Monday, July 03, 2006

Military Brass Clashing With Administration Over Iran

A new piece by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker claims that the U.S. military brass is disagreeing with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and the Bush administration over the civilians' desire for war with Iran at any cost.

According to Hersh, the military is angry with the cavalier approach that the White House took towards the "threat" allegedly posed by Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and do not want to see the blundering extended to neighboring Iran.

The senior officers in the Pentagon do not dispute the President's contention that Iran intends to eventually build a bomb, but they are frustrated by the intelligence gaps. A former senior intelligence official told me that people in the Pentagon were asking, "What's the evidence? We've got a million tentacles out there, overt and covert, and these guys--the Iranians--have been working on this for eighteen years, and we have nothing? We're coming up with jack shit"...

A senior military official told me, "Even if we knew where the Iranian enriched uranium was--and we don't--we don't know where world opinion would stand. The issue is whether it's a clear and present danger. If you're a military planner, you try to weigh options. What is the capability of the Iranian response, and the likelihood of a punitive response--like cutting off oil shipments? What would that cost us?" Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his senior aides "really think they can do this on the cheap, and they underestimate the capability of the adversary," he said.

Rumsfeld--as the senior U.S. civilian defense official--properly should have control over the uniformed military. The brass has no problem with this, however it is the arrogance with which Rumsfeld expresses his often mistaken opinions that irritates the professional military.

The discord over Iran can, in part, be ascribed to Rumsfeld's testy relationship with the generals. They see him as high-handed and unwilling to accept responsibility for what has gone wrong in Iraq. A former Bush Administration official described a recent meeting between Rumsfeld and four-star generals and admirals at a military commanders' conference, on a base outside Washington, that, he was told, went badly. The commanders later told General Pace that "they didn't come here to be lectured by the Defense Secretary. They wanted to tell Rumsfeld what their concerns were." A few of the officers attended a subsequent meeting between Pace and Rumsfeld, and were unhappy, the former official said, when "Pace did not repeat any of their complaints. There was disappointment about Pace." The retired four-star general also described the commanders' conference as "very fractious." He added, "We've got twenty-five hundred dead, people running all over the world doing stupid things, and officers outside the Beltway asking, 'What the hell is going on?' "

Rumsfeld has a natural ally in the administration:

"Rumsfeld and Cheney are the pushers on this--they don't want to repeat the mistake of doing too little," the government consultant with ties to Pentagon civilians told me. "The lesson they took from Iraq is that there should have been more troops on the ground--an impossibility in Iran", because of the overextension of American forces in Iraq--"so the air war in Iran will be one of overwhelming force."

The diplomatic approaches toward Iran with our European and United Nations colleagues may have limited utility according to Hersh:

Several current and former officials I spoke to expressed doubt that President Bush would settle for a negotiated resolution of the nuclear crisis. A former high-level Pentagon civilian official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the government, said that Bush remains confident in his military decisions. The President and others in the Administration often invoke Winston Churchill, both privately and in public, as an example of a politician who, in his own time, was punished in the polls but was rewarded by history for rejecting appeasement. In one speech, Bush said, Churchill "seemed like a Texan to me. He wasn't afraid of public-opinion polls. . . . He charged ahead, and the world is better for it."

As usual with American policy in the Middle East, there is the hidden hand.

Israeli intelligence, however, has also failed to provide specific evidence about secret sites in Iran, according to current and former military and intelligence officials. In May, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Washington and, addressing a joint session of Congress, said that Iran "stands on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons" that would pose "an existential threat" to Israel...But at a secret intelligence exchange that took place at the Pentagon during the visit, the Pentagon consultant said, "what the Israelis provided fell way short" of what would be needed to publicly justify preventive action...

The issue of what to do, and when, seems far from resolved inside the Israeli government. Martin Indyk, a former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, who is now the director of the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy, told me, "Israel would like to see diplomacy succeed, but they're worried that in the meantime Iran will cross a threshold of nuclear know-how--and they're worried about an American military attack not working. They assume they'll be struck first in retaliation by Iran." Indyk added, "At the end of the day, the United States can live with Iranian, Pakistani, and Indian nuclear bombs--but for Israel there's no Mutual Assured Destruction. If they have to live with an Iranian bomb, there will be a great deal of anxiety in Israel, and a lot of tension between Israel and Iran, and between Israel and the U.S."

The officials that spoke to Hersh wanted to get across the point that all is not well at the top of the defense establishment, the military holds a more realistic viewpoint than the administration, and that action in Iran is looming.

If the talks do break down, and the Administration decides on military action, the generals will, of course, follow their orders; the American military remains loyal to the concept of civilian control. But some officers have been pushing for what they call the "middle way," which the Pentagon consultant described as "a mix of options that require a number of Special Forces teams and air cover to protect them to send into Iran to grab the evidence so the world will know what Iran is doing." He added that, unlike Rumsfeld, he and others who support this approach were under no illusion that it could bring about regime change. The goal, he said, was to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Even if the "world" did know what Iran was doing (i.e. building a nuclear bomb), what makes the U.S. military think the world would be on the side of a U.S. pre-emptive strike?

Common sense tells me that the Iranians would be crazy *not* to be trying to build a nuclear bomb.. It seems to have kept Pakistan and N. Korea safe... If the Isralies can't live with it... too bad... Their logic (and the fact that they have nuclear wepons) boggles my mind...

-- I wonder how much death and destruction the world will take before it wakes up to the utter crazyness of a foreign policy of flamboyant aggression... (With respect to the middle east it's like trying to put out a fire by pouring gasoline on it... The Iraq fiasco has created thousands of "terrorists" that didn't exist before...)

-- and finally, Bush thinks he's Churchill?? Churchill DID NOT lead a pre-emptive strike against Germany to the best of my knowledge ... why don't some of those Generals point that out to GWB? I think that's an important point. Bush will be remembered in the history books -- but he will be reviled and not revered.


P.S. what an amazing guy S. Hersh is!!

7/03/2006 12:22 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


Bush is a psychpath, and surrounds himself with people who indulge his insanity to further their own usually nefarious agendas.

It is hilarious how Bush identifies with Churchill. Nobody has had the nerve to tell him that World War II hastened the collapse of the British Empire.

As Santayana famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Might be apropos Bush and his Churchill fixation.

7/03/2006 12:49 PM  

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