At Large

The Admiral Retires

Admiral Mike Mullen's exit from the Joint Chiefs of Staff makes clear how clueless he was all along.

By 9.30.11

It is one thing to attack Pakistan's political will in battling the Taliban and jihadist-driven terrorism (not always the same thing), but quite another to rant specifically against Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Admiral Mike Mullen, the retiring Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, should have learned by now the difference between the arcane world of Pakistan's covert affairs and that of the politics of its government.

Mike Mullen chose to use one of his last public appearances as head of the JCS to lambast the ISI for "using the Haqqani network as its veritable arm." He then tied ISI's connections to the Haqqani as choosing "to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy." What's new about that, Admiral? Not only has U.S. and UK intelligence known for years about the in-depth relationship between the Haqqani clan operations against Kabul's government and its U.S./NATO benefactors, but this delicate and dangerous dance has been accepted by all sides as the modus operandi of covert warfare along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

The rules of covert cooperation and conflict are quite different from what occurs in the diplomatic and conventional military world. It appears to have shocked Adm. Mullen that ISI, a working ally of the U.S. and many other Western intelligence services, would support the activities -- or at least protect the activities -- of segments of the Haqqani network that recently planned and performed attacks on targets such as the American embassy in Kabul, as well as NATO and Afghan government facilities.

What about the history since the days of the British Raj in India did he not understand when it came to the clandestine world of South Asia? More specifically, how has he missed the manner in which duplicity has been the accepted mode of collaboration with "imperial powers" venturing into the region? And when pressed, wouldn't any Pakistani intelligence officer conveniently insist that its historic operational lessons were learned from the British?

American and British intelligence has known for years that ISI not only made payments (often with funds gained from the CIA) to the Haqqani, but also shared information with their contacts in the insurgent leadership. Any covert operator worth his salt would also accept the fact that ISI undercover officers accompanied Haqqani clan members on some of their raids. Of course the admiral didn't know that. Ranking staff officers are always protected from the more unseemly aspect of the intelligence operations from which they demand so much.

The reality is that the Haqqani network of related clans does not have to depend on their Pakistani brethren. Afghani fighters' lineage goes back long before the British set foot in their mountains in the 19th century. As the saying goes in the world of special operations, "They die well, when they have to!" The other thing appropriate not only to the Haqqani but to other clans on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border (wherever that's deemed to be today) is that they rarely, if ever, forget their mission. And that mission is now, as it always has been, to rid their region of all foreign influences and military presence -- and bring home as much treasure as possible.

The natural thing at this stage of a long-running and costly intervention is to ask why we are there. Without so stating it, that appears to be what Adm. Mullen was doing. During his entire tenure as chairman of the JCS, Mike Mullen has been the good military and political "soldier." He has protected the presidency from disagreements emanating from the military, and protected the military from presidential disagreements over combat and strategic policy. In any case, the chairman always justified why we continued to battle after so many years in the Afghan/Pakistan arena.

Having reached the end of his tenure and about to retire to civilian life, an exhausted and frustrated Mike Mullen had had about enough of the falseness and double-dealing that is the deadly game of military/political affairs in the Afghan/Pakistan theater. Perhaps not the most diplomatic of exits, but apparently personally satisfying. And anyhow who expects even a retiring JCS chairman to suggest it's time either to launch another major offensive or get the hell out of the country?

America’s top staff officer can afford the luxury of retirement while leaving the scene to the still battling covert operations wallahs. That's the way it always has been throughout South Asia. There are no crisp, clean uniforms and shining medals for these warriors. Have a pleasant retirement, Admiral; the war will go on, as always -- duplicitous and deadly. And others, the faceless ones, will fight it.

The Haqqani will be punished, and in a different way so will ISI. No one needed the Admiral to spur them on in that regard. He never learned that in South Asia the best weapon is a smile -- and a garote!

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About the Author
George H. Wittman writes a weekly column on international affairs for The American Spectator online. He was the founding chairman of the National Institute for Public Policy.