The Los Angeles Times reports:
Taking note of the debate over the Iraq war in the presidential race, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Pentagon officials in a town hall meeting Thursday that the military must be prepared to change policy and carry out the wishes of the next president.This is an interesting development.
But at a news conference afterward, Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen cautioned against policies that include a rapid withdrawal from Iraq, saying leaving too quickly would undermine recent security gains.
"I do worry about a rapid withdrawal," said Mullen, who serves as the top military advisor to the president.
Mullen would not specify what he considered too fast. "I am talking about a withdrawal that would be so fast that it would leave us in a chaotic situation, that the gains we have made would be lost," he said.
In the session with members of the Joint Staff, the primary planning organization in the Pentagon, Mullen said it was crucial for the military to remain apolitical. The uniformed military and the Joint Staff must be a "solid foundation" in the transition between the Bush administration and its successor, Mullen told them.
Both of the Democratic presidential candidates back accelerated troop withdrawals. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has said she would pull out up to two brigades a month. Sen. Barack Obama has supported a similar pace of reductions.
Military leaders have been more cautious. Mullen's predecessor, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, said the military could safely withdraw one brigade a month. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, is more cautious still.
Petraeus has been withdrawing brigades sent last year as part of the U.S. troop buildup, but the reductions have come slowly and he has proposed a pause in further withdrawals in July, when the troops sent as part of the buildup are gone. He will make formal recommendations on troop levels in April.
Mullen did not speak out against GOP frontrunner John McCain. While there's much talk about our "broken" armed services (especially the army), it's obvious that a hasty retreat from Iraq is not in the nation's or the military's interest.