As long as he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mike Mullen kept worrying, often publicly, over what he termed "the unintended consequences of any sort of military action against Iran."
We assume that before he retired last fall he shared that concern with you, just as we tried to warn your predecessor of "the unintended consequences" that could flow from an attack on Iraq.
The Israelis, for their part, would not relent. In February of this year, Mullen returned with sweaty palms from a visit to Israel. On arrival there, he had warned publicly that an attack on Iran would be "a big, big, big problem for all of us."
When Mullen got back to Washington, he lacked the confident tone he had after reading the Israelis the riot act in mid-2008. It became quickly clear that Mullen feared that, this time, Israel's leaders did not seem to take his warnings seriously.
Lest he leave a trace of ambiguity regarding his professional view, upon his return Mullen drove it home at a Pentagon press conference on Feb. 22, 2011: "For now, the diplomatic and the economic levers of international power are and ought to be the levers first pulled. Indeed, I would hope they are always and consistently pulled. No strike, however effective, will be, in and of itself, decisive."
In 2008, right after Mullen was able, in late June, to get the Israelis to put aside, for the nonce, their pre-emptive plans vis-Ã-vis Iran, he moved to put a structure in place that could short-circuit military escalation. Specifically, he thought through ways to prevent unintended (or, for that matter, deliberately provoked) incidents in the crowded Persian Gulf that could lead to wider hostilities.
In a widely unnoticed remark, Adm. Mullen conceded to the press that Iran could shut down the Strait of Hormuz, but quickly added de rigueur assurance that the U.S. could open it up again (whereas the Admiral knows better than virtually anyone that this would be no easy task).
Mullen sent up an interesting trial balloon at a July 2, 2008, press conference, when he suggested that military-to-military dialogue could "add to a better understanding" between the U.S. and Iran. But nothing more was heard of this overture, probably because Cheney ordered him to drop it. We think it is high time to give this excellent idea new life. (See below under Recommendations.)
The dangers in and around the Strait of Hormuz were still on Mullen's mind as he prepared to retire on Sept. 30, 2011. Ten days before, he told the Armed Force Press Service of his deep concern over the fact that the United States and Iran have had no formal communications since 1979:
"Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we had links to the Soviet Union. " We are not talking to Iran. So we don't understand each other. If something happens, it's virtually assured that we won't get it right, that there will be miscalculations."
Playing with fire: With the macho game of chicken currently under way between Iranian and U.S. naval forces in the area of the Strait of Hormuz, the potential for an incident has increased markedly.
An accident, or provocation, could spiral out of control quickly, with all sides -- Iran, the U.S. and Israel making hurried decisions with, you guessed it, "unintended consequences."
" or Intended Consequences?
With your campaign for the presidency in full swing during the summer of 2008, you may have missed a troubling disclosure in July by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.
He reported that Bush administration officials had held a meeting in the Vice President's office in the wake of the January 2008 incident between Iranian patrol boats and U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz. The reported purpose of the meeting was to discuss ways to provoke war with Iran.