March 30, 2012

Military Leaders Warn Against War with Iran

As politicians have made increasingly belligerent statements about war with Iran, top current and retired military officials have come forward to warn that the consequence of war would be devastating and that it should only be considered as the very last option.  In fact, eight senior retired military and intelligence officials even published a letter urging the President to say no to a war of choice against Iran in a full page Washington Post ad that was sponsored by NIAC.  Below is a compilation of statements by senior military leaders warning about the tremendous costs and very limited benefits of attacking Iran:
General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
“It’s not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran… I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us … A strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives.”[1]

Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense
“[If Iran were to be attacked] the United States would obviously be blamed and we could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, striking our ships, striking our military bases, and there are economic consequences to that attack….which could impact a very fragile economy in Europe and a fragile economy here in the United States.”
“The consequence could be that we would have an escalation that would take place that would not only involve many lives, but I think it could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret.”[2]
General Michael Hayden, CIA Director (2006-2009)
“When we talked about this in the government, the consensus was that [attacking Iran] would guarantee that which we are trying to prevent — an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret.”[3]
Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (2007 – 2011)
“No strike, however effective, will be in and of itself decisive.” [4]
“We haven’t had a contact with Iran since 1979.  Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we had links to the Soviet Union.  We are not talking to Iran so we don’t understand each other.  If something happens it’s virtually assured that we won’t get it right – that there will be miscalculations – which would be extremely dangerous in that part of the world.” [5]
Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense (2006 – 2011)
“If you think the war in Iraq was hard, an attack on Iran would, in my opinion, be a catastrophe.”[6]
“Conner’s axiom — never fight unless you have to — looms over policy discussions today regarding rogue nations like Iran … Another war in the Middle East is the last thing we need. In fact, I believe it would be disastrous on a number of levels.” [7] 
“In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.” [8]
General David Petraeus, Director of the CIA, former CENTCOM Commander and commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan
“It’s possible [a strike] could be used to play to nationalist tendencies. There is certainly a history, in other countries, of fairly autocratic regimes almost creating incidents that inflame nationalist sentiment. So that could be among the many different, second, third, or even fourth order effects [of a strike on Iran].” [9]
Admiral William Fallon, CENTCOM Commander (2007 – 2008)
“No one that I’m aware of thinks that there’s any real positive outcome of a military strike or some kind of conflict.”[10]
“The Iranian regime — which has been in place now for several decades – 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 revolution.”[11]
“This constant drumbeat of conflict … is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for. We ought to try to do our utmost to create different conditions.” [12]
General John Abizaid, CENTCOM Commander (2003 – 2007)
“We need to understand that war in the state-to-state sense in that part of the region would be devastating for everybody, and we should avoid it, in my mind, to every extent that we can.” [13]
General (Ret.) Anthony Zinni, CENTCOM Commander (1997 – 2000)
“The problem with the strike is thinking through the consequences of Iranian reaction.  One mine that hits a tanker, and you can imagine what is going to happen to the price of oil and economies around the world.  One missile into a Gulf oil field or a natural gas processing field, you can imagine what’s going to happen.  A missile attack on some of our troop formations in the Gulf or our bases in Iraq, activating sleeper cells, flushing out fast patrol boats and dowels that have mines that can go into the water in the Red Sea and elsewhere. You can see all these reactions that are problematic in so many ways. Economic impact, national security impact — it will drag us into a conflict.  I think anybody that believes that it would be a clean strike and it would be over and there would be no reaction is foolish … It will make Iraq and Afghanistan look relatively small in comparison, in terms of troop requirements and everything else.” [14]
Admiral (Ret.) Joe Sestak, former Congressman (D-PA)
“A military strike, whether it’s by land or air, against Iran would make the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion look like a cakewalk with regard to the impact on the United States’ national security.”[15]
General (Ret.) James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI)
Senator Reed: […]The usual proposal for a military action is some type that a discreet strike to disrupt the nuclear facilities in Iran. I presume that would not be 100 percent effective in terms of knocking them out. It would probably delay them, but that if their persistent enough they could at some point succeed.  Is that a fair judgment from your position?
General Cartwright: That’s a fair judgment.
Senator Reed: So that the only absolutely dispositive way to end any potential would be to physically occupy their country and to disestablish their nuclear facilities. Is that a fair, logical conclusion?
General Cartwright: Absent some other unknown calculus that would go on, it’s a fair conclusion.[16]
Dr. Colin Kahl, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East (2009-2011)
“If you’re worried about an Iranian nuclear weapon, the nearest term pathway to that is probably a relatively ineffective Israeli strike.” [17]
“Any war with Iran would be a messy and extraordinarily violent affair, with significant casualties and consequences.”[18]
Meir Dagan, former head of the Israeli intelligence agency MOSSAD
The possibility a future Israeli Air Force attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is “the stupidest thing I have ever heard … It will be followed by a war with Iran. It is the kind of thing where we know how it starts, but not how it will end.” [19]
Attacking Iran “would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program. The regional challenge that Israel would face would be impossible.” [20]


[1] U.S. to Israel: Don’t attack Iran. USA Today. 2 February 2012.
[3] Bush’s CIA director: We determined attacking Iran was a bad idea. The Cable. 19 January 2012
[4] Haaretz News Service. “’Military Strike Won’t Stop Iran’s Nuclear Program’.” 22 February 2011.
[6] Hostein, Lisa. “Gates: Proceed Warily on Iran”. Jewish Exponent. 21 March 2012
[8] Shanker, Thom. “Warning Against Wars Like Iraq and Afghanistan.” New York Times. 25 February 2011.
[9] Stewart, Phil. “Petraeus Says Strike On Iran Could Spark Nationalism.” 3 February 2010.
[12] Admiral Fallon, Al-Jazeera interview.  September 30, 2007.
[13] General John Abizaid. Interview with John Hamre. Center for Strategic and International Studies. September 17, 2007. http://csis.org/files/media/csis/events/070917_smartpower_abizaid.pdf
[14] General Anthony Zinni. Charlie Rose Interview. 4 August 2009.
[18] Kahl, Colin. Foreign Affairs. 17 January 2012
[20] Bronner, Ethan. “A Former Spy Chief Questions the Judgment the Israeli Leaders.” New York Times. 3 June 2011.
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