CBS’s Mitchell to Joint Chiefs Chairman: Do Americans Have ‘Right to be Pessimistic’?

Still Shot of Russ Mitchell and Michael Mullen, May 26 On Monday’s CBS "Early Show," co-host Russ Mitchell interviewed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, and asked about Iraq: "When you look at April, last month, 50 American soldiers were killed in Iraq. And a lot of Americans look at that and they're pessimistic, despite what you say about morale and how things are going in Iraq--in Iraq. Does the American public have a right to be pessimistic, in your mind?"

While suggesting Americans are ‘pessimistic’ about the war in Iraq is justified, Mitchell forgets to mention the role CBS News has played in promoting some of that pessimism with its own coverage of the war. In addition, using the phrase ‘right to be pessimistic’ leaves little room for disagreement, as Admiral Mullen pointed out: "The American public obviously gets to choose whether they're optimistic or pessimistic."

Mullen went on to explain: "I think clearly, over the last many months, things have improved fairly dramatically. We always need to be reminded of the sacrifice that these young men and women generate in terms supporting the overall mission."

Mitchell later asked about how soon troops may be coming home:

MITCHELL: Should Americans be optimistic this Memorial Day that our men and women overseas, especially in Iraq, will be coming home soon?

MULLEN: I think Americans can be optimistic that the young men and women who serve us are the best I've ever served with. They continue to serve exceptionally well across the board. And in doing that, we can all be proud of them on this Memorial Day, and their families who support them so well.

MITCHELL: A very eloquent answer, sir. But I ask you again, can Americans be optimistic that they'll be coming home soon?

MULLEN: Well, the decisions on whether or not Americans return--a number of soldiers--returning numbers yet to be made based on the conditions on the ground. We will all assess this fall conditions on the ground there and make decisions accordingly.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

7:15AM SEGMENT:

RUSS MITCHELL: And welcome back. On this Memorial Day, we remember the fallen heroes from wars past and present. And joining us now from the Pentagon is Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral, good morning to you.

MIKE MULLEN: Good morning, Russ.

MITCHELL: Admiral, when you look at the landscape across the world now of US troops, how would you compare morale this Memorial Day to last Memorial Day?

MULLEN: Well, in my travels, which have been extensive, morale is exceptionally high. The troops are--know they're on important missions. They're performing exceptionally well and they're serving a noble cause and they feel very strongly about that.

MITCHELL: Admiral, let's talk about Iraq specifically. Again, as you look at the landscape, are things better, worse or about the same for American troops in Iraq?

MULLEN: Things are better in Iraq, and it's principally because the troops have performed so well in the surge. We're at a point now where they've created security so the politicians can move forward, and that's happened. I'm modestly optimistic about what's going on there right now.

MITCHELL: When you look at April, last month, 50 American soldiers were killed in Iraq. And a lot of Americans look at that and they're pessimistic, despite what you say about morale and how things are going in Iraq--in Iraq. Does the American public have a right to be pessimistic, in your mind?

MULLEN: The American public obviously gets to choose whether they're optimistic or pessimistic. I think clearly, over the last many months, things have improved fairly dramatically. We always need to be reminded of the sacrifice that these young men and women generate in terms supporting the overall mission.

MITCHELL: You talked--you testified last week that Iranian influence in Iraq is still very strong. From a military standpoint, what can the US best do to subside that?

MULLEN: Well, I think actually it's more than just the military. It's got to be the full spectrum of national elements of power, economics, finances, diplomacy, politics, as well as military. And I think we need to continue to bring pressure on the Iranians to change their behavior in that part of the world.

MITCHELL: Should Americans be optimistic this Memorial Day that our men and women overseas, especially in Iraq, will be coming home soon?

MULLEN: I think Americans can be optimistic that the young men and women who serve us are the best I've ever served with. They continue to serve exceptionally well across the board. And in doing that, we can all be proud of them on this Memorial Day, and their families who support them so well.

MITCHELL: A very eloquent answer, sir. But I ask you again, can Americans be optimistic that they'll be coming home soon?

MULLEN: Well, the decisions on whether or not Americans return--a number of soldiers--returning numbers yet to be made based on the conditions on the ground. We will all assess this fall conditions on the ground there and make decisions accordingly.

MITCHELL: This is your first Memorial Day as chairman of the joint chiefs. Does this day hold any added significance for you?

MULLEN: This day has always held added significance, but particularly because I'm privileged to serve in this position, spend time with those who serve, spend time with families who's lost--who've lost loved ones and who sacrifice so much, and reminded that we all need to express our gratitude to them and what they've given to our great country.

MITCHELL: Admiral Michael Mullen, we appreciate it. Thank you very much for joining us, sir.

MULLEN: Thank you, Russ.

MITCHELL: You take care.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC