Debt remains the “single biggest threat to our national security,” said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, at a Government Executive Leadership Briefing at the National Press Club on Thursday.
With the country's ever-increasing national security requirements, the military is more challenged than ever, Mullen said, adding that he “won’t lead a hollow military.”
Given the intensity of the fiscal crisis, Mullen assured that it is important to focus on the leadership aspect in the military and “take a strategic view before we take out the meat axe and the scalpel” to deal with the limited resources.
Though Mullen would not comment on President Obama’s new national security team, expected to be announced officially Thursday afternoon, he said that he has “great admiration” for both CIA Director Leon Panetta and Gen. David Petraeus, who are expected to become Defense secretary and CIA director, respectively.
Mullen called both Petraeus and Panetta “wonderful public servants whose service in their current positions has been extraordinary."
In terms of specific national security challenges, Mullen spoke about the eight U.S. airmen who were killed by an Afghan airman on Wednesday -- the worst single-day U.S. death toll in Afghanistan in nearly three years.
“Every loss is tragic,” Mullen said, but this was “particularly difficult because it comes from an insider threat.”
Mullen also noted he has been impressed with how NATO is executing the mission in Libya, assuring that the long-term strategy is that ruler Muammar el-Qaddafi needs to go.
“I do believe his days are numbered,” Mullen said of Qaddafi, whom he referred to as a “pariah.”
Addressing growing unrest throughout the Middle East and North Africa, Mullen said that the “al-Qaida threat in Yemen is one that is of most concern.”
Though Mullen said that the continued violence in Syria “needs to stop,” he reiterated that every country is a unique challenge and that “we have to be careful how we address each one.”