George W. Bush’s CIA Director Cautions Against Iran Attack

The GOP primary races — and the candidates’ efforts to one-up each others’ hawkishness on Iran — often dominates the foreign policy headlines, but a growing number of U.S. and Israeli officials are expressing reservations over the possibility of a military confrontation with Iran. The latest official to add their voice is George W. Bush’s CIA director and NSA chief Gen. Michael Hayden.

Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin reports that Hayden, while speaking yesterday at the Center for the National Interest, told a small group:

When we talked about this in the government, the consensus was that [attacking Iran] would guarantee that which we are trying to prevent — an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret.

Hayden, reports Rogin, told the audience that the Bush administration concluded that without a military occupation of Iran, a military campaign would be counterproductive.


Hayden’s misgivings about a airstrikes come the same week that Colin Kahl, Obama’s recently retired Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, expressed his own reservations about attacking Iran. He wrote in Foreign Affairs:

[G]iven the high costs and inherent uncertainties of a strike, the United States should not rush to use force until all other options have been exhausted and the Iranian threat is not just growing but imminent. Until then, force is, and should remain, a last resort, not a first choice.

And on Tuesday, Former CIA acting director John McLaughlin told an audience that attacking Iran “would be a very bad option.”

Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said this week that what the IAEA knows about Iran’s nuclear program “suggests the development of nuclear weapons” and vowed to “alert the world” about program’s military dimensions. And the Chinese came out forcefully against Iran, warning that it does not tolerate a course toward nuclear weapons. “China adamantly opposes Iran developing and possessing nuclear weapons,” Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said.

Britain, China, France, Russia, Germany and the United States offered new negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program. “We are waiting for the Iranian reaction,” said a spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.


At the same time, a growing number of retired U.S. defense and intelligence officials, combined with twelve of the 18 living former heads of the three Israeli security branches, are expressing reservations about the rush towards military action against Iran.

Congress and GOP presidential candidates might find short-term political benefits in hawkish rhetoric and turning the discussion “into a political debate and one -upmanship,” as Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) warned on Wednesday, but officials in both Washington and Tel Aviv are expressing strongly worded concerns about the potential dangers of a military strike.