As Jennifer points out, Admiral Mullen’s remarks about Iran are disconcerting.
I am no military expert and, like most of us in the blogosphere and the policy community, lack the actionable intelligence to make the kind of judgment that Admiral Mullen makes on whether a military strike against Iran would yield the kind of benefits desired without the kind of consequences one may reasonably fear.
Maybe Admiral Mullen is in a position to know better and his public assessment is correct. But why announce it? To make the Mullahs sleep better?
What is remarkable, and remarkably shocking, about this procession of military and intelligence personnel coming to say what politicians have now said for a while, is that they do not seem to appreciate how these comments have damaging consequences.
Perhaps a military strike is not in the cards anymore — who knows? Perhaps the risks involved are considerable. Maybe the hour is late. Understandably, there is little appetite for war. And, frankly, one should underestimate neither the operational difficulties nor the political fallout.
But there is a world of difference between entertaining skepticism about the military option in private and ruling it out in public. Whether it is politicians or uniformed personnel, their public dismissal of the military option — perhaps the only thing Iran’s regime truly fears — undermines the effectiveness of all non-military alternatives.
Besides, it is not the job of military personnel to dismiss or even fret publicly about the consequences of a military operation. Their job is to find the best way to accomplish a mission they are tasked with by their civilian leadership — and, if that mission entails negative consequences, they can certainly let it be known and factor them into their plans. It should not be their business to comment on these matters on the record. McChrystal, anyone?
Incidentally, government officials in Europe have been adopting this characteristically thoughtless approach for a while now, failing to understand that a threat is more powerful than its actual manifestation when it carries credibility. Now America has joined the bandwagon. To see U.S. leaders publicly depriving themselves of a fundamental policy tool and tell Iran that, no matter what they do, nobody will attack them, is a truly myopic act — and it will achieve precisely the opposite of what its perpetrators wish it to accomplish. By reassuring Iran that no attack will come their way, the West has removed the last pressure tool from its arsenal. The reiteration of such a message will embolden the Iranians to become more defiant and more aggressive and convince the Israelis that they stand alone and have little time left.
So, paradoxically, the more Admiral Mullen and his military peers say that an attack against Iran would be a bad thing, the more likely it is there is going to be an attack on Iran.