Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Where to begin? Mullen's remarks are jaw dropping because they expose the unwillingness of the Pentagon to support an attack upon Iran. It leads one to believe that there is currently a very live, very contentious debate about whether the US or Israel should launch an attack upon Iran before the end of the Bush presidency. It is possible that a decision may be made within weeks or even days.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who was in Israel over the weekend, issued a strong warning today about the dangers of a military attack on Iran.
At a Pentagon press conference, Mullen was asked, "How concerned are you ... that Israel may undertake a unilateral strike against Iran by the end of the year?"
"My strong preference, here, is to handle all of this diplomatically with the other powers of governments, ours and many others, as opposed to any kind of strike occurring," he answered. "This is a very unstable part of the world. And I don't need it to be more unstable."
Mullen refused to talk specifically about what was said in his talks with the Israelis, but he made it clear wants to avoid military confrontation.
"I've been pretty clear before that from the United States' perspective, the United States' military perspective in particular, that opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us," he said. "That doesn't mean we don't have capacity or reserve. But that would really be very challenging and also the consequences of that sometimes are very difficult to predict."
Mullen said there needs to be better "dialogue" on the Iranian nuclear issue. Asked what he meant, Mullen responded, "When I talk about dialogue -- actually, I would say very broadly across the entirety of our government and their government.
"But, specifically, that would be -- need to be led, obviously, politically and diplomatically," he said. "And if it then resulted in military-to-military dialogue, I think that part of it certainly could add to a better understanding of each other.
"We haven't had much of a dialogue with the Iranians for a long time," Mullen said. "It takes two people to want to have a dialogue, not just the desire on one part."
Mullen, as head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is publicly opposing neoconservative policymakers within the administration who have been aggressively advocating such an attack. Furthermore, he expressly calls for negotiations to resolve the dispute! And, if the excerpts of his quotes convey an accurate impression, he doesn't even blame the Iranians for the lack of communication, after all, he knows that the Iranians sought to negotiate with the US on a broad range of regional issues in 2003. His remarks suggest that the Pentagon perceives an institutional peril if it is associated with a catastrophic attack upon Iran.
The Joint Chiefs want to go on the record now in the hope that it can be stopped. If it can't be stopped, the Pentagon can say, it's not our fault, blame the civilians in the Defense Department and the White House. For those with a particularly dystopian turn of mind, you can even read his comments as a preemptive effort to preserve the credibility of the military in the event of possible domestic social unrest in the aftermath of an attack.
Mullen's remarks also implicitly dismiss claims of Iranian support of the Iraqi insurgency as propaganda, or, at the very least, a problem so marginal that it can easily be resolved through dialogue. As I said last week, the Pentagon is our last line of defense against another war in the Middle East. One gets the sense that Mullen either wants Obama to be President, or expects him to be the next one. It is hard to imagine John McCain being in agreement with what he said.