Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Foggy Bottom Hawks, Pentagon Doves

Are the American armed services trying to keep us out of another World War, and more importantly, are they failing? Recently, it has been State Department and White House officials, and not military leaders, who have been beating the war drums on Iran and Syria. The Pentagon higher-ups, in fact, have become the diplomats arguing for restraint. One remarkable example is the appearance by General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on Fareed Zakaria's Sunday morning CNN show on Feb. 19th. The program began with a long introduction by Zakaria, a former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, who compared Israel's current perception of Iran as an irrational rouge state bent on military domination to American demonization of the USSR in the early years of the Cold War, a view Zakaria paints as incorrect because of the power of deterrence. Then he drops a political bomb, at least for CNN's Sunday morning standards, "And, remember, Israel has 250 nuclear bombs, many on submarines, to ensure that Tehran realizes it would be mutually assured destruction. And while the Iranian regime is often called crazy, it has done much less to merit that term than did a regime such as Mao's China."
       With this political stage set, one where Israel has nuclear weapons and Iran is led by a government that does not want to kill its own citizens, out trotted Dempsey, America's highest ranking military official.  What did the Pentagon's man have to say? Well for one, Iran is a "rational actor" that has "not decided that  they will embark on the effort to weaponize their nuclear capability."  And that "it's not prudent" for Israel to attack Iran.  On the Syrian front, Dempsey emphasized that the Syrian opposition shouldn't be armed because at this point, "I would challenge anyone to clearly identify for me the opposition movement in Syria." He continued on to describe the prospect of intervening in Syria as "very difficult," not least due to the Syrian Army, which he called "very capable." "They have a very sophisticated, integrated air defense system, for example. They have chemical and biological weapons. Now, they haven't demonstrated any interest or any intent to use those, but it is a very different military problem," said Dempsey, not sounding like a General who was eager to lead any march on Damascus.
       In fact, Dempsey was repeating some of the same messages that top military intelligence leaders had just delivered to Congress.  On Feb. 16th Generals James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, and Ronald Burgess, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Burgess stated that Iran was "unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict or launch a preemptive attack," and that Syria similar to American ally Yemen, stuck "in a stalemate" between a "cohesive but embattled regime," and a "fractured opposition" that has "yet to either coalesce into forces capable of overthrowing the regime or convince the majority of the population they are a viable alternative."  He also described Syria's military as a "viable, cohesive, and effective force," that is "acquiring sophisticated weapons systems such as advanced surface-to-air and coastal defense missiles," as well as possessing "a stockpile of CW weapons that can be delivered by aircraft or ballistic missiles."  General Clapper, in his testimony, added on that the U.S. intelligence community believes that Al Qaeda in Iraq had "infiltrated the opposition groups" in Syria.  Again, two more top officers who don't sound like they want any part of a Western intervention in Iran or Syria.
      Last November, John H. John, a retired Army general and National Defense University professor, wrote an op-ed of similar theme in The New York Times, calling out the Republican primary candidates, and the war hawks in general, for being over-belligerent on Iran without asking any of needed questions, and without listening to the opionon of the Armed Forces:
The problem with these arguments is that they flatly ignore or reject outright the best advice of America’s national security leadership. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gatesretired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, former congressman Admiral Joe Sestak and former CENTCOM Commander General Anthony Zinni are only a few of the many who have warned us to think carefully about the repercussions of attacking Iran. Two months ago, Sestak put it bluntly: “A military strike, whether it’s by land or air, against Iran would make the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion look like a cakewalk with regard to the impact on the United States’ national security.
Now, compare this to the any batch of recent statements coming out of the State Department. Concerning the advancement of Iran's civilian nuclear enrichment program, Clinton recently said that it "demonstrates the Iranian regime's blatant disregard for its responsibilities and that the country's growing isolation is self-inflicted (1/11/12)." Concerning the U.S. pullout from Iraq, which was essentially forced by Shia leader and Iranian confidant Moqtada al-Sadr's popularity, Clinton tried to prop up any lingering American claims on Iraq, stating "no one should miscalculate our commitment to Iraq, most particularly Iran (10/23/11)." Are these statements towards a "rational actor" with an IAEA inspected nuclear program, one who is "unlikely to provoke a conflict" in the view of the DIA?  Or are these statements, that as General John put it, "flatly ignore or reject outright the best advice" of the National security leadership?
         This phenomenon could have a number of different implications.  For one, the U.S. military has not risked its reputation on even a middle-level military power since perhaps the Korean War.  The Vietnam War was fought against guerillas, albeit one armed from abroad, while the first American invasion of Iraq followed an eight year war between Iraq and Iran that sapped much of Baghdad's military strength.  The bombings in Kosovo in the 1990's were precipitated by the breakup first of the Warsaw Pact and then Yugoslavia, negating any type of state resistance, the post 9/11 invasion of Afghanistan was again against a guerilla force, and by 2003 Iraq was a shell of its former military self, unable to rebuild after the first Gulf War and the subsequent sanctions and no-fly zones.  WMD were famously nowhere to be found.
     The Pentagon's MO is to fight limited wars against far inferior military targets.  The notion of taking on Syria, or shudder to think, Iran, must have the military leadership quaking in their boots.  Both are well armed, backed by foreign powers like Russia (who's only Mediterranean Naval port sits in Syria), and have an army closely allied to the leader.  
      Another interesting problem is to think of this in relation the drive to war against against Iraq in 2002-2003.  Then, many of the conspirators were in the Pentagon, notably at the top civilian leadership positions, while it was the State Department that was thought to have nominal opposition, or to have been bureaucratically left out of the loop.  During that time, few Pentagon officials, whether in uniform or not, tried to throw any obstacles in the way of the war path.  It was not until the later Bush years that the military began to put roadblocks between Cheney and his fantasies of world wide regime change.
     Now, with the Pentagon's global reach pulled taut by a flailing stalemate of a war in Afghanistan, a retreat from Iraq, and a repositioning of forces in Asia, they are loathe to plan and wage another war against a strong military power with stronger allies.  But it seems the blue sky thinking has just moved across town to Foggy Bottom.

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