Several former high-ranking military, intelligence and State Department officials took out an ad in the Washington Post today urging President Obama to stand fast against political and lobbying pressure to attack Iran over claims it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.
The letter, signed by five retired generals, two senior intelligence analysts and a senior State Department official, is accompanied by a photo and quotes from other current military and defense officials warning against such an attack.
“There is a national reflex on the conservative part [of the] political spectrum to reach for the military option first and others second,” said retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, commander of the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, when he developed and oversaw the training of the Iraqi military and security forces.
President Obama and others in the administration believe they can stop Iran from pursing a nuclear weapon through economic sanctions.
“We feel the need to give the president and those who endorse this approach as much space as possible to let … the economic efforts guide Iranian behavior,” said Eaton, who is a senior advisor with the National Security Network.
The advertisement, which carries the headline “Mr. President: Say No to a War of Choice with Iran,” is sponsored by the National Iranian American Council, a non-partisan, non-profit organization headquartered in Washington.
Though NIAC does not support the Iranian government it favors diplomacy over war in dealing with it, according to its website.
“NIAC opposes a U.S.-Iran war because it would be detrimental to U.S. national interest and likely prolong the reign of the current Iranian government,” the group states.
Signing the letter with Eaton are retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard Jr., chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation; retired Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, former CentCom commander and now on the board of the Middle East Policy Council; retired Army Brig. Gen. John H. Johns, a retired combat arms officer who taught National Security Strategy and Decision-making at the National Defense University; retired Army Maj. Gen. Rudolph Ostovich III, former vice director of the Joint Staff; Thomas Fingar, former deputy director of National Intelligence for analysis; Paul Pillar, former CIA national intelligence officer for Near East and South Asia; and retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Eaton said the aim of the letter is to rally support from among “validators … of a rational, pragmatic foreign policy,” which is what Obama represents.
“We’re sending a message to the President of the United States that we support you’re approach, to Congress that we support the President, and to Israel and other validators for a pragmatic foreign policy to say, let’s exercise prudence instead of ramping up the war” option.
“Unless we or an ally is attacked, war should be the option of last resort,” the writers state in their letter. “Our brave servicemen and women expect you to exhaust all diplomatic and peaceful options before you send them into harm’s way.”
While the writers back the idea of keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, they say diplomacy is still a possible means of doing that.
“Military action at this stage is not only unnecessary, it is dangerous – for the United States and for Israel,” they conclude. “We urge you to resist the pressure of a war of choice with Iran.”
The group is up against very strong opposition, however.
Obama has been under pressure from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful lobbying groups in the country, and members of Congress to draw a harder line against Iran. Republican members of both the house and Senate have let Obama know that if he chose to attack Iran he would have their support.
At the same time some Republican candidates for the party’s nomination for president have made Iran a campaign issue, with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney claiming that if Obama is reelected Iran would get a nuclear bomb, but if he’s the next president it will not.
Similarly former Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have charged Obama is soft on Iran and has not been a staunch enough ally of Israel.
Obama, in his remarks before AIPAC on Sunday, ran down a list of times he exercised vocal, political and military support for Israel, from funding the deployment of the Iron Dome rocket intercept system in Israel to defending the country at the United Nations over its military actions in Gaza and Lebanon.
“So there should not be a shred of doubt by now,” he told the AIPAC audience. “When the chips are down, I have Israel’s back. Which is why if, during this political season, you hear some questions regarding my administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts.”
Obama reiterated his unwavering support for Israel earlier today, just before going into a private meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The United States will always have Israel’s back,” he said. Obama told reporters before the meeting that he and Netanyahu would talk about regional issues, American and Israeli foreign policy, and how to increase prospects of peace in the Middle East.
He also again made the case that the sanctions the U.S. has placed on Iran are crippling and that the regime will have to come around.
Netanyahu, in a brief statement before going into the meeting, said: “When it comes to Israel’s security, Israel has a right, a sovereign right, to make its own decisions.”