Some Generals May Quit if Bush Orders Iran Attack

Four or five of the hundreds of generals on active duty might resign if President Bush orders an attack on Iran, report Michael Smith and Sarah Baxter for the Sunday Times of London.

Some of America’s most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defence and intelligence sources.

Tension in the Gulf region has raised fears that an attack on Iran is becoming increasingly likely before President George Bush leaves office. The Sunday Times has learnt that up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack. “There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”

A British defence source confirmed that there were deep misgivings inside the Pentagon about a military strike. “All the generals are perfectly clear that they don’t have the military capacity to take Iran on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it and it would be a matter of conscience for them. “There are enough people who feel this would be an error of judgment too far for there to be resignations.”

So be it. Civilian control of the military is a fundamental principle of our Republic; it is the job of our elected leadership to make these decisions and the job our our military professionals to render their best advice and then salute and carry out their orders to the best of their ability. Those who can not do that in good conscience must indeed resign.

Kevin Hayden titles his post on this matter “As close to a Mutiny as it gets” and gives the impression he thinks that’s a good thing. Do we really want to become a banana republic, where the generals make these decisions rather than our elected and accountable leaders? Thankfully, though, resignation in protest is not mutiny; it’s a recognition that one can’t do one’s duty.

(Bruce McQuain‘s point, that if these “most senior military commanders” are actually working at the Pentagon then they are not in command of anything is a point well taken, though.)

I say that even though my ultimate judgment is the same as that of these generals. While I think we likely do have the military resources necessary to invade and even occupy Iran, there is a strong consensus among people who study this sort of thing for a living that the negative consequences of war with Iran would outstrip any conceivable benefit. Sy Hersh’s incessant banging of the drum to the contrary, that remains the public position of the administration.

UPDATE: Reader Greg emails wondering whether said generals will “quit” or merely retire. There’s a big difference, as he notes, in that the latter would allow them to “start drawing up to 100% base pay in retirement pay (new policy effective 1 Jan 07 allows service members to keep accruing retirement benefits at 2.5% per year beyond the traditional 75% @ 30 yrs).” He feels that, “If the ‘senior leadership’ really wanted to make a statement, they would resign their commission and forgo their military ‘retirement’ pay. . . . Retiring and receiving full benefits and pay as a retired officer isn’t really much of a statement.” A fair point.

UPDATE: Ed Morrissey adds some valuable perspective:

[Resignation in this case is] not the only honorable route, and it may well be more honorable to stay and try to convince the political leadership to change course, but staff officer resignations are not desertions and have never been considered as such.

In fact, that was one of the bases of trying Nazi staff officers and military commanders at Nuremberg and elswhere. When they claimed that they had to follow the Fuehrer’s orders, the answer was that they had the option — and in this case, the duty — to resign rather than commit the crimes they did.

Now, it seems that these unnamed officers are threatening to resign because they think the hypothetical mission foolhardy, not morally objectionable. Still, they have the right to resign rather than serve if the feel strongly.

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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 and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. ken says:

    While I think we likely do have the military resources necessary to invade and even occupy Iran, there is a strong consensus among people who study this sort of thing for a living that the negative consequences of war with Iran would outstrip any conceivable benefit.

    The same consensus prevailed before Bush launched his war on Iraq.

    Don’t underestimate the depravity and insanity of Bush, Cheney and the neo-cons who lied us into one illegal immoral and unjust war. They are more than willing to double down, throw the Hail Mary pass, risk it all, in order to salvage some pride from the worst foreign policy disaster in American history they have led us into.

  2. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Ken, Personal attack in violation of site policies deleted. There is nothing illegal, immoral or unjust about the war in Iraq. There was, however the fact that Saddam being the dictator or Iraq that did meet all of those descriptions. Remember Ken, it was the policy of the Clinton administration, as of 1998 to remove Saddam from power. Personal attack in violation of site policies deleted. You would allow a rogue nation such as Iran, who have avowed to destroy Israel, and try to destroy the United States to develop what the whole world has decided they should not possess. The deaths such actions would cause should be laid directly at your stinking feet. Those commanders who refuse to do their duty as their commander in chief sees it, should face the same courts Martial as that Lt. who refused to go to Iraq. Orders are orders, rank is not relevant.

  3. Tano says:

    I think it absurd to claim that the generals would need to forgo their pensions in order for their resignation to have any moral force. If they resign, they are not rejecting their 30+ years of service, only this latest policy.

