Earlier this year, the Bush administration deployed a second Navy group carrier into the Persian Gulf. Vice President Cheney referred to the move as an attempt to send a “strong signal” about the administration’s commitment to confronting Iran.
In February, Newsweek reported that the Bush administration was planning to ratchet up the pressure even further by deploying a third carrier group into the Gulf. Hillary Mann, the administration’s former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs, warned that some Bush advisers secretly wanted an excuse to attack Iran. “They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for,” she told Newsweek.
IPS reported yesterday that the administration’s attempt to send the third carrier group was vetoed by the new head of the U.S. Central Command Admiral William Fallon:
Admiral William Fallon, then President George W. Bush’s nominee to head the Central Command (CENTCOM), expressed strong opposition in February to an administration plan to increase the number of carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf from two to three and vowed privately there would be no war against Iran as long as he was chief of CENTCOM.
Fallon’s resistance to the proposed deployment of a third aircraft carrier was followed by a shift in the Bush administration’s Iran policy in February and March away from increased military threats and toward diplomatic engagement with Iran. That shift, for which no credible explanation has been offered by administration officials, suggests that Fallon’s resistance to a crucial deployment was a major factor in the intra-administration struggle over policy toward Iran.
One source said Fallon sent a memo that “insisted there was no military requirement for” for an additional carrier. Fallon private conveyed around the time of his confirmation hearing that an attack on Iran “will not happen on my watch.” IPS notes, “Fallon’s refusal to support a further naval buildup in the Gulf reflected his firm opposition to an attack on Iran and an apparent readiness to put his career on the line to prevent it.”
While Fallon’s message may have affected the deployment of another Navy carrier, it didn’t stop Vice President Cheney from finding other ways to issue symbolic acts of provocation against Iran. Last week, Cheney stood aboard one of the two carriers currently in the Gulf and warned Iran that the U.S. was prepared to use its naval power to keep Tehran from disrupting off oil routes or “gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region.”