US generals ‘will quit’ if Bush orders Iran attack
Michael Smith and Sarah Baxter, Washington
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
“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.”
A British defence source confirmed that there were deep misgivings
inside the Pentagon about a military strike. “All the generals are
perfectly clear that they don’t have the military capacity to take Iran
on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it, and it would be a
matter of conscience for them.
“There are enough people who feel this would be an error of judgment for
there to be resignations.”
A generals’ revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented. “American
generals usually stay and fight until they get fired,” said a Pentagon
source. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, has repeatedly warned
against striking Iran and is believed to represent the view of his
The threat of a wave of resignations coincided with a warning by Vice
President Dick Cheney that all options, including military action,
remained on the table. He was responding to a comment by Tony Blair that
it would not “be right to take military action against Iran”.
Iran ignored a United Nations deadline to suspend its uranium enrichment
programme last week. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted that his
country “will not withdraw from its nuclear stances even one single step”.
The International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran could soon
produce enough enriched uranium for two nuclear bombs a year, although
Tehran claims its programme is purely for civilian energy purposes.
Nicholas Burns, the top US negotiator, is to meet British, French,
German, Chinese and Russian officials in London tomorrow to discuss
additional penalties against Iran. But UN diplomats cautioned that
further measures would take weeks to agree and would be mild at best.
A second US navy aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS John C
Stennis arrived in the Gulf last week, doubling the US presence there.
Vice Admiral Patrick Walsh, the commander of the US Fifth Fleet, warned:
“The US will take military action if ships are attacked or if countries
in the region are targeted or US troops come under direct attack.”
But General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said
recently there was “zero chance” of a war with Iran. He played down
claims by US intelligence that the Iranian government was responsible
for supplying insurgents in Iraq, forcing Bush on the defensive.
Pace’s view was backed up by British intelligence officials who said the
extent of the Iranian government’s involvement in activities inside Iraq
by a small number of Revolutionary Guards was “far from clear”.
Hillary Mann, the National Security Council’s main Iran expert until
2004, said Pace’s repudiation of the administration’s claims was a sign
of grave discontent at the top.
“He is a very serious and a very loyal soldier,” she said. “It is
extraordinary for him to have made these comments publicly, and it
suggests there are serious problems between the White House, the
National Security Council and the Pentagon.”
Mann fears the administration is seeking to provoke Iran into a reaction
that could be used as an excuse for an attack. A British official said
the US navy was well aware of the risks of confrontation and was being
“seriously careful” in the Gulf.
The US air force is regarded as being more willing to attack Iran.
General Michael Moseley, the head of the air force, cited Iran as the
main likely target for American aircraft at a military conference
earlier this month.
According to a report in The New Yorker magazine, the Pentagon has
already set up a working group to plan airstrikes on Iran. The panel
initially focused on destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities and on regime
change but has more recently been instructed to identify targets in Iran
that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq.
However, army chiefs fear an attack on Iran would backfire on American
troops in Iraq and lead to more terrorist attacks, a rise in oil prices
and the threat of a regional war.
Britain is concerned that its own troops in Iraq might be drawn into any
American conflict with Iran, regardless of whether the government takes
part in the attack.
One retired general who participated in the “generals’ revolt” against
Donald Rumsfeld’s handling of the Iraq war said he hoped his former
colleagues would resign in the event of an order to attack. “We don’t
want to take another initiative unless we’ve really thought through the
consequences of our strategy,” he warned.