Stephen Colbert’s satirical comedy show took on a serious tone this Wednesday night when retired U.S. Navy admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2007 to 2011, stopped by for an interview.

Though Colbert made a couple of his typical flippant remarks (e.g. asking Mullen, who was responsible for calling the head of the Pakistani military after the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, “How did you do that? Did you say ‘Hey, it’s Mike, we found Bin Laden, you’ll never guess where?”), we overall saw a more serious side of Colbert’s television host persona. Discussion topics of the interview included specific policy responses to the recent gains by the Islamic State and broad ideas about our role in the Middle East. The extended interview, available online, covered an even more diverse array of international issues, touching on the current protests going on in Hong Kong and the United States military’s role in international humanitarian efforts.

Mullen’s most striking statement of the night was his vision of decades-long U.S. involvement in this region. “I still think that in that part of the world, we are in a 30 to 40 year run here…in terms of the revolution, the change, the uncertainty, and the stability.” Colbert was visibly shocked at this strong statement in support of U.S. interventionism. Though the Obama administration is widely characterized as isolationist in foreign policy, it is clear that members of the President’s staff, like the former Chairman in this interview, take more aggressive stances on issues of U.S. military influence abroad.

The other highlight of the interview didn’t come from Mullen, but from Colbert himself later in the conversation, demonstrating his rhetorical power as not merely a comedian but a thoughtful political critic. (Perhaps a preview of the serious style we’ll be seeing more of when he moves to his new non-character talk show.)

Can I tell you why I think the American people might be tired of the Middle East?…It’s because we’re asked to be afraid of it — I mean, you get to think about it all the time…and then say to yourself: ‘You know what? That little corner of the desert looks like it could blow up real good, let’s go over there.’ Whereas we’re asked to be afraid of it, and we’re reminded to be afraid of it, but we no longer have much of a voice in it because our Congressional representatives won’t vote on whether we’re supposed to do anything about it, we’re not asked to sacrifice that much for it (very few of us go fight), and we’re also not told all that much about what’s happening over there. So all we have is the fear and none of the action, and eventually we want to stop thinking about it.

Mullen wasn’t put off by these sorts of critiques, though, and did acknowledge that the reputation of the U.S. and its military is “damaged.” “Having bombed Syria, how many Muslim countries have we bombed? This is our seventh?”

Colbert couldn’t help but retort: “One more and we get a free falafel.”

View the televised interview here and the online-only extended version here.

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