Monday, June 11, 2007

Consider the Source

Reading Sunday's Jerusalem Post article on supposed U.S. plans for attacking Iran, we can't decide if reporter Yaakov Katz was trying to generate a propaganda piece, or merely repeating information that has already been reported--and debunked, to some degree.

"Military plan against Iran is ready" screams the headline, and Mr. Katz wastes no time in asserting that the U.S. is prepared to strike Tehran's nuclear facilities, with the full support of our military leaders.

"Predicting that Iran will obtain a nuclear weapon within three years and claiming to have a strike plan in place, senior American military officers have told The Jerusalem Post they support President George W. Bush's stance to do everything necessary to stop the Islamic Republic's race for nuclear power."

Let's deal with the "strike plan" element first. As we've noted on countless occasions in the past, the U.S. does, in fact, have a "strike plan" for Iran, as it does for North Korea, China and virtually any other nation that could pose a threat to our peace and security. Military plans are constantly reviewed and updated, giving the president (and his combatant commanders) flexible options for dealing with contingency situations. The planning process is deliberative and exhausting in nature; if we decide to strike Iran, it will be the product of years of planning and analysis, and not some hastily-conceived effort, ginned up specifically for the nuclear problem.

Equally curious is Mr. Katz's statement that "senior American military officers told the JP that they support President Bush's stance...to stop the Islamic Republic's race for nuclear power." The reporter doesn't identify his source, and it would be interesting to know where that comment originated. As various media outlets have reported, the U.S. and Israeli forces are currently participating in long-planned military maneuvers, although officials were careful to note that the drills are not linked "to the situation in any country."

However, the joint exercise does include an American military deployment to Israel, and the participation of some mid-level and senior personnel (probably no higher than brigadier general). From a personal perspective, I'm a little uncomfortable if one of the participants made the attributed comment; the affairs of state and national policies are a bit beyond the purview of a squadron commander or wing commander in the USAF. Heck, I'd be a little disturbed if the quote came from a more senior flag officer in Washington or the Middle East, since it suggest an element of politics in the process of rendering military advice and counsel. But, in an era when almost every element of national security has been politicized, virtually anything is fair game, even the observations of an exercise participant, or a senior military leader.

On the other hand, it's quite possible that reporter Katz added the political slant on his own. Ask most military officers about national policies, and they'll reply with "I support the Commander-in-Chief." Nothing inappropriate about that. As a commissioned officer, they are duly sworn to support and defend the constitution, and obey the directives of their superiors, civilian and military. Asked about the U.S. position on Iran, an American officer might have stated that he/she supports the Commander-in-Chief, which Katz interpreted as a full endorsement of everything Mr. Bush has said about Iran.

That may not be entirely accurate; as military professionals, most senior officers want to stay out of the political fray, and limit comments to matters relating to their vocation. But remarks about our forces being able to "carry out assigned missions in accordance with national policy" don't carry the same urgency as "supporting President Bush's stance to do everything necessary to stop the Islamic Republic's race for nuclear power."

Make no mistake: virtually everyone who wears the nation's uniform recognizes the threat posed by Iran and its nuclear program. And, truth be told, there are many military leaders who would support decisive action against Tehran, if desired objectives could be achieved, and the associated risks were acceptable. But offering a blanket endorsement of administration policies in a political context is not something that active duty officers should be doing, and it's hard to believe that Katz's source offered his (or her) comments in that vein.

As for the rest of the article, it's really nothing we haven't heard before, from claims that the Air Force and Navy would lead the charge against Iran (that's only logical, since they control most of the nation's medium and long-range strike assets), to concerns about terrorists getting their hands on dirty nukes.

Since the officers quoted by Katz spoke on the condition of anonymity, it's unlikely that they will demand a retraction or clarification of their remarks. Indeed, you've got to wonder about the accuracy of the quote, and the motivation(s) behind it. Was it a case of U.S. officials trying to send a message to Iran through an Israeli newspaper (hardly an optimum choice), or simply an Israeli journalist, in pursuit of a sensational story, adding his own political spin to an anonymous quote?

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