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Former Military Leaders Call for Diplomatic Options, Warn Against War with Iran

The former CENTCOM Commander and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said no good military options exist that can stop Iran's nuclear program and identified the crux of the problem as the lack of dialogue between Iran and the United States.

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Washington, DC - "We are reaching this crescendo of talk - just constant - war, war, war," said former CENTCOM Commander, Admiral William J. Fallon.  "It's almost like the old movie, the black and white, beating the drum, and the galley slaves.  And the chant goes on.  Certainly not very helpful at all."

Fallon spoke on a panel hosted by CSIS along with former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright last week.  The panelists were in firm agreement that a military operation to try to stop Iran's nuclear program is a bad option for the United States.

When asked if a military strike could prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, General Cartwright replied bluntly, “no.”  He explained, "you’re not going to kill the intellectual capital to just rebuild the centrifuges someplace else and continue on."
 
Asked whether others in the military believed that a military strike on Iran would be prudent, the men indicated they did not. "No one that I'm aware of [in the military] thinks that there's any real positive outcome of a military strike or some kind of conflict," Admiral Fallon said. 
 
Fallon identified the crux of the problem as being the lack of dialogue between Iran and the United States. "The Iranian regime...and the United States have had virtually no dialogue.  There's been talk, there'd been a couple of starts and few, 'let's go have a discussion'- - but there really hasn't been any meaningful dialogue since the [1979] revolution."  He added, "you never know what instrument actually gets the job done in these situations and you never know how things stack up because you're not in their heads and they in ours."
 
Agreeing with the Admiral's assessment, General Cartwright said the Iranians "don’t know exactly what’s in our head any more than we know exactly what’s in their head" making it "difficult to say this is what I’m going to do and this is what they’re going to do."
 
Admiral Fallon argued that the ambiguity resulting from the lack of dialogue makes it difficult to know "what their [Iran's] intentions are, how far they’ve gone, and whether they would actually--if they had the means--weaponize some nuclear capability."
 
A member in the audience raised concerns about whether toning down war rhetoric or discussing the lack of effectiveness of military options might make Iran feel the military threat is no longer credible. “Is it possible that even having the discussion publicly is actually limiting the options and might even increase the likelihood that people think that we have to make an attack?"
 
General Cartwright dismissed such concerns, arguing that all states, including Iran, “build [their] adversary up to be 10 feet tall because you have to--you don’t want to take the risk of underestimating an adversary."  He then reiterated the importance of dialogue, adding "while you want to tone down the rhetoric you want to try to make sure and work hard to have an official channel that is really open for dialogue, so that the ambiguity at least can be addressed."
 
"At the end of the day," said Admiral Fallon, "these are people - 70,000,000 of them.  They have aspirations and desires, and there needs to be room for demonstrated cooperation and a willingness to walk away from things that are detrimental to the region--that there's something in this for them.  And so, having some light at the end of the tunnel, not closing off all options, but letting them know 'hey, we're willing to have you play a role in the region.  You got a lot of capability, you got a lot of smart people, a lot of things you could really be helpful [with] if you decided to be cooperative in your dealings with your neighbors.'"

 

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