Fiscal crisis Mullen’s top concern

By Tom Philpott: CNJ columnist

Though he’s a warrior, not an economist, Adm. Michael Mullen,
chairman of the Joint Chiefs, ranks the financial crisis as a higher
priority and greater risk to security than current wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan.

“The scope of it is, to me, mind-boggling,” said Mullen in an
interview with Military Update last week, just hours before President
Obama made his first visit to the Pentagon as commander in chief.

Mullen said it is a testament both to the nation’s strength and to
the severity of the fiscal crisis that Congress last fall swiftly
approved a relief fund of $700 billion to bail out banks and try to
thaw frozen credit markets.

The amount nearly matched last year’s defense budget, Mullen noted,
contrasting the speed of that action to the long, detailed process of
setting military requirements, debating programs and passing a defense
budget.

That’s “not even to speak of discussions, literally today, of a
stimulus package that’s going to be another eight or nine hundred
billion. I think that’s going to affect all of us much more than
personally,” Mullen said.

“I’ve been concerned and remain concerned about the impact of this
on security,” he continued. “It’s a global crisis. And as that impacts
security issues, or feeds greater instability, I think it will impact
on our national security in ways that we quite haven’t figured out yet.”

The financial crisis also underscores a need to tighten federal
spending and, on military personnel accounts, that would include
raising TRICARE fees for working-age retirees, Mullen said. This
surface warfare officer’s 40-year career has included command of three
ships. He served as chief of naval operations before becoming the
president’s top military advisor on Oct. 1, 2007.