Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Not on Fallon's Watch

How did this get into the press?
Fallon's refusal to support a further naval buildup in the Gulf reflected his firm opposition to an attack on Iran and an apparent readiness to put his career on the line to prevent it. A source who met privately with Fallon around the time of his confirmation hearing and who insists on anonymity quoted Fallon as saying that an attack on Iran "will not happen on my watch".

Asked how he could be sure, the source says, Fallon replied, "You know what choices I have. I'm a professional." Fallon said that he was not alone, according to the source, adding, "There are several of us trying to put the crazies back in the box."

I have assumed for over a year now that it is well understood in the United States, by actual decision makers, that an attack on Iran will not overthrow the current regime, will not weaken Iran's long-term strategic position and will hurt the US position in the Middle East much more than it hurts Iran's regime.

I have really assumed that everyone knows this:
A grandson of one of the late Shah's ministers, Soroush said, "Mr. President, I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and the regime will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized."

"I know," President Bush answered.

If everyone serious knows this then Fallon does not have threaten to put his career on the line to prevent it. If everyone knows this then the US can comfortably play the game Nixon spoke of, which was to convince his adversaries that he might be crazy. That has the added benefit of scaring real investment away from Iran, which is certainly in line with US interests.

I've assumed that's what we've been seeing all along. If logic works, then that has to be what we've been seeing in US threats against Iran at least since the insurgency in Iraq began picking up steam, the Shiites empowered themselves in a way that gave the US limited influence over them and it became clear that the US will not be able to establish a stable client there.

Maybe Fallon is going public, which means that logic does not work and there are serious parties in the US government intending on attacking Iran regardless of the damage they know it will do to the US in the region over the medium and long term. Either that or Fallon is being smeared.

Maybe somebody in Cheney's office is angry that Fallon broke up plans on putting a showy third carrier into the region - more than were there before the Iraq invasion.

Thirty carriers in the gulf would not be enough to get a regime change, especially to a regime tolerable to the US. It would have been a stupid plan. The Iranians would not have taken it seriously though they may have used it as propaganda to strengthen the hard liners.

If the Bush administration is really self-destructive, not just pretending to be for strategic advantage then logic does not hold. Maybe Bush believes he is being guided by God and is inherently unpredictable.

At the time of the invasion, the attack on Iraq did not seem to me to be a disastrous move from the US point of view. I was pretty sure an unpopular dictator like Chalabi would take over and join the ranks of Mubarak, Jordanian Abdullah and (at the time) Saudi Abdullah (Saudi Abdullah does not seem to be in those ranks any more).

Since that time the US has done what it could. The US lost because it is fighting an unwinnable war that it did not know was unwinnable when it started. I have not seen the adminstration acting self-destructively at any point.

My best guess is that this is a smear, a blow to Fallon's career leaked not by Fallon but by an administration hawk. The battle over the third carrier was lost, but they are making sure it does not happen again.


Ziad said...

The only problem I have with the smear scenario is that it would create (or enhance) the perception that Bush is not taken seriously even by his own generals. No bush supporter would want that.

the story is consistent with a Times of London report a few months back that 5 officers of 4 star rank told Bush they would resign if ordered to attack Iran.

Such behaviour, almost mutinous, would be inconcievable at other times. But combined with the retired general's tv ad campaign against Bush, it all makes sense.

The problem with hinting at war to drive out foreign investors is that it also raises oil prices, giving Iran instant cash.

Arnold Evans said...

You're probably right. Bush may have convinced the military that he is crazy or self-destructive without convincing the Iranians.

Fallon saying in advance that he would not allow an order to attack Iran to be followed on his watch is fully mutinous. It is so unusual that I am having real trouble figuring out where it can come from.

By my calculation, if the United States really wants to strike Iran, Iran's best long term strategy would be to encourage it, as long as Iran keeps the moral high ground that it can plausibly claim to its people and to the region that it is only acting defensively.

Overall, I'm puzzled by this situation.

Arnold Evans said...


As an aside, I hadn't seen the Times of London article. If you would like to drop a link to articles like that when you come across them, along with a paragraph or two of your thoughts and enough text from the article that it can be googled if the link dies, send me an email and I'll add you as an author of this blog.

Ziad said...

Arnold, here's the link and some of the article;

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.

Tension in the Gulf region has raised fears that an attack on Iran is becoming increasingly likely before President George Bush leaves office. The Sunday Times has learnt that up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack.

“There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”

Thanx for the offer. I will get back to you soon.

Alex Morgan said...

Well, there's one way to say without mutiny "not on my watch" - if there's a real plan to bomb, Fallon resigns and it happens "not on his watch".

