Is the Military Our Last, Best Hope for Averting War with Iran?
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The last, best hope for averting a war with Iran lies with the United States military. The Democratic Congress, cowed by the Israel lobby and terrified of appearing weak on defense before the presidential elections, will do nothing to halt an attack. The media, especially the electronic press, is working overtime to whip up fear of a nuclear Iran and tar Tehran with abetting attacks against American troops in Iraq. The American public is complacent, unsure of what to believe, knocked off balance by fear and passive. We will be saved or doomed by our generals.
The last wall of defense that prevents the Bush administration from targeting Iran, an attack that could ignite a regional conflagration and usher in apocalyptic scenarios in the Middle East, runs through the offices of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; Adm. William Fallon , the head of the Central Command (CENTCOM); and Gen. George Casey, the Army's new chief of staff. These three figures in the defense establishment have told George W. Bush and the Congress how depleted the U.S. military has become, that it cannot manage another conflict, and that a war with Iran would make the war with Iraq look like an act of prudence and common sense.
The reliance on the military command, however, to be the voice of reason in the debate about a new war is not a healthy sign for our deteriorating democracy. Compliant generals can always be found to carry out the Dr. Strangelove designs of a mad White House. Those who resist implementing decisions can easily be removed. The protective cover provided by these figures in the defense establishment could vanish.
The United States is able to launch a massive and devastating air attack on Iran's military installations. It can obliterate the Iranian air force. It can cripple if not dismantle effective communications and military command and control. It can destroy some of Iran's underground nuclear facilities. But our intelligence inside Iran, as was true in Iraq, is uneven. We do not know where all of Iran's nuclear facilities are. And it is probable that an Iranian response against American targets, such as the Green Zone in Iraq, as well as Iranian-sponsored terrorist attacks on American soil, would follow. Shiites in the region would interpret an attack as a war on the Shiite community and would unleash unrest, terrorism and violence against us and our allies from Lebanon to Pakistan.
The battle is between the Cheney camp, which would like to carry out strikes on Iran before Bush leaves office, and Gates and his senior generals. Cheney, who has always been able to push aside the feckless Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, is having a tougher time with the military. Fallon, for example, was successful in his attempt to block efforts by Cheney to move a third aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf earlier this year and bluntly said that "there would be no war against Iran" as long as he was chief of CENTCOM.
Gen. Casey informed Congress this fall that the Army was "out of balance" and added: "The demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply. We are consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight, and are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other potential contingencies."
This White House has a habit of dismissing recalcitrant generals. Gen. Eric Shinseki, when he was chief of staff of the Army, ended his career when he told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on the eve of the war in Iraq that "something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers" would probably be required for postwar Iraq. Gen. Peter Pace also ran afoul of the White House and was not nominated for a second term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when he publicly defied Donald Rumsfeld. At a press conference in November 2005 he stood next to Rumsfeld as the secretary of defense asserted that "the United States does not have a responsibility" to prevent torture by Iraqi officials. Pace pointedly disagreed with Rumsfeld, saying, "It is the absolute responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene, to stop it." Pace also openly dismissed White House claims that Iran was supplying weapons and explosively formed penetrators to Iraqi insurgents. He too was shown the door.
The White House, isolated and reviled at home and abroad, believes it is on a higher mission to save the world from itself. The instability in the Middle East could undermine Gates and his generals. A limited Israeli strike on suspected Iranian nuclear production facilities, currently under discussion in Jerusalem, could trigger retaliatory strikes by Iran on Israel and U.S. targets in Iraq and the Persian Gulf. The clamor for revenge, fueled by a rapacious right-wing media, coupled with our feelings of collective humiliation, could sweep aside all reasoned objections to war with Iran. It happened after the attacks of 2001. It can happen again.
There is a petition circulating that was put together by Marcy Winograd from the Progressive Democrats. The petition is addressed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and all U.S. military personnel. It urges them to defy orders to attack Iran. It points out that a pre-emptive war with Iran is a war crime under international law. It reminds military personnel of the statute in the Army Field Manual 27-10, Section 609, and Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 92, that states: "A general order or regulation is lawful unless it is contrary to the Constitution, the law of the United States. ..."
The petition notes that any provision of an international treaty ratified by the United States becomes the law of the United States. The United States is a party and signatory to the United Nations Charter, of which Article II, Section 4, states, "All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. ..."
Iran has not attacked the United States. The U.S., as a party and signatory to the U.N. charter, would be in clear violation of international law and the laws enshrined in the Constitution if it went to war with Iran. If the citizens and their representatives in Congress refuse to resist and uphold the rule of law, perhaps the military can be prodded to halt our slide into despotism. It is not the best option, but it may be the only one left.
We live now at the mercy of events. A provocation by Iran, aided by a bellicose White House, could plunge us into another war. It could unleash the primitive chant for violence and revenge that rises up from a population that feels vulnerable, uncertain and afraid. There are forces in our society ready and willing to fan the blood lust for a wider circle of war and mayhem. The Iranians, like us, are cursed by their leadership. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is as primitive, inept and paranoid as George Bush. They are the perfect dance partners for a waltz into Armageddon.
Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter, was the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times. He spent seven years in the Middle East and reported frequently from Iran. His latest book is American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.