Yesterday, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made a rare public appearance to speak about America’s challenges in the Middle East. For his venue, he chose the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the main thinktank in Washington for the Israel lobby. His audience was at least a couple of hundred strong, with a bank of at least ten television cameras.
During his appearance, his hosts — in the form of Rob Satloff, the executive director of WINEP — pressed him to lay down a marker on Iran, which is the chief preoccupation of the lobby. However, contrary to some news reports and blog accounts of Mullen’s comments at WINEP, the admiral clearly backed away from anything that sounded like a military threat, and it was clear throughout his entire remarks that Mullen, and the US military, is exceedingly averse to an armed confrontation with Tehran.
That’s not the take, for instance, from the Jerusalem Post which headlined its article breathlessly: "US preparing for possible Iran conflict." The JP decided to emphasize Mullen’s mundane comment that the United States has a contingency plan to go to war with Iran, ignoring the obvious fact that the Pentagon has contingencies for many unlikely and even unthinkable actions, and the pape downplayed Mullen’s repeated comments that the Pentagon is trying to do everything it can to avoid a conflict with Iran.
In his prepared remarks, Mullen compared Iran to Pakistan in an intelligent way, i.e., he noted that because of the overt hostility between the United States and Pakistan from 1990 to 2002, over its nuclear program, the two countries developed an animosity and lack of trust that he is working to overcome. Then he compared that to Iran, in regard to which the US has suffered from three decades of hostility, and he made it plain that the goal of the United States must be to work to overcome those bad feelings and suspicion, too. Here is the text:
"And then when I come back to Iran, we haven’t had a relationship with Iran since 1979. And so building that kind of relationship, and what does that mean — and I speak to the difficulty of the other relationships and look at what thirty years potentially can do. So there’s an awful lot of both concern, potential and, I think, focus, that needs to be sustained with respect to Iran and that part of the world. And we have great friends in that part of the world — allies who’ve supported us and who are very anxious to continue to support us and to see stability there, particularly in the Gulf area, and not see it break out into any kind conflict."
When Satloff pressed him on Iran, Mullen added: