One of Barack Obama's most noteworthy accomplishments wouldn't have happened without the support of George W. Bush's handpicked top U.S. military commander: Mike Mullen, a Navy admiral whose four-year term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff ended in September. Last December, when leading Senate Republicans said they would defer to military leaders in deciding whether to vote for repealing the Pentagon's 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy prohibiting openly gay service members in the military, Mullen rose to the occasion, telling Congress, "America has moved on.… America's military is ready, by and large, to move on as well." The repeal passed.
Mullen's last public act as chairman was to break one of the great taboos of post-9/11 U.S. foreign policy. In September congressional testimony, he avowed that the Haqqani network -- a vicious, Pakistan-based insurgent group responsible for attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan -- was a "veritable arm" of Pakistan's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence agency and that Pakistan had chosen "to use violent extremism as an instrument of policy." Pakistan's reaction was swift and predictably furious, but there was a sense that a hard truth had finally been aired, and from an unimpeachable source: a man who made dozens of trips to meet with Pakistani leaders and helped guide a U.S. military leadership that has been far more reluctant to criticize Pakistan than its civilian counterpart. Coming at the end of a career defined by low-key effectiveness, it was an explosive finale -- and an admirable one.
Britain's prime minister has spent the year keeping his enemies, and even his allies, off balance, wielding the budget-cutting knife at home while also backing a muscular foreign policy abroad as he heads an awkward coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. In an era of European financial collapse, David Cameron was one of the first major leaders to embrace austerity as the antidote, and his first budget committed Britain to tax hikes and massive cuts in public spending -- harsh measures that countries such as Greece and Italy are only now rushing to duplicate. But Cameron has also proved that shrinking Britain's military does not mean retreating from the world. He teamed with French President Nicolas Sarkozy to launch a diplomatic blitz that first convinced the United States, then the U.N. Security Council, to endorse aggressive action to halt Libyan autocrat Muammar al-Qaddafi's war on his own people.
The prime minister's response to the riots that gripped his country in August also proved that he's no pushover. "It is criminality, pure and simple," he told the House of Commons. He skillfully wove the events into his rhetoric about a "Broken Britain," saying that widespread social decay was to blame for the riots. But with public funds shrinking, it's up to Cameron to do more with less.