Pentagon officials firmly opposed a proposal
by Vice President Dick Cheney last summer for air strikes against Iranian Revolutionary
Guard Corps (IRGC) bases by insisting that the administration would have to
make clear decisions about how far the United States would go in escalating
the conflict with Iran, according to a former George W. Bush administration
J. Scott Carpenter, who was then deputy assistant secretary of state in the
State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, recalled in an interview
that senior Defense Department (DoD) officials and the Joint Chiefs used the
escalation issue as the main argument against the Cheney proposal.
McClatchy newspapers reported last August that Cheney had proposal several
weeks earlier "launching air strikes at suspected training camps in Iran,"
citing two officials involved in Iran policy.
According to Carpenter, who is now at the Washington Institute on Near East
Policy, a strongly pro-Israel think tank, Pentagon officials argued that no
decision should be made about the limited air strike on Iran without a thorough
discussion of the sequence of events that would follow an Iranian retaliation
for such an attack. Carpenter said the DoD officials insisted that the Bush
administration had to make "a policy decision about how far the administration
would go what would happen after the Iranians would go after our folks."
The question of escalation posed by DoD officials involved not only the potential
of the Mahdi Army in Iraq to attack, Carpenter said, but possible responses
by Hezbollah and by Iran itself across the Middle East.
Carpenter suggested that DoD officials were shifting the debate on a limited
strike from the Iraq-based rationale, which they were not contesting, to the
much bigger issue of the threat of escalation to full-scale war with Iran,
knowing that it would be politically easier to thwart the proposal on that
The former State Department official said DoD "knew that it would be
difficult to get interagency consensus on that question."
The Joint Chiefs were fully supportive of the position taken by Secretary
of Defense Robert Gates on the Cheney proposal, according to Carpenter. "It's
clear that the military leadership was being very conservative on this issue,"
At least some DoD and military officials suggested that Iran had more and
better options for hitting back at the United States than the United States
had for hitting Iran, according to one former Bush administration insider.
Former Bush speechwriter and senior policy adviser Michael Gerson, who had
left the administration in 2006, wrote a column in the Washington Post
July 20, 2007, in which he gave no hint of Cheney's proposal, but referred
to "options" for striking Iranian targets based on the Cheney line
that Iran "smuggles in the advanced explosive devices that kill and maim
Gerson cited two possibilities: "Engaging in hot pursuit against weapon
supply lines over the Iranian border or striking explosives factories and staging
areas within Iran." But the Pentagon and the military leadership were
opposing such options, he reported, because of the fear that Iran has "escalation
dominance" in its conflict with the United States.
That meant, according to Gerson that, "in a broadened conflict, the Iranians
could complicate our lives in Iraq and the region more than we complicate theirs."
Carpenter's account of the Pentagon's position on the Cheney proposal suggests,
however, that civilian and military opponents were saying that Iran's ability
to escalate posed the question of whether the United States was going to go
to a full-scale air war against Iran.
Pentagon civilian and military opposition to such a strategic attack on Iran
had become well-known during 2007. But this is the first evidence from an insider
that Cheney's proposal was perceived as a ploy to provoke Iranian retaliation
that could used to justify a strategic attack on Iran.
The option of attacking nuclear sites had been raised by President Bush with
the Joint Chiefs at a meeting in "the tank" at the Pentagon on Dec.
13, 2006, and had been opposed by the Joint Chiefs, according a report by Time
magazine's Joe Klein last June. After he become head of the Central Command
in March 2007, Adm. William Fallon also made his opposition to such a massive
attack on Iran known to the White House, according Middle East specialist Hillary
Mann, who had developed close working relationships with Pentagon officials
when she worked on the National Security Council staff.
It appeared in early 2007, therefore, that a strike at Iran's nuclear program
and military power had been blocked by opposition from the Pentagon. Cheney's
proposal for an attack on IRGC bases in June 2007, tied to the alleged Iranian
role in providing both weapons especially the highly lethal explosively
formed projectiles (EFPs) and training to Shi'ite militias appears to
have been a strategy for getting around the firm resistance of military leaders
to such an unprovoked attack.
Although the Pentagon bottled up the Cheney proposal in inter-agency discussions,
Cheney had a strategic asset which could he could use to try to overcome that
obstacle: his alliance with Gen. David Petraeus.
As IPS reported earlier this week, Cheney had already used Gen. David Petraeus'
takeover as the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq in early February 2007
to do an end run about the Washington national security bureaucracy to establish
the propaganda line that Iran was manufacturing EFPs and shipping them to the
Mahdi Army militiamen.
Petraeus was also a supporter of Cheney's proposal for striking IRGC targets
in Iran, going so far as to hint in an interview with Fox News last September
that he had passed on to the White House his desire to do something about alleged
Iranian assistance to Shi'ites that would require U.S. forces beyond his control.
At that point, Adm. Fallon was in a position to deter any effort to go around
DoD and military opposition to such a strike because he controlled all military
access to the region as a whole. But Fallon's forced resignation in March and
the subsequent promotion of Petraeus to become Centcom chief later this year
gives Cheney a possible option to ignore the position of his opponents in Washington
once more in the final months of the administration.
(Inter Press Service)