    Sorry, but “reader Greg’s” comment sounds like the cheapest type of an attempt to discredit the generals by somehow implying that they are simply doing this for the money.

  4. Bravo, Zelsdorf Ragshaft III, with the exception of the court martial part, unless of course it would be necessary under the UCMJ

  5. The Game says:

    Nice blog, I’ll have to stop by more often. You are your readers come check out mine as well. I am always looking for new conservatives and liberals who like to comment

  6. Cernig says:

    It’s interesting how many conservatives are focussing on the attempted debunk of “4 or 5 staff officers is nothing”. It’s a pretty weak case.

    Smith and Baxter are veteran journalists connected at the highest level in both the US and UK military/intel establishments. Baxter is even pro-Iraq war.If they say 4 or 5 generals, they mean senior figures.

    Nor are they solitary voices. Another veteran military affairs reporter, Gwynne Dyer, just a few days ago suggested that Pace would resign if asked to attack Iran.

    I think that would be enough to provoke articles of impeachment from Congress, don’t you?

    Regards, C

  7. James Joyner says:

    Sorry, but “reader Greg’s” comment sounds like the cheapest type of an attempt to discredit the generals by somehow implying that they are simply doing this for the money.

    I don’t see that implication, merely that for a general to resign his post has markedly different implications than for most people who simply quit their jobs in principal. Forgoing less than 25% of one’s salary as a consequence of retiring markedly lessens the blow; indeed, most will come out well ahead by combining their pension and income from their follow-on job.

    Greg also makes the point that officer pensions are payment for future services rendered (i.e., the ability to be recalled to active service) rather than for past performance. That has some implications given that these resignations would make it difficult to recall them to service.

  8. >Do we really want to become a banana republic,
    >where the generals make these decisions rather
    >than our elected and accountable leaders?

    The problem is, out leader doesn’t seem all that accountable. A chief executive who refuses to accept any check on his authority seems to be far more indicative of banana-republicanism than retiring generals.

  9. James Joyner says:

    The problem is, out leader doesn’t seem all that accountable. A chief executive who refuses to accept any check on his authority seems to be far more indicative of banana-republicanism than retiring generals.

    He stood for re-election nearly two years into the war effort and won. He has not, so far as I’m aware, refused to follow any decisions against him by the Supreme Court or violated any laws aimed at him by the Congress.

    He has, for sure, taken a very expansive view of executive powers and contended that various past statutes didn’t apply to him in the way critics would have read said statutes. That, though, is hardly unusual for presidents, let alone wartime presidents. Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, and others did much more than that. The bottom line, though, is that he has backed down whenever forced to by contemporary judicial or congressional action.

  10. >The bottom line, though, is that he has backed
    >down whenever forced to by contemporary judicial
    >or congressional action.

    The fact he backs down when caught exceding his authority doesn’t change the fact he routinely exceeds his authority. And in the case of Iran, this tendency could prove a big problem. The president, absent authorization by congress, only has the authority to initiate military operations in the case of an ivansion, insurrection, or to preempt an iminent attack on the US.

    It’s pretty clear congress isn’t at present going to authorize an attack on Iran, but I worry that Bush is going to initiate attack anyway, using some ridiculously expansive interpretation of ‘imminent’ to justify it.

    And once such military action begins, it’s going to be pretty much impossible for congress to reverse the decision.

  11. ken says:

    He has not, so far as I’m aware, refused to follow any decisions against him by the Supreme Court or violated any laws aimed at him by the Congress.

    What about just having Bush follow the laws that were not ‘aimed’ at him but apply in general to every president?

    If you just look at his utilization of torture, his spying on American citizens, and his ordering the military into a war without cause it is clear that Bush is a criminal. A all of these acts are against several laws both domestic and international. The only question is will he be tried in an international tribune or will he be tried in an American court?

  12. Cernig says:

    Hi James, did you lose my earlier comment?

    Veteran military affairs correspondent Gwynne Dyer suggested a few days ago that Gen. Pace might be the first to resign…that’s not small fry.

    Regards, C

  13. legion says:

    While I’m generally not a fan of Cap’n Ed, in this instance he is correct – resigning out of unresolvable disagreement with higher authority has never been considered dishonorable or illegal, and staying to work “within the system” is also an option. But bear in mind that trying to fix things from the inside is ostensibly what Powell was doing for years, even after it was painfully apparent to everyone except him that he had no authority or respect within Bush’s inner circle.

