During his Senate confirmation hearing today, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs nominee Navy Adm. Michael Mullen argued that without political and economic progress, “no amount of troops and no amount of time will make much of a difference” in the war in Iraq. “[P]rudence dictates that we plan for an eventual drawdown and the transition of responsibilities to Iraqi security forces,” he said. In questioning later, he conceded, “there does not appear to be much political progress” in Iraq.
Mullen also said, “A protracted deployment of U.S. troops to Iraq…risks further emboldening Iranian hegemonic ambitions and encourages their continued support to Shia insurgents in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
In the end, however, Mullen qualified his skepticism over the current course in Iraq by endorsing a long-term occupation. “U.S. military forces will be needed in Iraq for ‘years not months,” he said.
UPDATE: Asked whether or not U.S. forces were “winning” in Iraq, Mullen said, “[b]ased on the…lack of political reconciliation…I would be concerned about whether we’d be winning or not,” Tim Grieve notes.
MULLEN: I believe security is critical to providing the government of Iraq the breathing space it needs to work toward political national reconciliation and economic growth, which are themselves critical to a stable Iraq. Barring that, no amount of troops and no amount of time will make much of a difference.
I look forward, as I know you do, to hearing from Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus in September. I believe prudence dictates that we plan for an eventual drawdown and the transition of responsibilities to Iraqi security forces, and we need to do that wisely.
REED: Do you agree that given the purpose of the surge — which is it to give the Iraqi government what you and the President call “breathing space” to make the political compromises needed for reconciliation and a political settlement — that there’s been very little or no progress in terms of political settlements.
MULLEN: Yes sir, I agree there does not appear to be much political progress.