May 19, 2008 – I have not been able to find out how to reach you directly, so I drafted this letter in the hope it will be brought to your attention.
First, thank you for honoring the oath we commissioned officers take to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic. At the same time, you have let it be known that you do not intend to speak, on or off the record, about Iran.
But our oath has no expiration date. While you are acutely aware of the dangers of attacking Iran, you seem to be allowing an inbred reluctance to challenge the commander in chief to trump that oath, and to prevent you from letting the American people know of the catastrophe about to befall us if, as seems likely, our country attacks Iran.
Two years ago I lectured at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. I found it highly disturbing that, when asked about the oath they took upon entering the academy, several of the “Mids” thought it was to the commander in chief.
This brought to my mind the photos of German generals and admirals (as well as top church leaders and jurists) swearing personal oaths to Hitler. Not our tradition, and yet …
I was aghast that only the third Mid I called on got it right – that the oath is to protect and defend the Constitution, not the president.
Attack Iran and Trash the Constitution
No doubt you are very clear that an attack on Iran would be a flagrant violation of our Constitution, which stipulates that treaties ratified by the Senate become the supreme law of the land; that the United Nations Charter – which the Senate ratified on July 28, 1945, by a vote of 89 to 2 – expressly forbids attacks on other countries unless they pose an imminent danger; that there is no provision allowing some other kind of “pre-emptive” or “preventive” attack against a nation that poses no imminent danger; and that Iran poses no such danger to the United States or its allies.
You may be forgiven for thinking: Isn’t 41 years of service enough; isn’t resigning in order to remove myself from a chain of command that threatened to make me a war criminal for attacking Iran; isn’t making my active opposition known by talking to journalists – isn’t all that enough?
With respect, sir, no, that’s not enough.
The stakes here are extremely high and with the integrity you have shown goes still further responsibility. Sadly, the vast majority of your general officer colleagues have, for whatever reason, ducked that responsibility. You are pretty much it.
In their lust for attacking Iran, administration officials will do their best to marginalize you. And, as prominent a person as you are, the corporate media will do the same.
Indeed, there are clear signs the media have been given their marching orders to support attacking Iran.
At CIA I used to analyze the Soviet press, so you will understand when I refer to the Washington Post and the New York Times as the White House’s Pravda and Izvestiya.
Sadly, it is as easy as during the days of the controlled Soviet press to follow the U.S. government’s evolving line with a daily reading. In a word, our newspapers are revving up for war on Iran, and have been for some time.
In some respects the manipulation and suppression of information in the present lead-up to an attack on Iran is even more flagrant and all encompassing than in early 2003 before the invasion of Iraq.
It seems entirely possible that you are unaware of this, precisely because the media have put the wraps on it, so let me adduce a striking example of what is afoot here.
The example has to do with the studied, if disingenuous, effort over recent months to blame all the troubles in southern Iraq on the “malignant” influence of Iran.
But Not for Fiasco
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, told reporters on April 25 that Gen. David Petraeus would be giving a briefing “in the next couple of weeks” that would provide detailed evidence of “just how far Iran is reaching into Iraq to foment instability.”
Petraeus’s staff alerted U.S. media to a major news event in which captured Iranian arms in Karbala would be displayed and then destroyed.
Small problem. When American munitions experts went to Karbala to inspect the alleged cache of Iranian weapons they found nothing that could be credibly linked to Iran.
News to you? That’s because this highly embarrassing episode went virtually unreported in the media – like the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no corporate media to hear it crash.
So Mullen and Petraeus live, uninhibited and unembarrassed, to keep searching for Iranian weapons so the media can then tell a story more supportive to efforts to blacken Iran. A fiasco is only a fiasco if folks know about it.
The suppression of this episode is the most significant aspect, in my view, and a telling indicator of how difficult it is to get honest reporting on these subjects.
Meanwhile, it was announced that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had formed his own Cabinet committee to investigate U.S. claims and attempt to “find tangible information and not information based on speculation.”
Dissing the Intelligence Estimate
Top officials from the president on down have been dismissing the dramatically new conclusion of the National Intelligence Estimate released on Dec. 3, 2007, a judgment concurred in by the 16 intelligence units of our government, that Iran had stopped the weapons-related part of its nuclear program in mid-2003.
Always willing to do his part, the malleable CIA chief, Michael Hayden, on April 30 publicly offered his “personal opinion” that Iran is building a nuclear weapon – the National Intelligence Estimate notwithstanding.
