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?
MULLEN: And what I would hope to do in this, George, again, given the strategic intent of the president, is to avoid a polarizing debate that puts a force that's very significantly under stress in the middle. And to get this, get to this, assuming the law is going to change, and, again, a measured, deliberate way. And that, as the senior military leader, is what I consider my principal responsibility.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Measured, deliberate way. So it sounds like if the Congress calls you up to testify in this, you're going to say now is not the time to repeal?
MULLEN: No, I actually -- I'm going to talk to the process that we have in this country, which is we follow the law, and if the law changes, we'll comply. There's absolutely no question about that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We have a couple of minutes left. I want to ask you about working with President Obama as the commander in chief. You've been doing it for about four months now, a little bit more than four months. What have you learned about the president as commander in chief? And is he performing as you expected?
MULLEN: It's very rare with any kind of major issue that the president doesn't initially ask, OK, where are we going here? What's our end stake? And then developing a strategic view of how to get there and the major pieces with respect to that. That he is developing policies and policy objectives that the military can support, and the policy and the strategy are very clear.
And I'm not a policy and a strategy guy. I'm -- you know, the military basically supports what the president wants, the decisions that he makes. And he has done that, he has done that in Iraq, he has done that in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. And I find that to be -- to be a method that gives the military the kind of focus it needs for where we're going.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Has he surprised you in any way?
MULLEN: No, not really. I mean, I met him before the -- I think a week or so after he was elected. We had very frank conversations about our positions on various issues, in terms of how we saw things. He was very clear about what he wants to do.
He's a very bright, focused individual. He takes a diversity of opinion, and then he is -- he is as every president is, you know, he knows he has to make decisions. He has made them, he has made hard ones, and I think he will continue to do so.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, as you pointed out, the military has been under tremendous stress for the last eight years. Families have been separated again and again. The suicide rate has risen pretty dramatically in the military.