February 25, 2007

'Commanders' Will Quit If We Attack Iran?

The Times of London set the blogosphere abuzz this morning, reporting that six senior commanders at the Pentagon will quit if the US attacks Iran. The Pentagon, claims their source, has no stomach for a war with the Islamic Republic:

SOME of America’s most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defence and intelligence sources.

Tension in the Gulf region has raised fears that an attack on Iran is becoming increasingly likely before President George Bush leaves office. The Sunday Times has learnt that up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack.

“There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”

A British defence source confirmed that there were deep misgivings inside the Pentagon about a military strike. “All the generals are perfectly clear that they don’t have the military capacity to take Iran on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it and it would be a matter of conscience for them.

First, as McQ at QandO points out, commanders serve in the field, and staff officers serve in the Pentagon. If in fact there exists a coterie of staff officers who will resign rather than follow orders, they are not commanders in the military sense, at least not now. Troops will not be left leaderless. Secondly, there are hundreds if not thousands of staff officers at the Pentagon. The resignation of six will be noteworthy but hardly representative of the morale at the Pentagon, as the Times claims in this piece.

However, those who resign under those circumstances will have taken the honorable route, if they truly do not believe in the mission. Jules Crittenden intimates that this will amount to a de facto desertion, but senior staff officers have no duty to remain in their commissions if they object to the course of action taken by any administration. They have undoubtedly met their commitments to the service in terms of time, and they can disconnect from the Pentagon as they see fit. It's not the only honorable route, and it may well be more honorable to stay and try to convince the political leadership to change course, but staff officer resignations are not desertions and have never been considered as such.

In fact, that was one of the bases of trying Nazi staff officers and military commanders at Nuremberg and elswhere. When they claimed that they had to follow the Fuehrer's orders, the answer was that they had the option -- and in this case, the duty -- to resign rather than commit the crimes they did.

All of which is secondary to the underlying premise that we are about to attack Iran. I find that hard to buy, especially since the Bush administration has taken every opportunity to argue against it. Dick Cheney says the option remains on the table, which it must to maintain a credible deterrent to the Iranian nuclear program, but otherwise the administration has done nothing to build political support for such a move. That lack of preparation clearly indicates that the White House has not embarked on that course, not even preliminarily. All we hear are leaks from various sources that the US has "plans" for an attack on Iran -- which means nothing except that we've gamed the scenario for the sake of being prepared. We probably have 'plans" to invade Russia and China as well.

We cannot attack Iran without gathering many more resources than we did for Iraq. Iran is three times the size of Iraq, and its terrain presents a much higher degree of difficulty than the relatively flat Iraq. Their military, while underresourced, is not in the same dreadful state of readiness that we saw in Iraq. Military strikes on Iran could not wipe out their defenses at the onset of action, and the war would result in a conflagration that would halt oil supplies to the entire world. That's a last-gasp option, and everyone knows it.

Israel might attack Iran, however. Supposedly, they want to get overflight permission from the US to transit Iraqi airspace for an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. Even that is at the preliminary planning stages, in case the Iranians refuse to back away from their nuclear program. The leak is intended as brinksmanship from the Israelis after Ahmadinejad's reckless rhetoric about wiping them off the map. I have no doubt the Israelis would carry out the attack if they deem it necessary, with our without our cooperation, but again, this is just working out the details of plans that have to be made in order to ensure preparedness.

If the US decides to attack Iran, we need to be sure we have people in charge who believe in the mission. Right now, I don't think it's a good idea, and I'm not surprised to find out that some senior staff officers at the Pentagon agree with that.


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