For good measure, Hayden added: “It is my opinion, it is the policy of the Iranian government, approved to the highest level of that government, to facilitate the killing of Americans in Iraq. … Just make sure there’s clarity on that.”
I don’t need to tell you about the Haydens and other smartly saluting generals in Washington.
Let me suggest that you have a serious conversation with Gen. Anthony Zinni, one of your predecessor CENTOM commanders (1997 to 2000).
As you know better than I, this Marine general is also an officer with unusual integrity. But placed into circumstances virtually identical to those you now face, he could not find his voice.
He missed his chance to interrupt the juggernaut to war in Iraq; you might ask him how he feels about that now, and what he would advise in current circumstances.
Zinni happened to be one of the honorees at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention on Aug. 26, 2002, at which Vice President Dick Cheney delivered the exceedingly alarmist speech, unsupported by our best intelligence, about the nuclear threat and other perils awaiting us at the hands of Saddam Hussein.
That speech not only launched the seven-month public campaign against Iraq leading up to the war, but set the terms of reference for the Oct. 1, 2002 National Intelligence Estimate fabricated – yes, fabricated – to convince Congress to approve war on Iraq.
Gen. Zinni later shared publicly that, as he listened to Cheney, he was shocked to hear a depiction of intelligence that did not square with what he knew. Although Zinni had retired two years earlier, his role as consultant had required him to stay up to date on intelligence relating to the Middle East.
One Sunday morning three and a half years after Cheney’s speech, Zinni told “Meet the Press”: “There was no solid proof that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. … I heard a case being made to go to war.”
Gen. Zinni had as good a chance as anyone to stop an unnecessary war – not a “pre-emptive war,” since there was nothing to pre-empt – and Zinni knew it. No, what he and any likeminded officials could have stopped was a war of aggression, defined at the post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal as the “supreme international crime.”
Sure, Zinni would have had to stick his neck out. He may have had to speak out alone, since most senior officials, like then-CIA Director George Tenet, lacked courage and integrity.
In his memoir published a year ago, Tenet says Cheney did not follow the usual practice of clearing his Aug. 26, 2002 speech with the CIA; that much of what Cheney said took him completely by surprise; and that Tenet “had the impression that the president wasn’t any more aware of what his number-two was going to say to the VFW until he said it.”
It is a bit difficult to believe that Cheney’s shameless speech took Tenet completely by surprise.
We know from the Downing Street Minutes, vouched for by the UK as authentic, that Tenet told his British counterpart on July 20, 2002, that the president had decided to make war on Iraq for regime change and that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”
Admiral Fallon, you know that to be the case also with respect to the “intelligence” being conjured up to “justify” war with Iran. And no one knows better than you that your departure from the chain of command has turned it over completely to the smartly saluting sycophants.
No doubt you have long since taken the measure, for example, of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. So have I.
I was one of his first branch chiefs when he was a young, disruptively ambitious CIA analyst. When Ronald Reagan’s CIA Director William Casey sought someone to shape CIA analysis to accord with his own conviction that the Soviet Union would never change, Gates leaped at the chance.
After Casey died, Gates admitted to the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus that he (Gates) watched Casey on “issue after issue sit in meetings and present intelligence framed in terms of the policy he wanted pursued.” Gates’ entire subsequent career showed that he learned well at Casey’s knee.
So it should come as no surprise that, despite the unanimous judgment of the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies that Iran stopped the weapons related aspects of its nuclear program, Gates is now saying that Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.
Some of his earlier statements were more ambiguous, but Gates recently took advantage of the opportunity to bend with the prevailing winds and leave no doubt as to his loyalty.
In an interview on events in the Middle East with a New York Times reporter on April 11, Gates was asked whether he was on the same page as the president. Gates replied, “Same line, same word.”
I imagine you are no more surprised than I. Bottom line: Gates will salute smartly if Cheney persuades the president to let the Air Force and Navy loose on Iran.
You know the probable consequences; you need to let the rest of the American people know.
A Gutsy Precedent
Can you, Admiral Fallon, be completely alone? Can it be that you are the only general officer to resign on principle?
And, of equal importance, is there no other general officer, active or retired, who has taken the risk of speaking out in an attempt to inform Americans about President George W. Bush’s bellicose fixation with Iran. Thankfully, there is.
Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who was national security adviser to President George H.W. Bush, took the prestigious job of Chairman, President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board when asked to by the younger Bush.
From that catbird seat, Scowcroft could watch the unfolding of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Over decades dealing with the press, Scowcroft had honed a reputation of quintessential discretion. All the more striking what he decided he had to do.
In an interview with London’s Financial Times in mid-October 2004 Scowcroft was harshly critical of the president, charging that Bush had been “mesmerized” by then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
“Sharon just has him wrapped around his little finger,” Scowcroft said. “He has been nothing but trouble.”
Needless to say, Scowcroft was given his walking papers and told never to darken the White House doorstep again.
There is ample evidence that Sharon’s successors believe they have a commitment from President Bush to “take care of Iran” before he leaves office, and that the president has done nothing to disabuse them of that notion – no matter the consequences.
On May 18, speaking at the World Economic Forum at Sharm el Sheikh, Bush threw in a gratuitous reference to “Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.” He said:
“To allow the world’s leading sponsor of terror to gain the world’s deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.”
Pre-briefing the press, Bush’s national security adviser Stephen Hadley identified Iran as one of the dominant themes of the trip, adding repeatedly that Iran “is very much behind” all the woes afflicting the Middle East, from Lebanon to Gaza to Iraq to Afghanistan.
The Rhetoric is Ripening
In the coming weeks, at least until U.S. forces can find some real Iranian weapons in Iraq, the rhetoric is likely to focus on what I call the Big Lie – the claim that Iran’s president has threatened to “wipe Israel off the map.”
In that controversial speech in 2005, Ahmadinejad was actually quoting from something the Ayatollah Khomeini had said in the early 1980s. Khomeini was expressing a hope that a regime treating the Palestinians so unjustly would be replaced by another more equitable one.
A distinction without a difference? I think not. Words matter.
As you may already know (but the American people don’t), the literal translation from Farsi of what Ahmadinejad said is, “The regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the pages of time.”
Contrary to what the administration would have us all believe, the Iranian president was not threatening to nuke Israel, push it into the sea, or wipe it off the map.
President Bush is way out in front on this issue, and this comes through with particular clarity when he ad-libs answers to questions.
On Oct. 17, 2007, long after he had been briefed on the key intelligence finding that Iran had stopped the nuclear weapons-related part of its nuclear development program, the president spoke as though, well, “mesmerized.” He said:
“But this – we got a leader in Iran who has announced he wants to destroy Israel. So I’ve told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems you ought to be interested in preventing them from have (sic) the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously.”
Some contend that Bush does not really believe his rhetoric. I rather think he does, for the Israelis seem to have his good ear, with the tin one aimed at U.S. intelligence he has repeatedly disparaged.
But, frankly, which would be worse: that Bush believes Iran to be an existential threat to Israel and thus requires U.S. military action? Or that it’s just rhetoric to “justify” U.S. action to “take care of” Iran for Israel?
What you can do, Admiral Fallon, is speak authoritatively about what is likely to happen – to U.S. forces in Iraq, for example – if Bush orders your successors to begin bombing and missile attacks on Iran.
And you could readily update Scowcroft’s remarks, by drawing on what you observed of the Keystone Cops efforts of White House ideologues, like Iran-Contra convict Elliot Abrams, to overturn by force the ascendancy of Hamas in 2006-07 and Hezbollah more recently. (Abrams pled guilty to two misdemeanor counts of misleading Congress, but was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush on Dec. 24, 1992.)
It is easy to understand why no professional military officer would wish to be in the position of taking orders originating from the likes of Abrams.
If you weigh in as your (non-expiring) oath to protect and defend the Constitution dictates, you might conceivably prompt other sober heads to speak out.
And, in the end, if profound ignorance and ideology – supported by the corporate press and by both political parties intimidated by the Israel lobby – lead to an attack on Iran, and the Iranians enter southern Iraq and take thousands of our troops hostage, you will be able to look in the mirror and say at least you tried.
You will not have to live with the remorse of not knowing what might have been, had you been able to shake your reluctance to speak out.
There is a large Tar Baby out there – Iran. You may remember that as Brer Rabbit got more and more stuck, Brer Fox, he lay low.
A “Fox” Fallon, still pledged to defend the Constitution of the United States, cannot lie low—not now.
Ray McGovern; Steering Group; Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)