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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mullen's mouth

Last week, President Obama fired General Stanley McChrystal for saying too much about the US strategy in Afghanistan in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. Emanuele Ottolenghi argues that Michael Mullen's comments on Iran at the Aspen Institute on Monday were equally as damaging.
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.
All true. But I don't think anyone here needs any more convincing that we stand alone and time is running out. The rumors about a war this summer are getting stronger by the day.


At 9:31 PM, Blogger Andre (Canada) said...

But that is the thing about rumours...as more people hear about them and speak about them, the more it becomes mainstream and soon it becomes accepted wisdom...even though it is still nothing more than a rumour. Who knows what Bibi is planning and who knows what Barak is planning to screw up/sabotage!
We'll have to wait.


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