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Officers Versus the Iran War

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"Officers Versus the Iran War"

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Fred Kaplan had an interesting article last week about ongoing discussions among current and retired military officers as to the best response for military professionals concerned that the country may be moving toward a very unwise war with Iran. The only issue I have with the piece is that it follows its military sources in faulting the conduct of the generals’ before the Iraq War. As I’ve pointed out before, all the relevant policymakers and opinion-leaders were well-aware that most (though by no means all) military officers thought the Bush administration’s Iraq policies were misguided — people just didn’t care, there’d been a widespread and successful campaign in the press to convince civilian elites that the career professionals in the military, the foreign service, and the intelligence community were bad sources of advice on policy in the greater Middle East and that we’d be better off relying on the information and analysis provided by conservative think tanks founded by dissidents from the academic and governmental consensus.

All of which is to say that when you read these kind of passages in a newspaper profile of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s views on the world situation, you ought to pay attention and read between the lines a bit:

[Admiral Mike Mullen] rejected the counsel of those who might urge immediate attacks inside Iran to destroy nuclear installations or to stop the flow of explosives that end up as powerful roadside bombs in Iraq or Afghanistan, killing American troops.

With America at war in two Muslim countries, he said, attacking a third Islamic nation in the region “has extraordinary challenges and risks associated with it.” The military option, he said, should be a last resort. [. . .]

“That said, that doesn’t get at the source of it,” he acknowledged. Asked whether the American military should aim at sites inside Iran if intelligence indicated that such interdiction could halt the flow of those bombs, he said “the risks could be very, very high.”

“We’re in a conflict in two countries out there right now,” he added. “We have to be incredibly thoughtful about the potential of in fact getting into a conflict with a third country in that part of the world.”

That’s as far as a person in his job can go toward saying publicly “don’t let the crazy people inside this administration start a war with Iran!” without seriously violating his constitutional role. So don’t say you weren’t warned.

Fred Hiatt & Friends, meanwhile, assure us that George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama all have the same “centrist and sensible” policies on Iran and it’s therefore rude and irresponsible for Obama to suggest that this is an issue voters should consider when voting. Basically, everyone should just calm down and trust the Powers That Be to handle everything properly.

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