A number of U.S. military leaders, reportedly including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have waged an extraordinary behind-the-scenes resistance to what they fear is a secret plan by George W. Bush to wage war against Iran.

One intelligence source told me that Joint Chiefs chairman, Gen. Peter Pace, has explored the possibility of resigning if Bush presses forward with air attacks against Iran, a war strategy that might be done in coordination with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Though Pace has given no public signal on resigning, he has undercut Bush’s case for an expanded Middle East war by challenging the administration claims about Iran’s alleged sponsorship of attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq and by telling Congress that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have eroded American military capability to confront another crisis.

In a classified report to Congress, Pace warned that there is a significant risk that the U.S. military would be unable to respond quickly and fully to a new threat, the Associated Press reported, citing “senior defense officials.”

Pace’s grim assessment represents a mark-down from a year ago when Pace concluded that the risk was only moderate. The AP wrote that a report accompanying Pace’s review said that while the Pentagon is working to upgrade its readiness, it “may take several years to reduce risk to acceptable levels.” [AP, Feb. 27, 2007]

In other words, the Pentagon brass is raising an alarm over how stretched the U.S. military has become because of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, suggesting that another front in Iran could add to American vulnerabilities.

Sources familiar with concerns inside the Pentagon have told me that senior U.S. military commanders, including Pace, have publicized their differences with the White House as part of a shadow bureaucratic battle to head off Bush’s Iran war plans.

Despite assurances from Bush and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that they have no plan to attack Iran, the steady build-up of U.S. forces in the region – including two aircraft carrier attack groups – have concerned the commanders as well as some members of Congress and the public that Bush is simply waiting for a pretext to attack.

War on Hair Trigger

One intelligence source directed me to a paragraph in Seymour Hersh’s new article in The New Yorker, referring to Bush’s order for hair-trigger preparations on going to war with Iran so he can attack within 24 hours.

In that paragraph, Hersh cites information from a former intelligence official that “a special planning group has been established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within 24 hours.” [New Yorker, Posted Feb. 25, 2007]

By creating such a tight time frame for action, Bush would negate the possibility for the Pentagon brass and Congress to mount any serious opposition to a presidential order on Iran, even if they are convinced Bush’s actions will be catastrophic.

The tradition of the U.S. military is to implement presidential orders regardless of doubts. Perhaps months later, a dissenting commander might quietly resign.

That practice and the 24-hour window may help explain why several U.S. generals are pondering now how to stop Bush from blindsiding them with a new war. One of their tactics appears to be leaking indications of their strong opposition to the press.

On Feb. 25, the Sunday Times of London reported that “some of America’s most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defence and intelligence sources.”

The Times cited one source estimating that four or five generals and admirals are part of this internal revolt, though no names were given.

“There is simply no stomach for it [an attack on Iran] in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible,” the source was quoted as saying.

A British defense source added that “all the generals are perfectly clear that they don’t have the military capacity to take Iran on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it and it would be a matter of conscience for them.” [TimesOnline.com, Feb. 25, 2007]

Bush also appears to be losing one of his most loyal followers, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who recently asserted that it would not “be right to take military action against Iran.” Blair’s comment prompted a reaction from Vice President Dick Cheney, reaffirming that all options, including military attack, remain on the table.

‘Weak Knees’

But one source told me that the resistance – from the Pentagon, Blair and even Democrats in Congress – appears to be having an effect on Bush’s decision-making. This source said he believed Bush had planned to launch an attack on Iran, possibly as early as this week, but was getting “weak knees.”

Bush and his neoconservative advisers have long had their eye on “regime change” in Iran. In 2002, Bush counted Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, as his original “axis of evil.” In 2003, after conquering Iraq and facing the question of whether to invade Syria or Iran next, the neocons joked that “real men go to Tehran.”

But those were headier days, before U.S. forces became bogged down fighting bloody insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, having witnessed the deadly consequences of the Bush administration’s hubris, the U.S. high command is less willing to be drawn into a wider war.

Senior commanders also appear to share the same distrust of Bush and his White House advisers as many citizens do. Despite Bush’s repeated assurances that no war with Iran is contemplated, the brass appears to be seeing the same troubling signs as others are.

From the outside, Bush looks to be following a similar course as he did before the Iraq invasion: he insists that war is “a last resort” yet puts in motion the engines of war; he times release of alarming intelligence reports for maximum political effect; he brushes aside doubts and warnings; he then presents war as unavoidable or a fait accompli.

Not only has Bush dispatched two aircraft carrier strike groups to the region, he has deployed Patriot anti-missile-missile batteries at strategic locations along the Persian Gulf and has British mine sweepers in place. Meanwhile, Israel reportedly is training squadrons of pilots for bombing runs against Iran’s heavily fortified nuclear facilities.

