Mullen Reiterates Importance of Engagement with Iran

As noted by Ali on the ThinkProgress blog today, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, appealed yet again for Washington to engage Iran through any channel available in hopes that the two countries will avoid dangerous miscalculations in their relationship. Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace one day after the Wall Street Journal reported that the Pentagon hoped to establish a “hot line” between the two navies (something that former Centcom commander Adm. William “Fox” Fallon had tried to get the Bush administration to approve with professionally fatal consequences), Mullen was asked whether he favored such a link:

MULLEN: We haven’t had a connection with Iran since 1979. Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we had links to the Soviet Union. We are not talking to Iran, so we don’t understand each other. If something happens, it’s virtually assured that we won’t get it right — that there will be miscalculation which would be extremely dangerous in that part of the world. […]

QUESTION: Are you specifically talking about military to military contact, or a broader set of engagement between the two countries?

MULLEN: I’m talking about any channel that’s open. We’ve not had a direct link of communication with Iran since 1979. And I think that has planted many seeds for miscalculation. When you miscalculate, you can escalate and misunderstand. This isn’t about agreeing or disagreeing. […]

My own experience is, it sort of depends on the country what the most effective channels are. Some of them are diplomatic. Some of them are political. Some of them are mil-to-mil. Some of them are economic. But we have not had a clear channel to Iran since 1979.

[…] Any channel would be terrific and I don’t have a preferred one based on what the hopes would be.

This is not the first time that Mullen has spoken in favor of this. As I noted in a July 2008 post, when Mullen had just returned from Israel to make clear to official there that the Bush administration (apparently with the exception of Dick Cheney) opposed an Israeli strike against Iran or even too much talk about it, he spoke to the issue at some length:

“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.”

What is remarkable is that we are now more than three years later, including more than two-and-a-half years into the administration which, despite Obama’s campaign vows, has, as Paul Pillar wrote just last week, never seriously engaged with Tehran. Instead, the talk is all about more and tougher sanctions, which, of course, takes us in the opposite direction and moves us closer to armed conflict.

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. Armed conflict between the U.S. and Iran is possible only if an “incident” occurs in the Gulf. It is indeed remarkable that nothing has been done about this danger in the 3+ years since July 2008 (I too wrote about this, in the October 2008 issue of Liberty — “The Next President and the Next War”). I wonder what all the lefties out there — they who believe that the U.S. military is all-powerful politically — make of the complete lack of success on the part of the nation’s top officer?

  2. There’s a very simple reason why there is no US-Iran engagement: Israel. The pro-Israeli lobby has foisted a false-choice on the US of which consists of either ending Iran’s nuclear program or going to war – no third option is available. Even the term “diplomacy” has been perverted to mean nothing more than continued pressure and sanctions which are themselves intended to lead to war eventually.

    As for “incidents” lets not forget that according to the Newsweek reports, the US Navy was out to manufacture an “incident” in 1981 in order to justify attacking Iran, when they ended up “accidentally” shooting down an Iranian civilian airliner inside Iranian air space (and then tried to blame the event on Iran, claiming – falsely – that the Vincennes was acting in self-defense inside international waters when it fact it was inside Iranian waters.)

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