If you simply put pieces on a board and tried to assess the relative strategic positions of Iran and the U.S., it's absolutely clear that the U.S. cannot reach its objectives (get Iran to suspend its nuclear program and offer zero in return). The U.S. already is employing pretty much all the sticks it has - yes, they can bomb, but that does nothing, and they can enhance sanctions, but those are survivable almost no matter how tough (as shown by history). What next? Only carrots remain. So, they must offer something real, and valuable enough to get Iran to go along with the deal. The Bush team is too stupid, and frankly not flexible enough - and probably without enough political capital on its right flank - to pull that off.

What is a wild card in all of this though is that this whole analysis assumes that Iran is rational and fully understands its position. I for one am not convinced. Just as we have our insane and insanely ignorant nuts in charge, so do they. I think this is the weak point of these analysis - it assumes Iran is a rational actor, and so, a predictable actor. I think that's wrong, and therefore these analysis purporting to show us what Iranians will do in such and such a situation, are liable to be sadly wrong.

Arnold Evans said...

I've found Iran for the most part rational up to now. I've actually found US actions also rational, given the understanding of the situation and the possibilities prevalent in the US at the time of its actions.

I'm getting hints that the US is turning against the Kurds and against Kurdish quasi or full independence, accepting that there will not be a pro-US government in Iraq and reducing the policies that tend toward partition of the country to maintain a longer term presence.

It should have been done last year. It should have been done immediately after the elections, and it would have been even better if it had been done while the constitution was being negotiated.

But that it is being hinted at now means shows that while the US is slow to admit defeat, and hesitant to do so before exhausting every other possibility, the US will probably after taking too long, admit defeat. I find taking too long unfortunate but not irrational.

Iran gave back the British troops which I did not expect. I have not seen a specific irrational or unexplainable act on any side, the US, Saudis, Turkey, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Iraq's Kurds, Iraq's Sunnis, Iraq's Shiites. So far I've found everybody to be rational. I do hope that continues.

The US bombing Iran I would find irrational. An Iranian attack on US forces I would find irrational except as retaliation for a US bombing.

Alex Morgan, When you say Iran may act irrationally, what irrational action are you thinking about?

Anonymous said...

Examples of irrational actions would be: giving up their enrichment program without extremely rich carrots, because they irrationally fear a U.S. attempt to overthrow their government. How would that work?

Scenario: the white house convinces the Iranians that we are irrational, truly irrational. Is that particularly unbelievable? No. Because I strongly disagree with your contention that we've acted rationally up to now. Attacking Iraq was irrational, and demonstrably so - I'll be happy to elaborate if you wish (though really, it's pretty self evident).

A psyops campaign by the WH to convince the Iranians that we are preparing a ground invasion of Iran - and giving up Iraq in the process in an irrational attempt to put everything on one card. Hey, we've done something pretty insane in invading Iraq - who is to say an unhinged Bush crew couldn't do this again with Iran? Once the troops are in Iran, how would congress stop it? They wouldn't, until the Iranian gov was overthrown - at which point it doesn't matter what happens later, from the POV of the ayatollahs, they are overthrown, and that's what matters.

Just one example.

Alex Morgan said...

Sorry, that was my comment above.

Arnold Evans said...

Oh, I'm pretty sure we are not going to see Iran give up enrichment. What other irrational action are you afraid we might see from Iran?

The invasion of Iraq seems so stupid in hindsight.

But there are a lot of pro-American dictatorships that are relatively stable in the region. At the time there were Kuwait, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Emirates.

The United States thought it could add one more - Iraq under Chalabi - and that the current ones would even end up helping after the pro-US dictatorship, maybe even with a veneer of democracy, began to be established.

The United States had just got finished putting the type of government it wants in Iraq into Afghanistan and it didn't seem too traumatic. Votes were held, the US embassy decided who got to run, from the US point of view it was beautiful all around. The US hoped to replicate that in Iraq.

Was it irrational for the US to hope or even expect this in Iraq?

In hindsight, there was no chance. Iran and Syria helped the more urbanized Iraqi population prevent it. But at the time, was it irrational? I guess to anyone who knew that Iran and Syria would be willing and able to help Iraq's population thwart US plans. That didn't include me at the time.

Now it is looking like there are some people in Afghanistan that want to thwart US plans and Iran and Pakistan may trouble resisting repeating Iraq there.

There is a good chance that the invasion of Afghanistan ends up looking just as irrational as the invasion of Iraq, but I don't think we are even there yet.

But in 2003 I didn't foresee this, and on that basis I did not consider the invasion irrational, though I opposed it as neo-colonial.

Ziad said...

When I hear talk of irrational behavior on the part of Iran, it is usually in the context of "Islamofascists are crazy. Iran will immediately launch its first nuke at Israel, without fear of self destruction since they believe they will get 72 virgins in paradise anyway." There are certainly irrational individuals who will behave that way. I have never seen a state actor, and certainly not Iran, do so.