Over the past several months, the Bush administration also has escalated its rhetoric against Iran, accusing Tehran of resisting international controls on its nuclear program because it is secretly working to build a nuclear bomb. Israeli leader Olmert has called the possibility of an Iranian nuclear bomb an “existential threat” to Israel.

Bush also has never budged from his claim that U.S. military intervention is justified anywhere in the world when a hostile state is developing the potential for weapons of mass destruction that conceivably could fall into the hands of a terrorist group that might use them against American targets.

That was the fundamental rationalization for invading Iraq, even though Bush and his aides found that to sell the idea to the American people they had to exaggerate Iraq’s WMD capabilities and invent connections between the secular dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in al-Qaeda. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “How Neocon Favorites Duped U.S.”]

Iran War Sale

Bush has put together a similar sales package for Iran. By applying broad definitions of “terrorism” to Iranian-supported Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories, Bush has defined Iran as a state sponsor of “terrorism.” Iran’s development of nuclear technology has met the other requirement for a WMD scare.

Though Iran appears to be years away from having the capability to build a nuclear bomb and although neither Hezbollah nor Hamas has sponsored acts of terrorism inside the United States, Bush and his top aides say they want to counter this potential threat now.

On the other hand, the endless pursuit of security through “preemptive” war is almost surely a fool’s errand. Not only might it stretch U.S. military capabilities beyond the breaking point, but it could speed, not retard, terrorists getting their hands on a nuclear bomb.

For instance, the precarious Pakistani government of dictator Pervez Musharraf already possesses a nuclear bomb and elements of the Pakistani intelligence service are believed to be sympathetic to al-Qaeda and other radical movements. A wider U.S. war against another Muslim state could tip control of Pakistan to the extremists.

Already, an epidemic of anti-Americanism is infecting populations across the Middle East and around the globe. If counterinsurgency – which is what the “war on terror” ultimately is – requires winning hearts and minds, then Bush is achieving the exact opposite.

A bombing campaign against Iran is certain to stir up even more fury and further isolate the United States. Plus, virtually no military analyst believes a bombing campaign – short of using nuclear weapons – can inflict long-term damage on Iran’s dug-in facilities.

Yet, in the first weeks of 2007, more and more signs pointed to Bush’s determination to strike at Iran sooner rather than later – and to do so with massive force.

Author Craig Unger reported in Vanity Fair that Bush turned to the U.S. Strategic Command (StratCom) to draw up plans for the bombing campaign against Iran. StratCom oversees nuclear weapons, missile defense, and protection against weapons of mass destruction.

“Shifting to StratCom indicates that they are talking about a really punishing air-force and naval air attack [on Iran],” said retired Col. W. Patrick Lang, a former analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency. [Vanity Fair, March 2007]

Ticking Clock

In January and early February, my own military and intelligence sources painted a similar picture of an expected U.S. air campaign against Iran, which they said might involve the Israelis as the initiators of the attack to make the U.S. bombing appear more defensive and to ensure more Democratic and media support. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Iran Clock Is Ticking.”]

Bush and his Israeli counterpart, Prime Minister Olmert, also have powerful political motives for ordering air strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites. Both leaders have suffered military reversals – Bush in Iraq and Olmert in Lebanon – and their public approval ratings have plummeted.

Barring a reversal of fortune, the two leaders are slipping into political irrelevance and could go down in history as abject failures. Bush is often referred to as possibly the worst U.S. President ever, responsible for the biggest strategic blunder in American history.

Bush also has lost control of Congress to the Democrats while Olmert is under mounting pressure from Likud and other rightist parties in the Knesset. Bush and Olmert are two desperate politicians looking for something to put themselves back on top.

A daring Israeli air strike against Iran could salvage Olmert’s reputation, much as earlier raids at Entebbe airport in Uganda (1976) and against Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor (1981) bolstered other Israeli governments and helped define Israel’s national character.

Olmert also has left himself little maneuvering room since he has labeled Iran’s alleged development of a nuclear bomb an “existential threat” to Israel. Having defined the issue so starkly, Olmert can’t easily sit back and wait to see how international sanctions work.

It also is conventional wisdom among American neoconservatives – as well as many Israelis – that Bush may be the only U.S. leader who would countenance a preemptive military strike against Iran.

So, if the bombing raid is going to happen, these neocons believe it must occur within the next two years, preferably as soon as possible. They want Bush to have the maximum remaining time in office to manage any consequences from the attack.

But Bush and the neocons may have been taken aback by the intensity of opposition from an unexpected front, the U.S. military. To order the nation into another war against the counsel of top commanders would put Bush in dangerous political territory.

If the new war with Iran went badly and American interests were further damaged, Bush might finally face a broad consensus for his impeachment and removal from office.

[For more on the possibility of war with Iran, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Logic of a Wider Mideast War” or "The U.S.-Iran-Iraq-Israeli-Syrian War."]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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