November 12, 2007

Admiral Fallon: Let Diplomacy Take Its Course

Admiral William Fallon, the commander of CENTCOM, throws some cold water on hard-Left conspiracy theories and hard-Right wishes. He tells the Financial Times that CENTCOM has not plotted imminent attacks on Iran, and thinks that the rumors abounding on the subject do not help the diplomatic efforts on which the Bush administration has concentrated (via Memeorandum):

The Pentagon is not preparing a pre-emptive attack on Iran in spite of an increase in bellicose rhetoric from Washington, according to senior officers.

Admiral William Fallon, head of Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, told the Financial Times that while dealing with Iran was a “challenge”, a strike was not “in the offing”.

“None of this is helped by the continuing stories that just keep going around and around and around that any day now there will be another war which is just not where we want to go,” he said.

“Getting Iranian behaviour to change and finding ways to get them to come to their senses and do that is the real objective. Attacking them as a means to get to that spot strikes me as being not the first choice in my book.”

Adm Fallon did not rule out the possibility of a strike at some point. But his comments served as a shot across the bows of hawks who are arguing for imminent action. They also echoed the views of the senior brass that military action is currently unnecessary, and should only be considered as an absolute last resort.

Top military analysts worry that the idea of a limited strike suffers from far too much optimism. It assumes that the strikee won't expand the theater of war after an attack, which seems more than just overoptimistic but extends to the absurd. In the first Gulf War, Saddam Hussein launched several Scud missiles into Israel in order to produce a regional war. The US managed to keep Israel from responding, but if Iran had Hezbollah initiate attacks across the northern border, that would be almost impossible to even ask of Israel.

Fallon doesn't appear to be talking out of school, either. The US has just released nine Iranians from custody, suspected members of the terrorist al-Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, in exchange for an agreement to stop arming militias in Iraq. That agreement may have helped reduce the number of attacks in Baghdad and the south in recent weeks, as Americans continue to discover arms caches at higher rates. While maintaining its hard-line rhetoric, the White House appears to be pushing the diplomatic path vigorously, including with tough economic sanctions.

This news will not make some conservatives happy -- but it should. We can hardly afford to expand the shooting war outside of Iraq at the moment, nor should we do so except in the last extremity. Iran is not Iraq. It's much larger, with a terrain that negates many of our military advantages, similar to that in neighboring Pakistan and Afghanistan. Their military has not had the same degradation that Saddam Hussein's suffered in twelve years of no-fly zones and neglect.

We have to leave the military option on the table to have diplomacy taken seriously by our enemies, and make no mistake, the Iranian mullahcracy is an enemy of the US. That being said, we can't simply expect to have even the most surgical of strikes go unanswered, and a shooting war with Iran will have grave implications for Iraq, especially in the Shi'ite south. We need to solidify our gains in Iraq before looking for another adventure -- and we need to act in the best interests of our nation while ensuring that we don't make the Middle East exponentially more explosive than it already is. Admiral Fallon offers some excellent advice in this instance.


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Comments (29)

Posted by Joe E | November 12, 2007 10:23 AM

The Admiral is correct. The ultimate end of the Nation should be one of behavior modification. War (even limited strikes) should be one of the last tools in the box that we grab for. Particularly when one understands the dynamics of a regional conflict. Thanks for all of the hard work Captain, and happy Veterans day to all those who serve.

Joe E
(fmr. USAF)

Posted by Otter | November 12, 2007 10:26 AM

Captain, Hush! You can't let on that the White House has actually been indulging in Negotiations with Iran over the past 7 years!

That would go against everything the Left believes to be the case. Right Karol?

Posted by G. Moore | November 12, 2007 10:28 AM

This post certainly wanders, and it perhaps suffers from an assumption that at least some "conservatives" want war. I doubt that anyone "wants" war with Iran.

