Transcript: Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen

So it's the three-legged stool. It's development, it's rule of law and governance, as well as security. And I think not unlike Iraq, we get security to a point where these other -- these other aspects can be developed much more fully, and we'll know at that point in time how far we've gone and what our next step should be.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Specifically, what can be achieved in the next year?

MULLEN: I think with the troops that we put on the ground there, that over the next 12 to 18 months, we have to dramatically change the security situation and stem the tide. We've had an increasing level of violence in the last three years from in '6, '7, and '8, and I think in '9 and '10, we have to start to turn that around.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me talk about the issues of gays in the military. The president has told you that he wants to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy so that gays and lesbians can serve openly in the military. And the Pentagon said this week that you personally, along with Secretary Gates, are working to address the challenges associated with implementing the president's commitment.

What exactly are you doing? And what exactly are you worried about?

MULLEN: The president has made his strategic intent very clear. That it's his intent at some point in time to ask Congress to change this law. I think it's important to also know that this is the law, this isn't a policy. And for the rules to change, a law has to be changed.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And there's legislation introduced in the Congress.

MULLEN: And there is. Exactly. And so I've had discussions with the Joint Chiefs about this. I've done certainly a lot of internal, immediate staff discussions about what the issues would be and how we...

STEPHANOPOULOS: What are they? What are the challenges?

MULLEN: Well, it's my job as the senior military adviser to provide best advice, best military advice for the president. And what I owe him is an objective assessment of what these changes would be. What they might impact on. And there could be speculation about what that might be, but my goal would be to achieve an objective assessment of the impact, if any, of this kind of change.

In addition, you know, I would need some time for a force that's under a great deal of stress -- we're in our sixth year of fighting two wars -- to look at if this change occurs, to look at implementing it in a very deliberate, measured way.

And what I also owe the president, and I owe the men and women in uniform, is an implementation plan to achieve this based on a timeline that would be set, obviously, after the law is changed.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of your predecessors, General John Shalikashvili, who was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs back in the early '90s, has said he has second thoughts on this whole issue now. He was against opening up service to the gays and lesbians then. Now he's written, "I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces. Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job."

Is he right?

MULLEN: He's certainly entitled to his own personal opinion. And certainly, I have the greatest respect for him.

There are also lots of retired generals and admirals on the other side. STEPHANOPOULOS: What's your opinion?

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