Elisabeth Bumiller, the Times' Bush-hostile White House reporter who is moving to the foreign policy desk to cover the Pentagon, buttered up Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Adm. Mike Mullen in a Tuesday article. Bumiller also recycled a liberal meme of Gen. Eric Shinseki, victim of a vengeful Bush administration, writing that the former Army chief of staff had been both "vilified" and "reviled" by the Bush administration for stating that more troops were needed in Iraq on the eve of the invasion.
As President-elect Barack Obama convened the first meeting of his national security advisers on Monday, there was just one person at the table whom Mr. Obama did not choose to have there: Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Admiral Mullen, who was selected by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for a two-year term, has been on the job for a year. Come January, he will face perhaps the biggest challenge of his career: pivoting from one commander in chief to another, in the middle of two wars. Friends describe him as an even-tempered, intellectually curious and politically astute presence who sees the world beyond the immediate battles of the Pentagon and the White House, all skills that they say will serve him well in the new administration.
"He's not a jumper or a screamer; he looks at things to make them better for the long term," said Adm. Dennis C. Blair, a retired Pacific Fleet commander who is expected to be named by Mr. Obama as director of national intelligence. "He's an incredible networker, too."
In the last year, Admiral Mullen has sought advice from the retired generals who revolted against former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, reached out to the former Army chief who had been vilified for saying more troops were needed in Iraq and invited to dinner prominent Democrats like Gregory B. Craig, Mr. Obama's choice for White House counsel. His efforts may have been an effort to soothe the military after the cataclysmic Mr. Rumsfeld, or an anticipation of a change of administration - or both.
Admiral Mullen, the son of a former Hollywood press agent whose clients included Anthony Quinn and Julie Andrews, has a world view that friends say is closer to that of Mr. Obama than to President Bush.
In the meantime, Admiral Mullen's supporters say he is very different from his two immediate predecessors, Gen. Richard B. Myers and Gen. Peter Pace, who were sometimes derided by critics within the military as "Stepford generals" because of their acquiescence to Mr. Rumsfeld.
"He's not dogmatic or doctrinaire, and he's also not a lap dog," said Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold of the Marine Corps, who retired in 2002 after objecting to Mr. Rumsfeld's plans for a small Iraq invasion force and then aired his views in Time magazine as part of what became known as a "revolt of the generals" against Mr. Rumsfeld in 2006.
After more flattery of Admiral Mullen, Bumiller switches colorful verbs from "vilified" to "reviled" while painting Gen. Shinseki as a victim of narrow-minded Bushies:
These days Admiral Mullen gives regular dinners at his 19th-century home on a small naval compound near the State Department, where the walls are hung not with medals but with framed Playbills from nearly every Broadway show that he and his wife have attended. Recent guests have included Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser to the first President Bush who enraged the second when he publicly warned against war with Iraq. Mr. Scowcroft is now advising Mr. Obama.
Admiral Mullen has also reached out in recent weeks to Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, who is retired and was reviled by the Bush administration for saying publicly on the eve of the Iraq war that far more troops would be needed than had been committed by the Pentagon under Mr. Rumsfeld. General Shinseki has since been chosen by Mr. Obama to be secretary of veterans affairs.
So how hard is it to change commanders in chief in the middle of two wars? "Not that hard," Admiral Blair said. "I think people way overestimate that."