The statement "We have to leave the military option on the table to have diplomacy taken seriously by our enemies," if it's true, would seem to have the effect of taking the military option off the table. If it's there simply to leverage talks, then you have let the cat out of the bag, and it is no longer useful as a lever.

The more Iran thinks we won't use force, the less inclined it will be to cooperate, and the admiral's comments would seem to be self-defeating.

Our dealings with Iran remind me of a poorly written soap opera. When are the adults going to take over?

Posted by quickjustice | November 12, 2007 10:38 AM

Actually, since the 1979 takeover of our embassy in Iran, combined with the humiliating seizure of our diplomats as hostages by the extremist mullah regime as the impotent Jimmy Carter stewed in the rose Garden, we've imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions against Iran. Those sanctions have been effective, and Iranian oil production is plummeting.

Right now, it's a waiting game. The Iranian economy will implode within the next couple of years, taking down the mullah regime without a war. The question is, will that happen before the mullahs get the bomb? If not, use of military force may become necessary to prevent such an outcome. Let's hope we don't have to go there.

Posted by Jazz | November 12, 2007 11:06 AM

Poor Ed. You're going to have your Right Wingnuthouse entry pass revoked for spewing common sense like this.

Posted by mrlynn | November 12, 2007 11:09 AM

Everything depends on the pace of Iran's uranium-enrichment operation. Whenever it gives them enough material for even one bomb, then we and/or the Israelis will have to take out their nuclear facilities. Then we will probably have to take out their air force and navy, prevent them from attacking Iraq or Israel (via Syria and Lebanon) on the ground. It's a pretty big deal, so it makes sense to hold off as long as we safely can.

This judgement depends entirely on the quality of our intelligence. Do we have excellent on-the-ground intelligence? I sure hope so. It was sorely lacking in the run-up to the Iraq campaign, so it better not be lacking now.

/Mr Lynn

Posted by SteveMG | November 12, 2007 11:21 AM

Adm. Fallon just put on a big sandwich board that reads, "Iran, We Want To Talk, Call Us". Apparently, Iran has pulled its Qods forces from Iraq as well.

Quids and quos with the qods (go ahead, steal this line).

Anyway, something more than just a kabuki dance is taking place (kabuki, sandwich boards, metaphor mixing alert).

Add this to Sec. Rice's recent statement that if Iran stops - stops - its enrichment program, we would talk with them at high levels, anywhere at anytime.

There is zero chance - barring something unknown - that the Bush Administration will take military action against Iran.

Unfortunately, as is obvious, if Iran knows the military stick is off the table, then they'll harden their position.

Something's happening behind the scenes.


Posted by Otter | November 12, 2007 11:22 AM

Poor Jazz. This is Total Common Sense to people on the Right, including Joe Lieberman.

Posted by John Steele | November 12, 2007 11:45 AM

The Iranians have been at war with the US and the West since 1979. "No one wants war" is not necessarily true; no one in the West wants war, that does not mena that the Iranians don't. Avoiding military action is a pipedream. The Iranians will get the bomb long before the regime is in danger of collapse or replacement. Not all of us will live to regret not dealing with it when we could.

Posted by Allen | November 12, 2007 11:49 AM

I do not agree with you. We can quite easily attack Iran without much response from them. Surgical strikes against not only their Nuclear Facilities, but also their fuel lines and fuel stores. We would destroy their entire air force in two days, and block almost all avenues of attack by destroying roads and bridges, thus cutting off any tanks and artillary. Since we will not ahve to OCCUPY the nation, we would not be that bad off.

Posted by Michael Volpe | November 12, 2007 12:10 PM

I believe that Iran can be brought down peacefully, however I am not seeing the sort of tough coercive diplomatic action that is necessary. If people were serious about dealing tough with Iran diplomatically, there would be no outside ambassadors still in Tehran. Why are there foreign ambassadors there, if they are developing nukes. They need and can be cut off and isolated, however not if we isolate them and the rest of the world engages. Why are foreign companies continuing to do business in Iran if this country is on the brink of getting nukes?

