If There Was Any Doubt about Where the Pentagon Stands on Iran

It was dispelled Wednesday by Adm. Mike Mullen, who repeatedly made clear that he opposes an attack on Iran — whether by Israel or his own forces — and, moreover, favors dialogue with Tehran. While various media have printed or run excerpts of his press conference, I think it might be useful to post virtually all of his remarks regarding Iran just to illustrate how clear he was:

[In his opening statement, he says] “I will say this, however: My position with regard to the Iranian regime hasn’t changed. They remain a destabilizing factor in the region, and that’s evident and actually more evident when one visits. But I’m convinced a solution still lies in using other elements of national power to change Iranian behavior, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure. There is a need for better clarity, even dialogue at some level.”

[In response to a question about his discussions with his counterpart in Israel during his recent visit there, he says] “Certainly, the concern about Iran continues to exist. And you talk about the nuclear threat. And I believe they’re still on a path to get to nuclear weapons and I think that’s something that needs to be deterred. They are — and I talk about my time up on the border. They are very involved with Syria, very involved with Hezbollah, supporting Hamas. And so the network that they support is also a very dangerous one and a very destabilizing one.”

[Asked about what the consequences of an Israeli strike on Iran and how the Iranians would react, he says] “Well, I …don’t want to speculate in that regard. Clearly, there is a very broad concern about the stability level — the overall stability level in the Middle East. I’ve been pretty clear before that from the United States’ perspective, the United States’ military perspective in particular, that opening up a third front right now would be extremely stressful on us. That doesn’t mean we don’t have capacity or reserve, but that would really be very challenging. And also the consequences of that sometimes are very difficult to predict.

“So I think that, you know, just about every move in that part of the world is a high-risk move. And that’s why I think it’s so important that the international piece, the financial piece, the diplomatic piece, the economic piece be brought to bear with a level of intensity that resolves this.”

[Asked whether he was suggesting that an Israeli attack would drag the U.S. into a military confrontation with Iran, he says] “I’m not specifically again speculating about what the consequences of any action would be. It is a very, very broad, and what has been enduring for a while, concern about the instability in that part of the world. And destabilizing acts, destabilizing events are of great concern to me.”

“…I’m really very focused on trying to inject as much stability in that part of the world. And it is my view that Iran is at the center of what is unstable in that part of the world. And it reaches all the way, you know, from Tehran to Beirut.”

[After insisting that U.S. forces could prevent Iran from closing the Straits of Hormuz at least for any sustained period, Mullen is asked to elaborate on what he meant by the need for dialogue and whether it includes military-to-military talks.] “No, I’ve — when I talk about dialogue — actually, I would say very broadly, across the entirety of our government and their government, but specifically that would … need to be led, obviously, politically and diplomatically. And if it then resulted in a military-to-military dialogue, I think that part of it certainly could add to a better understanding about each other. But I’m really focused on the diplomatic aspect.”

“…We haven’t had much of a dialogue with the Iranians for a long time, and I think if I were just to take the high stakes that …I just talked about a minute ago, part of the results of that engagement or lack of engagement, I think, is there. But as has been pointed out more than once, it takes two people to want to have a dialogue, not just the desire on one part.”

[Asked whether he’s saying there’s a need for dialogue between the United States government and the Iranian government, he says] “…I think it’s a broad dialogue. I think it would cover the full spectrum of international — and it could very well certainly cover the dialogue between us as well.”

Mullen is actually going further in calling for dialogue than former Centcom Commander Adm. William “Fox” Fallon did. And note that there’s no mention of the current precondition, that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment. His opposition to any attack by Israel is really quite explicit.

Now, the question is, why did Mullen, who clearly enjoys the backing of his boss, Pentagon chief Robert Gates, go as far as he went in his remarks? Is it simply an effort to tamp down rising tensions (and oil prices) set off the threats and counter-threats of the last few weeks, as even the White House seemed inclined to do, particularly in the wake of Israel’s well-advertised exercises last month and the publication of Sy Hersh’s New Yorker article over the weekend? Does it reflect real concern that Israel may indeed be preparing to attack unilaterally or that the hawks are gaining ground in their push for an attack before the the administration leaves office? Or does it reflect confidence that the realists are in control and that now, particularly in light of indications this past week that the Iranians may be prepared to conditionally accept the latest 5+1 offer, is the moment to push for serious engagement? I think it’s still too early to tell, but the message behind these remarks is pretty clear: the Pentagon brass are firmly opposed to military action.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. I’m hopeful that when last year, Bush/Cheney gained and then lost control of a few nukes of their own; they lost as well their ability to start another WAR unilaterally.

  2. Although it should never been assumed that those in a position of responsibility, act responsibly, General Mullen has. However, he is not “the decision maker” and we are not safe yet.

    Given the irrationality and suspicious incidents of the last seven years, anything remains possible. Messianic fantasies are still quite possible.

    Few seem aware or interested in history. The Israelis are crazy and have forged something of state for only sixty years and only with enormous outside help. They have managed to transform the greatest moral commitment of the 20th century into puerile atavistic national sophistry managing Bantustans.

    The Iranian civilization has existed for six millennia and has done very well managing its own world. Equally crazy, but in quite a different way, they have embarked on their own fantasy but one which for all purposes, is internal.

    One is based on paranoia, external control and expansion. The other is based on and lost in the abyss of idealistic catharism.

    The only rational course for the US is to leave both alone as much as possible.

  3. Good to hear from Admiral Mullen that war is currently not on the Pentagon’s agenda, but his speech is full of the official U.S. view of Iran, about which I never cease to be amazed.
    It’s as if rational thought is suspended when they look at the Middle East. So many times they appear suprised by developments, which, with the application of a modicum of common sense at the outset should have been fairly obvious. They pushed for elections in Gaza and the West Bank, where Hamas was always going to do well( Palestinians knew them as the party who helped with social programmes at a local level, and were not seen as corrupt). But their victory came as a surprise to the U.S. and they had no plan to deal with it, except threats.
    Iran is not a destabilising influence on the region, it’s not in their interests to be. It would be like wanting to live in a street where every house around you is full of dysfunctional families.
    They have been trying to engage in dialogue for years and rejoin the international community but are continually rebuffed at the behest of the U.S.
    Hezbollah and Hamas are the products of aggression (both actual and perceived) by Israel on Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories. Both parties enjoy widespread support within their own communities. Also they do not look to export their activities away from their area of grievance – Israel.
    So although it’s good to hear Admiral Mullen’s words, things are unlikely to move forward until there is a fundimental shift in U.S. thinking.

  4. I tend to agree with Robert. It does not matter what the Pentagon thinks. The Bush, Cheney, Neo-con and Israel lobby knows very well that it is the invasion that is the most important move. Once the US troupes are committed, no matter what ever the American, budget, trade, manpower and moral deficit, no future administration would dare to pull out of Iran. Can you not see Barak Obama already changing his tune over the US troop withdrawal from Iraq? Do not just start celebrating over what Pentagon or CIA say. They have learnt from Iraq and are no longer willing to carry the can when things go belly up again.

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