Back in February 2003, just before the beginning of the U.S.-led preventive war on Iraq, Army Gen. Eric Shinseki told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. would need "several hundred thousand soldiers" to secure the country. Shinseki's estimate drew upon a substantial body of analysis that suggested that the weeks immediately following the fall of Iraq's government would be decisive for securing the country, and therefore a substantial troop presence was necessary to prevent chaos and deter potential insurgents.
Several days later, in what journalist James Fallows called "probably the most direct public dressing-down of a military officer, a four-star general, by a civilian superior since Harry Truman and Douglas MacArthur, 50 years ago," Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz called Shinseki's estimate "wildly off the mark," and said that "it's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself."
While it's unclear whether a larger initial troop presence could have actually prevented Iraq's insurgency, it is abundantly clear that it was Wolfowitz and other neocon supporters of the invasion, not Shinseki, who were "wildly off the mark," and that they intentionally downplayed the costs and potential consequences of the Iraq war in order to make sure that it went off.
Even though the neocons are thankfully not in power anymore (though, as I wrote in a recent Nation article, they're carefully laying the groundwork for their return), they're still running the same plays, dismissing the views of top military officers when those views conflict with the various splendid new wars that they have planned.
This time it's chief neocon cleric Bill Kristol -- who's probably been more wrong more times about more things than any other figure in American political life -- dismissing as "silly" Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen's recent suggestion that a military attack on Iran could be just as destabilizing to the region as a nuclear-capable Iran:
KRISTOL: Even assuming the degree and kind of "destabilization" would be the same in both the cases of attack and appeasement (which I don't think would be so), one scenario -- attack -- leaves Iran without nuclear weapons, at least for now; the other -- appeasement -- means Iran would have nuclear weapons going forward. Which unstable outcome is less damaging to U.S. interests? I think the answer is pretty clear: An attacked Iran that does not have nukes.
And when Mullen goes on to say, "we just don't need more of that [destabilizing of the region]," he's being silly. It's not a question of whether we "need" or would like more instability in the Middle East. Everyone would like to be able to wish the Iranian nuclear program (and the current Iranian regime) away, and to wish a happier "stability" into existence. The real question is what form of instability would be more dangerous -- that caused by this Iranian regime with nuclear weapons, or that caused by attacking this regime's nuclear weapons program. It's time to have a serious debate about the choice between these two kinds of destabilization, instead of just refusing to confront the choice.
Numerous analysts have discussed the disastrous consequences that would likely result from a military attack on Iran by either Israel or the U.S. Among those likely consequences are: attacks on U.S. troops and interests throughout the Middle East; the death of Iran's democratic opposition movement; the strengthening of hardliners within Iran's government; the withdrawal of Iran from the NPT and a redoubling of its efforts to obtain a nuclear capability, an effort that would now have the benefit of cover from international outrage at the U.S. and/or Israel for its attack.
So what you'd end up with in a few years would be... a nuclear-capable Iran.
I would also suggest that a "serious debate" over the pros and cons of containing Iran versus attacking Iran has been going on for a good while. It's just that Bill Kristol -- for whom "seriousness" almost always involves sending somebody else's kid off to war -- simply has nothing productive to contribute. Spencer Ackerman nails it: "If you see no meaningful option within the yawning chasm between 'attack' and 'appeasement' then you are too stupid or too dishonest to engage in this discussion."
Finally, it shouldn't even need to be said that President Obama's approach hardly qualifies as "appeasement" of Iran -- unless you're someone for whom any strategy that doesn't involve huge numbers of people being blown up by U.S. bombs equals "appeasement." Seriously: President Obama just hosted a very successful nuclear security summit that, in addition to front-and-centering vital nuclear non-proliferation issues that the Bush administration could barely be bothered with, has resulted in significantly more international unity around efforts to pressure Iran over its nuclear program -- the very sort of unity made impossible by the Bush administration's neocon-inspired belligerence. It's says something very troubling about the lack of accountability in American politics that these same characters should come again now, calling for another preventive war, using the same clever argumentative method of simply insisting that such a war will go splendidly and will achieve all of our aims with no unintended consequences, and be taken remotely seriously.