  14. graywolf says:

    The Commander-in-Chief has a policy; pressure Iran. The possibility of military action looming like a sword of Damocles strengthens diplomacy.

    So, these whining generals – who BTW shouldn’t be polishing their medals over Iraq – decide to undercut (ANONOMOUSLY) that policy, because they don’t LIKE it..aawww, that’s real sad.

    That’s guts and military tradition for you.
    A loyal honest man would quietly resign.

    IF this IS a true story, these generals are just punk-ass bitches.

  15. James Joyner says:

    Cernig,

    Your first comment had several hyperlinks and was caught in the spam filter; it’s released now.

    I’m not sure why a subordinate’s decision to resign would be cause for impeachment. If true, Pace is the senior military adviser and, certainly, a big fish. He is not, however, the elected commander-in-chief nor is the president required to follow his orders.

    Again, I don’t support war with Iran with the information we’ve got now, nor do I think the administration wants it either. But the president’s deciding otherwise certainly would not constitute a high crime or misdemeanor.

  16. Anderson says:

    Sy Hersh’s incessant banging of the drum to the contrary, that remains the public position of the administration.

    Right. And before the Iraq War, after Bush had already decided to attack Iraq, he was telling the public that war was his last resort, etc.

  17. Bithead says:

    “Insanity of Bush” isn’t a personal attack on Bush?

  18. James Joyner says:

    “Insanity of Bush” isn’t a personal attack on Bush?

    It’s a shorthand evaluation of his public policy. But there’s no ban on attacking politicians on the site, merely attacking posters and other commenters. If the attacks are so extreme as to amount to trollishness, or are random spam unrelated to the topic under discussion, then they are in violation of other policies.

  19. Anderson says:

    It’s a shorthand evaluation of his public policy.

    I love it!

  20. M1EK says:

    “He stood for re-election nearly two years into the war effort and won. He has not, so far as I’m aware, refused to follow any decisions against him by the Supreme Court or violated any laws aimed at him by the Congress.”

    Two words: signing statements.

  21. James Joyner says:

    Two words: signing statements.

    Presidents have, since George Washington, asserted inherent powers and otherwise pushed the envelope on separation of powers. They wait for the courts to order them to stop. I don’t like it but it ain’t exactly new.

  22. legion says:

    They wait for the courts to order them to stop. I don’t like it but it ain’t exactly new.

    Ah, but what happens when you pack the courts with conservative judges, and then quietly fire any prosecutors likely to even bring cases against you _to_ the courts in the first place?

    And it may not be new, but if Bush is shown to actually be taking actions in violation of passed laws, based solely on his signing statements, it’s still a crisis for any free society…

  23. Ed says:

    Please, do not believe the report. Those very same 4 Generals and the one Admiral who last year testified in Congress, Guess what, they are retired and in reserve status, they will never be called up or serve one weekend duty in their reserve unit.

    These same Generals fought against the Serbian War as President Clinton sent in our troops to remove Malosavich.

    They retired during the Gulf War in which they disaproved of the attack on Iraq.

    Not one of these Generals ever saw a conflict during their years of service.
    Each and every General served in the Pentagon and saw desk duty.
    It is just politics.
    Ed In the know

  24. M1EK says:

    “Presidents have, since George Washington, asserted inherent powers and otherwise pushed the envelope on separation of powers. They wait for the courts to order them to stop. I don’t like it but it ain’t exactly new.”

    That’s like saying that we had explosions before 1945, so the nuclear bomb was no big deal.

  25. James Joyner says:

    That’s like saying that we had explosions before 1945, so the nuclear bomb was no big deal.

    Jefferson unilaterally spent public funds to double the size of the country. Jackson defied the Supreme Court and told them to go ahead and try to enforce their orders. Lincoln suspended habeus corpus. Wilson widely curtailed free speech.

    I’m not sure GWB has done anything on a comparable scale.

  26. M1EK says:

    Jefferson unilaterally spent public funds to double the size of the country. Jackson defied the Supreme Court and told them to go ahead and try to enforce their orders. Lincoln suspended habeus corpus. Wilson widely curtailed free speech.

    I’m not sure GWB has done anything on a comparable scale.

    Disagree. Signing statements assert that no matter what Congress does, he does what he wants. (Had there been just ONE signing statement, or even a few linked around a particular topic, it would better match the list above).

  27. Butch says:

    If you just look at his utilization of torture, his spying on American citizens, and his ordering the military into a war without cause it is clear that Bush is a criminal.

    Yet another LIBERAL CrackPot.

    lol