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Adm. Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came home with sweaty palms from his mid-February visit to Israel. He has been worrying aloud that Israel will mousetrap the U.S. into war with Iran.
This is of particular concern because Mullen has had considerable experience in putting the brakes on such Israeli plans in the past. This time, he appears convinced that the Israeli leaders did not take his warnings seriously--notwithstanding the unusually strong language he put into play.
Upon arrival in Jerusalem on February 14, Mullen wasted no time in making clear why he had come. He insisted publicly that an attack on Iran would be "a big, big, big problem for all of us, and I worry a great deal about the unintended consequences."
At a Pentagon press conference on February 22 Mullen drove home the same point--with some of the same language. After reciting the usual boilerplate about Iran being "on the path to achieve nuclear weaponization" and about its "desire to dominate its neighbors," he included this in his prepared remarks:
"I worry a lot about the unintended consequences of any sort of military action. 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 answer to a question about the "efficacy" of military strikes on Iran's nuclear program, Mullen said such strikes "would delay it for one to three years." Underscoring the point, he added that this is what he meant "about a military strike not being decisive."
No Glib Talk About War
Unlike younger generals such as David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal, Adm. Mullen served in the Vietnam War. It seems likely that this experience prompted this gratuitous philosophical aside at the press conference:
"I would remind everyone of an essential truth: War is bloody and uneven. It's messy and ugly and incredibly wasteful, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth the cost."