Attacking Iran: Will the Generals Mutiny?
According to the Sunday Times, the venerable British paper:
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.”
The question on my mind is why? Why is the military apparently showing reticence on going to war with Iran?
1. Is it because the military has no belief in the mission?
2. Is it because the military has lost faith in the civilian leadership after Iraq?
3. Is it because the military has doubts in its ability to win?
4. Is it because the military does not believe that war is the only choice?
This third question, of course, is the sum total of the first two questions as it depends on the definition of success and the leadership to get you there. In terms of material ability, the US military is the strongest and most able force in the history of mankind. Yes, that we know. But is that all it takes to "win"? Clausewitz took pains to point out that the advantage is with the side with the greatest strength. Yet, even he agreed that the edge can go to the lesser strength if it has the advantage of national will and ingenuity.
As we see in Iraq, military boots, steel and grit is not an automatic path to success.
We also see that if the definition of success is a moving target adjusted with facts on the ground, overall perception is one of failure.
What would be the definition of success in Iran? Would it be putting the nuclear program out of commission? Would it be regime change? Probably both. How can this be attained? John Mearsheimer and others have argued that air power just won't do it on its own. What would US boots on the ground in Iran mean? The occupation of Iraq, which the US is failing at, is a cake walk compared to Iran. At least in Iraq, self-immolation between Sunni and Shia means that less combined focus is on US troop. Iran is different. Iran does not suffer from identity crises. All the rage of the Iranian people will be focused singularly on US troops. Iran is also 3 times the size of Iraq with much more challenging terrain.
Perhaps, the US military recognizes all of this.
That means that the only way to get the wholehearted support of the military is for the situation to be one of no choice. In other words, the US has to have no choice but to go to war with Iran. If the national interest is at risk, it is only then that the generals will lead the charge if asked by the President.
So how can this situation be created?
One way is for the US to continually point to Iranian interference in Iraq as jeopardizing US troop lives. Despite the fact that Iranian involvement has been going on since the US invasion, it is only now that the US is making hay of it. Skeptics can reasonably ask, why now?
However, this tactic does not appear to be garnering a critical mass of support, neither domestically nor in military ranks perhaps because there is a recognition that it is a construed argument.
Thus, the second way is for some cataclysmic event to occur. For example, a terrorist attack which can be linked to Iran may give the US what it needs to strike.
Also possible is a scenario where Israel attacks a nuclear installation in Iran, a redux of 1981 against Iraq, on the basis that Iran poses a threat. Should Iran then rise to the provocation and strike back either directly or through non-state surrogates, the US may then feel it must intervene.
In short, if the war-mongers in the Administration, such as Cheney, are bent on attacking Iran, they will find the way to get the generals behind it, as Iraq has painfully proven. To quote Cheney speaking a few days ago in Australia:
"We worked with the European community and the United Nations to put together a set of policies to persuade the Iranians to give up their aspirations and resolve the matter peacefully, and that is still our preference," Cheney said.
"But I've also made the point, and the president has made the point, that all options are on the table," he said.
"We believe it would be a serious mistake if a nation such as Iran became a nuclear power," he said.