I came up with a three point plan that can if implemented bring the regime down strictly diplomatically. No one should be hoping for war. War is not inevitable however we all must also realize the nature of the beast we are dealing with. We aren't going to avoid war by playing nice either.

When I see the British, French, German, and Italian ambassadors all on a plane home from Iran, then I will know the world is serious about dealing with Iran peacefully. As long as we hear the nonsense we have, then war is the only option.

Posted by chickendove | November 12, 2007 12:22 PM

Cap'n, I'm sure Victor Hanson would have something to say about neglecting to notify our enemies of our eminently reasonable expectations. Our wishes, our resources, and our desire for perfect timing timing are sure to have very little impact on Iranian actions -- in fact they'll likely exacerbate them, for the precise reason that we thus give the impression of being considerably overstretched (whether we are or not, though with the Air Force sitting on the tarmac I find this somewhat unpersuasive). Please make sure the Iranians get the memo about our political and military needs and limitations, and let me know their response forthwith. No doubt they'll happily schedule their nuclear program and terrorist activities according to our request.

Posted by The Mechanical Eye | November 12, 2007 12:45 PM

Please make sure the Iranians get the memo about our political and military needs and limitations, and let me know their response forthwith.

Oy, its always 1938 somewhere.

Believe me, Iran has no need for us to remind them of our military and political limitations. Its obvious to anyone with half a brain.

Forget what an overrated classics professor thinks, I'm more interested in what a commander of CENTCOM considers as actual options. What people like you forget, and what apparently Morrissey understands, is that not everyone in Iran is an apocalyptic theocrat or a cynical fearmonger -- there are more economically-oriented people even in the Islamic Republic, who'd like at least a respite from endless tension and an opportunity to take more advantage of high oil prices. By giving them an opportunity we can ease our troubles in Iraq without resorting to largely pointless bombing campaigns.

Even your sainted Churchill preferred jaw-jaw to war-war.


Posted by mrlynn | November 12, 2007 12:57 PM

I suspect Admiral Fallon has been sent out to dampen some of the left-wing hysterical pronouncements that the recent anti-Iran resolution passed by Congress was an endorsement of a new war.

I hope it has nothing to do with what's actually going on behind the scenes. Surely the Pentagon is working on contingency plans for attacking Iran's nuclear facilities and military infrastructure. If not, they wouldn't be doing their job.

In the meantime, I like Michael Volpe's idea of disinvestment from Iran. Let's start with major pro-terrorist universities, like Harvard.

/Mr Lynn

Posted by Carol.Herman | November 12, 2007 1:38 PM

The saud's want us to attack!


It's their biggest threat!

That's why, now, you hear the Saud's "wanting to go nuclear." Ditto, Eygpt and Jordan. As if giving arabs nukes makes sense for much.

In other words? Bush actually opened the door to the apocalypse. Soon, it's possible Musharraf will be gone from Pakistan. And, all those lawyers? They'll get killed "good" by the Islamists. Who are intent on "taking over."

Those "Islamists" by the way, have cousins in Dubai. How do I Know this? Right after the big bombing of Bhutto's motorcade, she raced to Dubai. And, was there, when the current shit hit the fan. Having to fly back, again, to Koo-ka-rachy.

Iran, meanwhile, are Shi'a. Ditto, NOW, Irak! Which is why Bush has been working against Maliki. And, the Iraqis, ahead, will stiff us. Why not? It's not safe for Americans to be around.

And, Maliki, sensing Americans who will be left in Irak, will be diplomatics ... decided to tear into Blackwater. Which is the private contractor's group. They shoot back!

If you didn't know Bush now has a full load in his underpants, I can't halp ya out.

But instead of seeing just the "fringe" up in arms; you're seeing a political wind turning many things upside-down.

Here? All the negative screaming about Hillary. And, when her likely voters are polled: NO CHANGE.

