You know you’re living in an extraordinary country when it’s possible for that country’s highest-ranking military officer to appear for a light-hearted interview on one of our most popular late-night comedy programs.
Such was the case Monday night when Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came on “The Late Show with David Letterman” on CBS. And, as far as we could tell, the admiral had no project to promote either (no book, no movie, no TV show, no anything) – other than making a positive impression as a likable, charismatic guy who just happens to run the day-to-day operations of the world’s most powerful military.
It’s an amazing era to live in, isn’t it? Think back to the famous military leaders of American history and just try to imagine them on a late-night show. Patton on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” (the real one, not the George C. Scott version)? Ike on “Conan”? Lee on “Lopez Tonight”? Hard to imagine, and yet, there was Adm. Mullen, in full uniform, sitting there on the Letterman show having a few laughs with Dave.
Dave himself probably couldn’t quite believe it when he made the admiral laugh. It happened several times, including when Dave displayed the famous photo of President Obama and his senior advisers gathered in the White House situation room to await word on the mission to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden (it was the latter, of course). Mullen was one of those pictured.
“This is the day and what I understand this to be, you and your pals there – no, wait a minute, is this the Super Bowl party?” Dave quipped, as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff cracked up. “No, no, wait a minute, it’s not the Super Bowl party because the vice president is awake!” Dave said, supplying a punchline.
Turning serious (well, sort of), Dave asked, “You tell us what [the people in the photo are] watching here. And, first of all, when they said, ‘We want you to be in the so-and-so room at 9-whatever, what did they tell you? Did you know immediately what this meant? You probably knew before everybody, right?”
“Well, this is something we’d worked on for months,” Adm. Mullen replied, “so what you’re looking at is the culmination of an extraordinary effort on the part of our military, our intelligence agencies, and, quite frankly, is the output of what I consider to be a courageous decision on the part of the President.”
Dave got the admiral to comment on some aspects of that incredible day, but not all of them. “I was surprised to read, and maybe everybody knows this, that the likelihood of Osama Bin Laden being at that location [was] about 55 percent – is that about right?” Dave asked.
“Well, actually, Dave, there were a lot of numbers,” Mullen answered, “I think that math is something that probably is overplayed. There certainly was not certainty that he was there.”
Letterman then asked what exactly all the people in the situation room that day were looking at. It had been rumored that they were literally able to watch the Bin Laden raid in real time, thanks to minicam technology carried by the assault team. This has never been confirmed and, as it happened, the admiral wouldn’t confirm it either.
“What are we watching here exactly?” Letterman asked. “Is it real-time video from the site in Pakistan?”
“Actually, there’s not a lot more I can tell you about that picture, Dave,” the admiral said.
“Aw, come on,” Letterman said good-naturedly, while the admiral grinned.
Adm. Mullen stuck around for three segments on “Late Show” and, among other things, expressed his support for ending the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy concerning gay and lesbian servicemen and women.