Inman Worried About Gulf Incident

The recent escalation of the Pentagon’s rhetoric against Iran and its alleged “increasingly lethal and malign influence” in Iraq, as Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, put it, has created new concerns about a possible military conflict before the end of the Bush administration, concerns fanned, as well, by the president’s own assertion during his press conference Tuesday that this week’s briefing on the Syrian reactor destroyed by Israel last September was designed in part to “send a message to Iran and the world for that matter about just how destabilizing a nuclear proliferation would be in the Middle East.”

While the saber-rattling, particularly from Pentagon chief Robert Gates and Mullen, who until recently had consistently downplayed prospects for war with Iran, was indeed disturbing, less-noticed was a follow-up statement by the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, Geoff Morrell, on Wednesday. “I just want to be abundantly clear that there are no new directives, there are no new plans in the works, there is no new effort to prepare for a possible war with Iran,” he said. While that naturally has to be taken with a grain of salt, it’s also worth noting that ret. Adm. Bob Inman, a former deputy CIA director who is close to Gates, told reporters in a teleconference sponsored by Public Agenda this week that he was quite confident that Bush administration would maintain its second-term emphasis on diplomacy to its end, and that conflict with any country before then was very unlikely.

He did add this one caveat, however: “My only worry would be an [Iranian Revolutionary Guard attack] on a ship in the Gulf, and I think that could turn things upside down pretty quickly.” I believe that observation reflects Gates’ concerns as well and is another reminder of how he and ret. Adm. Fallon had pushed the White House unsuccessfully for authorization to pursue an “incidents-at-sea” agreement with Tehran precisely to prevent an incident from getting out of hand. In that connection, Christopher Dickey’s recent article in Newsweek about the dangers of such a conflict is particularly timely.

If that is the most likely scenario at this point for an eventual U.S.-Iranian conflict, you can imagine how easy it would be for a third party with an interest in such a war actually taking place precipitating an incident that could set off the desired escalation. A quite logical candidate is al-Qaeda which, according to Bruce Reidel, a former top CIA and NSC analyst on the Near East and South Asia, would be ecstatic over a U.S.-Iran war. He published an important article, “Al Qaeda Strikes Back,” on this theme a year ago in ‘Foreign Affairs’ in which he argued that Osama bin Laden and his cohorts were almost certainly trying to figure out to how to “[trigger] an all-out war between the United States and Iran,” and, of course, al-Qaeda itself has become increasingly shrill in its denunciations of Tehran of late. Nor is al-Qaeda the only player in the region with such an interest….

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. The irresponsible rhetoric on all sides (from politicians like Netanyahu, Ahmadinejad, Bush, Cheney, Lieberman, McCain, Clinton, and from innumerable hate-pandering spokesmen for various religions) risks a conflict by mistake. Indeed, the failure of these extremists to admit and discuss ways to mitigate this risk constitutes one of their greatest moral lapses. The extent of the risk that a third party might trick the U.S. and Iran into a war is one of the key questions (see that war-advocates need to answer.

  2. Jim, I’ve been saying since 2006 that there will be no war with Iran during the remainder of Bush’s term. Inman’s now saying the same thing. So rest assured, it’s not gonna happen.

    Hillary of course has said that, as president, she would “obliterate” Iran if it attacked Israel with nukes. But then she isn’t going to be the next president. Obama, at some point after he takes office, will do a Nixon-to-China with Iran. The logic of the situation in the region, combined with the decline of our power (so reminiscent of the situation we faced in the 1970s, following our unsuccessful intervention in SE Asia), make this all but inevitable. Of course, it would be easier for someone with McCain’s background to pull it off. But I think the realities are such that the country will come to accept it, as it accepted detente with China. China was demonized for twenty years before Nixon changed course; Iran has been demonized for nearly thirty. But people will welcome peace and lower gas prices, no matter how loudly the neocons squeal.

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