Every anti-war activist should have a little gauge that measures, week by week, the risk of an attack by the US on Iran. Last week that gauge rose sharply.
Admiral William Fallon, chief of US central command (Centcom), resigned. If anyone says that the US isn’t an empire, tell them about the unified combatant commands.
The Pentagon has six of them, covering North and South Americas, Europe, the Pacific, Africa and Western Asia. The last is Centcom’s manor, stretching from the Middle East through to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The chiefs of these commands aren’t just military commanders. They are politically powerful envoys, with far more diplomatic clout than a mere ambassador. So Fallon met President Pervez Musharraf the day before he imposed emergency rule on Pakistan last November, and gave him the green light.
Before taking over Centcom in January 2007, Fallon was chief of Pacific command. In this role he cultivated a direct relationship with the Chinese military leadership, telling them, according to the Esquire article that cost him his job, “if you want recognition of your power, then you have to accept the responsibility that comes with such power”.
Fallon said to Esquire that he wanted to pursue the same sort of strategy towards Iran. This brought him into conflict with the hard core of neocons and other right wingers in the US who are set on attacking Iran before George Bush and Dick Cheney leave office next January.
Fallon played a leading role in the rebellion inside the US security establishment at the end of last year that temporarily blocked such an attack. He attacked the war party in the US on Al Jazeera: “This constant drumbeat of conflict... is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for.”
The military critics argued that air-strikes would be ineffective and might provoke Iranian retaliation that generated a destructive spiral of escalation. “The US might think in terms of a limited strike, but military officers point out that the enemy has a vote,” an Iran expert told the Financial Times.
The turning point came in December 2007, when the US intelligence agencies forced the publication of a National Intelligence Estimate declaring that the Iranian regime had abandoned its nuclear weapons programme in 2003.
Fallon also clashed with General David Petraeus, US commander in Iraq and architect of the surge in US troop numbers there. He argued that becoming bogged down in Iraq was limiting US room for manoeuvre. He told Esquire that in a region with “five or six pots boiling over, our nation can’t afford to be mesmerised by one problem”.
It was the appearance a fortnight ago of Esquire’s rather fawning profile, portraying Fallon “standing up to the commander in chief, whom he thinks is contemplating a strategically unsound war,” that finished his career.
Bush denied that he had sacked Fallon, but defence secretary Robert Gates said that resigning was “the right thing to do”.
Gates also dismissed as “just ridiculous” the suggestion in the Esquire article that, if Fallon left his post early, “it may well mean that the president and vice-president intend to take military action against Iran before the end of this year and don’t want a commander standing in their way”.
But is it such a ridiculous idea? In a comment on Fallon’s resignation Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University, points out that if the US were at war with Iran this autumn, it would probably work to the advantage of the Republican presidential candidate, the ultra-hawkish John McCain.
Rogers also suggests that Israel, faced with an impasse in its attempts to crush the resistance in Gaza and Lebanon and anxious about Iran’s growing international influence, might well decide that it was in its interests to provoke a regional war.
Five years after the invasion of Iraq, the danger of a US attack on Iran is rising. The anti-war movement needs to redouble its efforts to prevent another catastrophic war in the Middle East.