Dana Priest Sees Military ‘Revolt’ if Iran Attack Ordered
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.