Ron Paul. UP in New Hampshire! How'd he do that? Ah. People, during primaries, cast votes to "send messages out loud."

Can't cancel messages out by acting hoity-toity ... like a bunch of sorority sisters; putting down gals who are fat, unkempt. And, not "with the Saks Fifth Avenue" messages. Otherwise known as "dress codes."

What's keeping Hillary's chances alive? Could it be ROE? Well, then, the republicans have only one flavor for sale. Vanilla. I guess if you want to offer soemthing else? You can squeeze some lemon on top. For your "flavor change?"

This stuff's been a long time coming.

Coming, ahead, it is.

As to the Saud's, and how great an evil they are; it's good to see people who are arabs. (As well as other muslems. Lining up against them. Willing to expend their lives.) At the end of the day? The Iraqi oil fields will belong to Iran. And, Mosul, where the Kurd's stay, will belong to Turkey.

Oh, yeah. While Bush becomes famous for his "fwee elections." Freak erections? Don't ask me. This stuff doesn't lead to democracy. Or paradise.

Interesting times, ahead. And, Bush may yet fall flat.

Posted by Hope Muntz | November 12, 2007 1:43 PM

After the Syrian strike, the new thinking at the Pentagon is to let Israel do the dirty work at Natanz and other installations, while we supply them with the tools and logistical support. There are already two aircraft carrier groups in the Gulf with a third on the way to keep the Straits open. Degradation of the Iranian air defenses began several years ago with several well-publicized flyovers and drone tests of their air defense systems--there have also been a record number of "UFO sightings" in Iran the past two years just as there were in Serbia.

Anyone who thinks we won't eventually be drawn into some sort of armed conflict with Iran or its proxies is living in a dream world. Just like they did in 1976. With one big difference--now the Iranian regime has a chorus of ardent defenders here in the US.

Posted by Arnie | November 12, 2007 1:57 PM

Your entire theory rests on the chance of success on the dimplomatic front, which falls between slim (10%) and none. So if we estimate incorrectly, and six months from now they destroy pretty much all of Isreal with a nuclear weapon, or provide one to terrorists, what do we do, say oops? Who do we abandon next, Tiawan?
Bull roar. I say pursue diplomacy with our eyes open to the exceptionally high probability of failure, but be prepared to strike on a moments notice, and perhaps do something to make sure they understand. Like destroy our own embassy, and all the terrorists currently in it.

Posted by John Steele | November 12, 2007 2:16 PM

While I think that Israel will take action on their own if pushed into a corner, they clearly do not have the assets to deal a death blow to the Iranian machine. The Israelis can probably strike the principle nuclear facilities but that leaves the Iranian army, navy and air forces and the IRGC. To deal effectively will take significant air assets, i.e. us.

The Iranians are not going to back down; Not going to happen. All of this diplomatic maneuvering is just some much self-delusion on our part. The Iranians have been playing rope-a-dope with us for years and they are perfectly happy to keep doing it while they crank up the nuclear machine.

Posted by Monkei | November 12, 2007 2:45 PM

I don't believe for a second that this WH is not helping to fuel the rumors!

Posted by Tom W. | November 12, 2007 2:59 PM

I'll never understand why so many people decided that Iran was inviolate. Iran can kill our soldiers, fund international terrorism, persue nuclear weapons, arm Hezbollah and Hamas to attack Israel, harbor al Qaeda...

And the world says we mustn't respond except by treating Iran with respect, sensitivity, and endless offers to negotiate. They chant "Death to america" daily, but if we say that war may be inevitable, good heavens! How "unhelpful"!

We currently face the weakest enemy we've ever fought, but because we now put the well being of the enemy's civilians ahead of the well being of our own troops and civilians, this enemy is making gains that he hasn't even earned.

We've handed him all the victories he's achieved, and we're not done yet.

Iran has never responded to negotiations, but like a dog returning to its own vomit, we'll come back again and again and offer the same failed strategy, expecting that maybe this time it'll work.


