Dana Priest Sees Military ‘Revolt’ if Iran Attack Ordered

In an online reader chat last Thursday, WaPo intelligence correspondent Dana Priest offered analysis so mindnumbingly bizarre that I can’t believe 1) her editors have not expunged it from the Web and 2) it hasn’t gotten far more attention.

West Chester, Pa.: History seems to be repeating it self as the drumbeat for war with Iran, based on accusations not backed up by any facts, intensifies. Do you think the Bush administration will launch a war (perhaps sending only the bombers) against Iran and if they do what are the likely consequences for the Middle East?

Dana Priest: Frankly, I think the military would revolt and there would be no pilots to fly those missions. This is a little bit of hyperbole, but not much. Just look at what Gen. Casey, the Army chief, said yesterday. That the tempo of operations in Iraq would make it very hard for the military to respond to a major crisis elsewhere. Beside, it’s not the “war” or “bombing” part that’s difficult; it’s the morning after and all the days after that. Haven’t we learned that (again) from Iraq?

Matt Yglesias sees this as unlikely because “overstat[es] the degree of military opposition to a bomb Iran policy,” with only the ground forces seriously opposing. Kevin Drum offers similar analysis, focusing on the Joint Staff/operational command divide.

I haven’t taken the temperature at the Defense Department, let alone the several Services on the question, but I’m willing to predict with great confidence that the consensus on an Iran mission has not reached the level that our senior leadership would violate their solemn oath of office. When given an order by their commander in chief, they will, as is their duty, carry it out. The idea that they have the ability to decide otherwise is so alien to their professional culture that it would almost surely never cross their minds.

Nicholas Beaudrot and Oliver Willis add, helpfully, that sending troops to war without congressional authorization would be grounds for impeachment. While anything is possible, I suppose — the House can impeach, as a practical matter, for any reason they want so long as they can get fifty percent plus one to sign on — the idea that presidents can’t order the use of force without formal declaration of war is rather historically dubious. Presidents have been doing it since the administration of Thomas Jefferson, after all. Arguably, the only declared wars in U.S. history are the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Spanish American War, World War I, and World War II; the other significant uses of force pursuant to presidential order virtually defy enumeration.

Further, the 1973 War Powers Act — passed over President Nixon’s veto — specifically grants presidents carte blanche in the use of force so long as they send along a note to Congress. Since then, presidents of both parties have done so countless times, albeit usually without said note to Congress.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Wayne says:

    I would like to see a poll of combat soldiers on whether we should take military action against Iran or not. Most I know would like to take military actions against Iran since that is where much of the insurgent support is coming from.

    I would caution about reading too much into it being very hard to respond to another major crisis. It may be very hard to respond at the same very high level that many expect but a solid response could still be done.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Talking about counting chickens before they’re hatched! Sy Hersh has us bombing Iran, Dana Priest has the military revolting over it, and Oliver Willis is impeaching the president over it. Meanwhile, to the best of my recollection the Bush Adminstration is still looking for peaceful solutions to our problems with Iran, no?

    Count the carriers, folks. Count the carriers.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Meanwhile, to the best of my recollection the Bush Adminstration is still looking for peaceful solutions to our problems with Iran, no?

    Indeed. I’m willing to deal with stupidity in the hypothetical, however, if it comes from sufficiently noteworthy corners.

  4. markm says:

    “Count the carriers, folks. Count the carriers.”

    EXACTLY. End of story.

  5. Grewgills says:

    Meanwhile, to the best of my recollection the Bush Adminstration is still looking for peaceful solutions to our problems with Iran, no?

    One can only hope he is not looking for peaceful solutions to our problems with Iran in a substantially similar way that he looked for peaceful solutions to our problems with Iraq.

  6. Anderson says:

    What I find disturbing here is the kind of disaffected military folks that Priest is talking to, if they’re telling her anything that she can in good faith base her remarks on.

    My dad remembered journalists coming around his platoon during Vietnam to ask about problems with the M-16. Everyone said it was a fine weapon, until she got to the platoon’s goofoff, who of course began bitching about the rifle, the war, etc. Naturally, *that* was the guy the journalist wanted to talk to.

  7. Dale says:

    Being an active duty Marine I can tell you that I have not and will not experience any urge to “revolt” if we attack Iran. Heck a few properly placed cruise missiles and well aimed B-52/B-2 strikes might let Iran know that the time has come for them to stop screwing around.

    I don’t know of anyone (except Dana Priest) that has talked about it. I suspect Dana Priest has been reading too much Dana Priest.

  8. Triumph says:

    We have to remember that Ahmadinejad is worse than Hitler and he poses an immanent threat to the US.

    Iran not only has a well-developed nuclear arsenal, but they were also behind 9/11. They have also been arresting the poor, defenseless monks in Burma and have been flooding our borders with godless mexican immigrants for years.

    If we don’t invade them now, we will likely be taken over by their fearsome army by the end of the year. 2007 could be the last year that Christmas is openly celebrated in this country. An occupying Iranian force will force us all to speak Persian and require all of us to wear Burkas and worship the idol of Muhammad.

    Iran is clearly a serious threat which we must not question. I find it interesting that Ahamadinejad was scoping out targets for attack when he visited the US–ostensibly for a UN meeting. I am sure that our soldiers are ready to protect us from an immanent Iranian attack. All of us as citizens must not question the President at this important juncture in the history of our civilization.

  9. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    To the previous poster. Do you think we should wait until they do have a nuclear arsenal, one capable or reaching CONUS and the man who thinks there are no people like you in his nation, has what he needs to start the process by which the 12th Imam returns to establish the Islamic Caliphate? What part of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is it that escapes you?

  10. B. Minich says:

    Hrmmm . . . the President not sending along a note to Congress, eh? While technically true, I figure that it is typically obvious to Congress when the President goes to war. 😉

  11. This is just nuts. Remember, Dana is a “correspondent” and developed her “analytical skills” at cocktail parties. Give an operator the opportunity to put ordnance on what he believes is a hostile target, and he’ll do it with a smile — every time….