insurgency strategy that has raised U.S. forces to their highest levels of the war.

Admiral Fallon

Admiral William Fallon, the former Pacific commander, was brought in to head U.S. forces in the Middle East, replacing General John Abizaid, who had headed the U.S. Central Command since just after the 2003 invasion.

Like Mullen, Fallon had the advantage of being uncompromised by the controversial decisions that led the United States into its most wrenching conflict since Vietnam.

""You could have a friendly sort of Navy versus Army debate here, or maybe not so friendly,"" said Michael O'Hanlon, a military expert at the Brookings Institution.

""Ideally the surge will work and they won't need to debate. But it's also possible that Mullen and Fallon will be the guys who ultimately say listen, we have to scale back our involvement in Iraq because we are just straining the military and reducing our flexibility,"" he said.

Moving away from Iraq would ""a very momentous decision,"" said O'Hanlon.

But Wilkerson, rated as ""slim to none"" Mullen's chances of making major changes in the use of U.S. forces in what is left of the Bush administration.

""He can react to outside events and give advice,"" he said. ""But the idea that he would come in as the adviser to the secretary and the president be able to make sweeping changes from where we're headed right now is probably a dream.""

[link to www.tehrantimes.com]
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