Posted by John Steele | November 12, 2007 3:10 PM

Tom W

Spot on!

Posted by mrlynn | November 12, 2007 3:43 PM

President Bush has said we not allow Iran to develop an atomic bomb. But he won't be President after 20Jan09, so the real question may be: what will the next President decide? And if it's Missus Bill Clinton. . .?

The Israelis may not want to wait and find out.

/Mr Lynn

Posted by exhelodrvr | November 12, 2007 3:49 PM

"not preparing a pre-emptive attack on Iran"

Very careful wording. That speaks to getting ready for a specific attack, on a specific day. Much different from "not making contingency plans for a pre-emptive attack on Iran."

Posted by Del Dolemonte | November 12, 2007 4:17 PM

"We must acknowledge once and for all that the purpose of diplomacy is to prolong a crisis."-Starship Enterprise First Officer Spock

"the best diplomacy I know is a fully charged phaser bank." - Starship Enterprise Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott

Posted by Captain Ed | November 12, 2007 4:38 PM

Magic Christian, Psycho Elf, and Gee Whiz are all sockpuppets for the same person. The IP address is the same; so is the writing style. All of their comments have been deleted.

Posted by Math_Mage | November 12, 2007 4:47 PM

Look, people, let's just make one thing clear. Of COURSE they have contingency plans for a pre-emptive attack on Iran. I'm sure they have a contingency plan for a pre-emptive attack on Russia, China, Israel, Zimbabwe...THAT'S THEIR JOB. TO PLAN AHEAD. I would be mad if they didn't. So odds are that statements' the truth. They're not preparing one, they've already got it and they're modifying it as the situation changes. This is a GOOD THING. Having contingency plans does not mean that we're getting ready to use them. Saying that we shouldn't have that plan would be like saying that we shouldn't have prepared a plan for nuking Russia back during the Cold War just in case. Sorry, exhelodrvr, but I'm not seeing what you see here. Diplomacy is still the first priority - that has been made plain.

EDIT: THANKS, CAPTAIN ED. It was getting a little hard to think with all the screeching that guy was doing.

Posted by Jose | November 12, 2007 5:11 PM

Fallon has been pooing the idea of attacking Iran pretty much since he was made head of Centcom. He even intimated that he'd resign before following through such an order and that he was working to put the "crazies" (which is a term for neocons) "back in their box".

Posted by KW64 | November 12, 2007 8:58 PM

The Kos Kids and Carol Herman will never give him any credit but Bush has been on a roll. The Iraq surge worked. North Korea is dismantling its weapons grade nuclear reactor. He has tamped down the Turkey invasion of Iraq threat. Merckle and Sarkozy are making noises of assisting a sanctions regime on Iran even if it means going around the Russian and China blocked Security Council. And wonder of wonders, even Iranian meddling in Iraq and supplying of arms to insurgents seems to be declining.

So I am willing to let his strategy for Iran run without carping at least through the election.

(The Bhutto/Musharraf gambit in Pakistan seems to be unraveling thanks to the Supreme Court there; but it was worth a try and who knows, we may be able to pull something out of it yet.)

Posted by LenS | November 12, 2007 10:39 PM

Nuke them now or nuke them later after they destroy some of our cities. Sadly, we'll wait till the latter happens because our leader lack the courage to make the hard decisions. They couldn't handle the negative press and outrage among the fools who think peace comes from diplomacy. Our Presidents are much too worried about their legacies and reputations. They'll send our troops into battle but no one since Truman has dared to do what it takes to actually win.

Bush etal. foolishly let Pakistan slide after 9/11. They armed and created the Taliban and we rewarded them with favorable treatment instead of crushing them. A diplomacy that relies on one man maintaining his hold on a fractious country. Sheer stupidity worthy of the US State Department.

Peace has always come when one side crushes the other. Kill or absorb your enemy or they'll do it to you.

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