J Scott Carpenter, who was then deputy assistant secretary of state in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, recalled in an interview that senior Defense Department (DoD) officials and the Joint Chiefs used the escalation issue as the main argument against the Cheney proposal.
McClatchy newspapers reported last August that Cheney had proposal several weeks earlier "launching airstrikes at suspected training camps in
According to Carpenter, who is now at the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, a strongly pro-Israel think-tank, Pentagon officials argued that no decision should be made about the limited airstrike on
The question of escalation posed by DoD officials involved not only the potential of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in
Carpenter suggested that DoD officials were shifting the debate on a limited strike from the Iraq-based rationale, which they were not contesting, to the much bigger issue of the threat of escalation to full-scale war with
The former State Department official said DoD "knew that it would be difficult to get interagency consensus on that question".
The Joint Chiefs were fully supportive of the position taken by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on the Cheney proposal, according to Carpenter. "It’s clear that the military leadership was being very conservative on this issue," he said.
At least some DoD and military officials suggested that
Former Bush speechwriter and senior policy adviser Michael Gerson, who had left the administration in 2006, wrote a column in the Washington Post on July 20, 2007, in which he gave no hint of Cheney’s proposal, but referred to "options" for striking Iranian targets based on the Cheney line that Iran "smuggles in the advanced explosive devices that kill and maim American soldiers".
Gerson cited two possibilities: "Engaging in hot pursuit against weapon supply lines over the Iranian border or striking explosives factories and staging areas within
That meant, according to Gerson that, "in a broadened conflict, the Iranians could complicate our lives in
Carpenter’s account of the Pentagon’s position on the Cheney proposal suggests, however, that civilian and military opponents were saying that
Pentagon civilian and military opposition to such a strategic attack on
The option of attacking nuclear sites had been raised by Bush with the Joint Chiefs at a meeting in "the tank" at the Pentagon on December 13, 2006, and had been opposed by the Joint Chiefs, according to a report by Time magazine’s Joe Klein last June.
After he become head of the Central Command (Centcom) in March 2007, Admiral William Fallon also made his opposition to such a massive attack on Iran known to the White House, according Middle East specialist Hillary Mann, who had developed close working relationships with Pentagon officials when she worked on the National Security Council staff.
It appeared in early 2007, therefore, that a strike at
Although the Pentagon bottled up the Cheney proposal in inter-agency discussions, Cheney had a strategic asset which could he could use to try to overcome that obstacle: his alliance with General David Petraeus.
As Inter Press Service reported earlier last week, Cheney had already used Petraeus’ takeover as the top commander of US forces in
Petraeus was also a supporter of Cheney’s proposal for striking IRGC targets in Iran, going so far as to hint in an interview with Fox News last September that he had passed on to the White House his desire to do something about alleged Iranian assistance to Shi’ites that would require US forces beyond his control.
At that point, Fallon was in a position to deter any effort to go around DoD and military opposition to such a strike because he controlled all military access to the region as a whole. But Fallon’s forced resignation in March and the subsequent promotion of Petraeus to become Centcom chief later this year gives Cheney a possible option to ignore the position of his opponents in
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in